Day Ninety-Nine: On Motherhood and Change (and Death and Being German)


During the past month our youngest baby celebrated his first birthday, our oldest baby lost her first tooth, one of the middle babies finally agreed to poop on the toilet (sometimes), and one discovered he has easier access to his penis if he wears boxer shorts (and now will only wear boxer shorts).  The older kids started a new school and we celebrated the sacrament of marriage the month before that, and we moved across the country and the baby started walking the month before that.  Whew.  There is a lot to process there, but there isn’t much time for that, because if I blink, something new will happen, and I don’t want to miss it.

Still, there is a lot to process there, and that’s part of why I think this writing project is important.  It’s kind of a forced deep breath, an opportunity to look backward, forward, and all around, and to SOS.  It forces me to step out of, and stay out of, survival mode.

Our children are growing up so quickly, and I am so glad that they are.  I love watching them learn new things and gain independence, and I am so proud of them.  I really do think they are amazing.

I try to focus on what is happening right now, and there is plenty to focus on, but sometimes, in a quiet moment at a stop light, or when I’m watching one of them sleep, I think about what it will be like when they are older.  I know we will all have our moments, but I also really believe each one of them will grow up to be an incredible person.

It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there.  I wouldn’t say my children are my entire life, but I would comfortably say they are 92% of it.*  That leaves about 4% for HW, 2% for other people I love, and 2% for whatever project I have going on.  As time progresses, those numbers are going to shift.  The children are going to need less of me in many ways, and there is going to be empty space to fill.  That’s a good and healthy thing – we are trying to raise strong, independent children.  I want to be aware of what I am doing, I want to make sure I give them enough space to grow and learn, but I also want to make it clear that I am always here for them, and they will always be my top priority.  I’m not sure exactly how to do that.

I tell them how much I love them, and I try to show them every day.  I try to show them by spending time with them, and listening to them, and considering their feelings.  I try to show them by making them healthy meals and researching fun projects to do with them (even thought I hate crafts).  I try to show them by encouraging them to do things for themselves, and reading books to them, and playing with them, and traveling with them, and figuring how to build Lego creations even though it once took me three days to assemble a crib, and learning about Star Wars, and even trying to learn some French.  I try to show them by enjoying my time with them.  I try to show them by making sure they are in the best possible school and the safest possible neighborhood, driving in the safest possible car, in the safest possible car seat.  I try to show them with hugs and kisses and snuggles on the couch, and little surprises like an outing for ice cream on a school night.

Still, I know I am not perfect.  Sometimes I speak more sharply than I mean to when I remind my daughter that if she’s missing something she needs for school, telling me as we are walking out the door is not helpful, or sometimes I say in a voice that sounds more demanding than explaining that the children must be kind to each other.  One day, years from now, I will look back and know it wasn’t worth it.  So what if we’re five minutes late for school one time?  So what if she goes to school without her gym shirt one time?  Demanding children get along is like ordering people not to be afraid, why bother?  It’s not worth getting worked up about, and although it is important to teach them kinds and responsibility, I can do that just as well with a calm and patient voice.

Right now they say they will live with us forever, and I hope they do (in a healthy, independent way, of course), but I know that is probably unlikely.  Actually my son wants to live across the street and spend most of his time on his cruise ship that he plans to own and run.  It started as a food truck (where I am to do all of the cooking and cleaning and, presumably, the financing), but he decided to kick it up a notch when we moved here.  A cruise ship is much cooler than a food truck.  Fair enough.

I think about what it will be like to be in a quiet, empty house, while HW works all day.  I think about it all, but I can’t even really imagine it.  Will I be able to cope with that?  Will it remind me of my own childhood home, which was too often quiet, or when I lived alone in my early twenties and was extremely lonely?  Will I end up adopting fifteen puppies or starting a safe haven for squirrels?   Will I stare at the wall all day because I have no idea how to fill my days?

I know all of that is a long, long way off, but maybe those worries are part of why I’m thinking about going back to work.  It is a scary thought, to be in empty silence, and I know I am not getting any younger.  To be thirty years old and just starting out as a lawyer would be challenging enough, to do it at forty-five, despite what you may have seen on The Good Wife, is pretty unusual.  Maybe I’m worried that if I don’t start working at it now, I will never be able to do it.  That actually sounds a lot like me.

Or maybe it’s part of the assimilation process.  It seems like most mothers around here work or have some major philanthropy project.  It’s just a normal part of life around here, and maybe, on some level, I’m feeling pressure to conform.  That sounds somewhat less like me, but it’s worth considering.

I think any decision I make has a lot of different explanations, and I think that’s true for most people, or at least for women (I’m not saying men are different, only acknowledging that I don’t know for sure).  I think often our reasons for doing things have many layers, and are often complex.  This is probably a good example.

This morning my mom was not quite herself.  In ten days she is going to Africa with her husband for a couple of weeks, and because my grandfather was ill last week, and she’s had some other things going on, she is not as prepared as she would like to be.  She is like my grandfather in that she likes things to be done a certain way, and can be rather particular about how those things are done.  She is a person who makes lists and binders of lists and tries to have things done as far in advance as possible.  I am not exactly that way, about most things, so we don’t always understand each other.  Sometimes I find this annoying, sometimes I greatly appreciate it, and sometimes I find myself doing it.

