This has become the Me Blog. So much so that you may have forgotten that I don't actually live alone. I have 5 children. I'm one of 8 children. Sometimes those statements still amaze me, but yet they're true. And really, they capsulize some of the most important information about me that there is. I've been a mom now for 22.5 years or so, since May of 1987. I've also been a daughter of course since the moment I was born, and a younger sister at the same time. Two years later, I became an older sister. In fact, tomorrow marks the day in 1968 when I became an older sister.
I come from a loving, imperfect, moderately crazy family. No really, we have all sorts of clinically diagnosed crazy running through the bloodlines. We had problems with drugs and teenagers and grades and depression and money and everything else. Yet, in spite of all that, we are still standing, and standing together. We have our moments, for sure, but when I picture my family, those moments end up in the distant background. I really have a wonderful family. If we focus for a moment only on quantitative ways of measuring success, among my siblings I'm the clear under-achiever. I don't mean that as self-flagellation, I mean that to show the quality of the group as a whole (The joke is that I'm one of 2 without a college degree, but since the other one I think might be an actual millionaire at this point, I'm still the official underachiever of record). There are 8 of us and, in spite of growing up with parents who learned as they went and made all the mistakes in the book, among that group of 8 people there are about 10 university and graduate degrees, 8 hardworking marriages, many good jobs, 8 mortgages paid, etc., and that doesn't even include the in-laws. Frankly, we're an awesome bunch. That's actually not the best part though.
The thing I'm thinking about is that there are 8 new families that came from my parents. Families that, in the tradition that my parents laid down, just keep working at it. And yes, in the family tradition, we continue to be loving, imperfect and moderately crazy. But, because my parents did their best and didn't give up, right now as we speak, there is a generation of 24 fairly new humans on the earth that are being raised by people who also won't give up. These precious 24 are being read to and taken for walks in strollers and driven to soccer practice and helped with schoolwork and sent to college and loved by their parents in a hundred different ways every day. I believe that is how the world and even the universe is designed to work. My family of origin gives me hope. We are evidence that normal, well-intentioned, imperfect parenting is okay. It's sufficient and successful if there is a foundation of love and values and caring that underscores the day to day efforts. The methods and the daily specifics are not as important as the constant effort and the intention behind it. A leader in my church named Dallin H. Oaks once taught me that a parent only fails when they give up. I really like that.
I now have the unique opportunity to have my mom right next door and think about being part of a family in some new ways. I'm happy to report that we get along fine and that we are getting into a very nice routine of being together and being apart. She and my dad are completely independent and so when we spend time together, it's because we choose to. Yesterday my daughter craved my mom's homemade chocolate pudding so Sara called before bed and asked for some. My mom was already in her jammies and getting settled down, but she promised it would be ready after school today. And it was. So this afternoon, Sara and I sat at my mom's table and ate yummy warm pudding. I see that as a moment for all of us to treasure. It all worked out for my mom. Some of the days when I was growing up, my mom was sick and napping when I got home from school. There were occasional times when I as the oldest sister was feeding babies and taking care of siblings in between homework and play practice. I did not always get asked about how my day went or get a nice snack. And I didn't hate her for it. I knew she loved me because of a million other things she did. Now, she has the opportunity to share her love in ways that bring balance to the crazy days when she was fighting chronic illness and had 7 children under the age of 15 living in her house and it was simply not possible for her to do for her children everything that she wanted to do. And so the world turns round.
Sometimes when I consider the lives of the many other women that I admire and have admired all through the years, even at my advanced age and supposed superior understanding (HA HA), I'm still tempted to get into the box of feeling like I have to compare myself. I'm well past the days of constantly trying to keep kids active and learning. I'm at the other end when A.) the suggestion to go to the Zoo or a museum or even the library would most likely elicit protests about wanting to sleep in or having too much homework, and B.) sometimes an outing just sounds like way too much because we've all been running through our days doing good things and we just want to stay home and catch up on TV shows. So we make popcorn and eat ice cream in the family room and lay on the couches and watch our shows. Not a lot of learning about the world or imagination going on, but we are all together. Its tempting to feel like I'm not doing enough. But then I look through my photo albums at the evidence of days that all too easily get tucked into deep, long-term memory and realize that the balance is already there.
While I'm thinking about all this, my oldest son calls from college just to say hi. He's excited about snow on the mountains and the coming thrills of the ski season. He loves life and is curious about the world. He makes me smile as he walks me through campus on his phone saying hi to friend after friend along the way. Can I really ask for anything more?
This afternoon, one of the weekly emails from my second son in Chile is a spontaneous letter just to me. It is only a few lines, but he tells me that he loves me and appreciates me. He is glad we are a family and that I'm his mom. Honestly, does it really matter in the big picture that he gave up on piano lessons when he was 9?
And just tonight my fiercely independent daughter asks me to braid her hair so it will be crinkly in the morning. She's been doing that lately, every so often. When she was a little girl, I couldn't get within 10 feet of her hair with a brush and a twinkle in my eye. It made me sad because she is my only daughter. I never got to play with her hair or dress her in cute things because she forcefully claimed her separate identity pretty much the moment she was born. In contrast, tonight we sit for 10 minutes together in the quieting house and I get to run my fingers through her beautiful hair and feel her warm back leaning companionably against my legs. It's a moment that has come about 10 years later than I thought it would, but it is somehow even more meaningful now, because she is coming to me.
I've rambled on here in a very different direction than what I first intended, but it feels good. I guess in the end, it was still about me, but this is the Me Blog so it's okay. I've gotten beyond the nagging doubts that I'm turning my kids into couch potatoes and am remembering that I like being a mom. I just canceled a trip I had planned with the kids because of things they want to do, things they should do, things that make them happy. I was worried that I'd made a mistake, that I should have put my foot down and said, "NO, We're going to be together and it will be fun, dang it! You will LOVE Smokey Mountains National Forest, do you hear me!" But that actually doesn't sound like much fun to me. They are becoming their own people now, and I get to be close by