She is on the verge of a migraine and received two pieces of “troubling news” as she described it.  First, her stylist, who has struggled with infertility and miscarriages, was expecting her first baby next month, and she went into labor a full month early, and the baby is having serious lung problems.  Thankfully, because of advances in technology, most babies born four or five weeks early do quite well, but it is a scary thing, maybe more so for someone who as struggled so much to have a child.  It’s also just scary.  Childbirth is a fairly traumatic thing even when everything goes according to plan (assuming that happens for some people) and when it becomes complicated or there is a health issue with the baby, it seems like the world is ending.  Their family will be in our prayers.

Second, a family friend she was planning to visit in Africa died suddenly after a massive heart attack.  She was at the farmer’s market with my nephew and my grandmother called just to chat, and mentioned it, thinking my mom already knew.  My mom, maybe because she likes things to be more planned and controlled, doesn’t always do well with extreme news presented that way.  I know this from experience, like the time I followed her into the bathroom and told her, while she was sitting on the toilet, that she was going to be a grandmother for the first time.  Sorry, Mom.

I don’t think she really had time to process it (the death, not the baby), and she said she woke up thinking about it, and she was a little teary when she talked about it.  These friends are older than she is, actually closer to my grandparents’ age.  The wife was a foreign exchange student when she was in school, and lived with my grandfather’s mother for a year.  They always kept in touch, and the families have been back and forth to visit, and were always close with the parts of their family who lived in the U.S.  Their friendship, fifty years in the making, has been a special thing for both families, and although they don’t see each other often, they all exchange emails and phone calls regularly.

My mom was very excited to see them, and she hadn’t seen these two members of the family in almost thirty years.  The husband just retired and they sold their home and moved to an apartment, and they were so excited to have time together.  Their children are spread out all over the world, so I imagine they had travel plans too.  By all accounts, the husband’s death was very sudden.

I have been thinking, the last few days, about time marching on and change, and slowing down to take it all in, and this struck me as another variation on that theme.

HW likes to say that working in big law is like an eating competition where the prize is more food.  If you do really well and bill a lot of hours, you are lucky enough to move up a level, where you receive more work, and are expected to bill more hours, and eventually to bring in business, which I guess is like dessert?

Luckily, most of the time, he loves to eat, and we accepted, long ago, that he will never retire.**  Still, it does make one think.  We spend all of our lives working for something, competing, even if only against ourselves, trying to do better, all to one day retire, but by the time we retire, we are, most of us, old, and many of us, dead.

I told my mom it makes sense that she’s upset, and in a moment that was not my most diplomatic or sensitive, I told her I think she’s probably getting to that age where things like this will become more common.  Eesh, right?  I can be awkward sometimes, especially with emotional stuffs.  I didn’t mean it in a bad way, I more meant that it makes sense that this is upsetting to her, and maybe because it is kind of the beginning of dealing with that more often.  Her husband also had some pretty serious heart complications a few weeks ago, and her dad had some last week, and I remarked that she probably hasn’t really had time to process any of that.***  Honestly, I think I saw her getting upset and panicked and so I just started talking.  Not my best quality,**** but to be fair, I don’t have a lot of experience dealing with death, so dealing with it is kind of a mystery.

She replied that that’s probably a good thing.  If we slow down and take too much time to think about bad things that happen, moss grows on us or something like that.  I told her that wasn’t very zen of her.  She laughed.

It’s funny, because I guess I always thought my mom was more into feelings and slowing down and processing than I was, and actually it’s something that used to annoy me about her very much.  I couldn’t figure out where my desire to just keep marching came from, but I guess I thought it would have come from my dad.  I’m not sure why, he’s not exactly the “stay strong, keep marching” kind of guy.  He’s more of a, “if you disagree with me I will burn everything you love to the ground,” or “if I’m unhappy I’m going to leave (in one way or another)” kind of a guy.

In any case, it was an interesting moment, and an interesting conversation, and another opportunity to stop and think about life.  Where I’m going, where I’ve been, and where I am.  What do I want my life to look like?  What about my life in the past shapes that?  What does my life look like now, and what do I love about it, and what would I change?  All good questions.  Hopefully SOS will help me find the answers.

*I know some of you are reading this and thinking how sad or pathetic those numbers are.  “Get a life!  It’s not 1950!”  Well, it’s not 1950, as evidenced by the fact that my numbers aren’t 95% husband, 3% me, and 2% children.  Each person, and each mother in particular, has to find a balance that works for her.  I have four children under the age of seven, and not one of them is average, so yes, right now, they get 92%, and I have no apology to offer for that.  Or maybe you think those numbers are wrong the other way and that my children ought to take up 99%.  Well, I’ve been there too, and I can tell you that for me, when that happens, it’s not good for anyone, including my children.

**That’s what happens when two adults have piles of student loans, send their children to private school, and plan to finance their college education.  I’m not complaining.  I’m thankful to be able to make that choice.

***I was not trying to imply that she could not have simply been as upset as she was because a dear family friend died, only trying to encourage her to let herself feel whatever she was feeling, because those feelings are normal.  It just didn’t come out quite right, kind of like what happens when I write this blog.

****When I shared this conversation with HW he said, “JESUS! YOU SAID WHAT?!”  I laughed, a little embarrassed.  He told me that I am the most German person he has ever met. “Wait,” he said, “the second most German.  I think your grandmother beats you.”  And then I told him about how my grandmother told my mother the news and he laughed.  He did his best German accent and said, “Perhaps you are upset by this because it reminds you of your own mortality and the inevitability of your own death.  I think that’s probably it.  You are thinking about the inevitability of your own death.  I have to go now.  Goodbye.”  He’s not wrong.


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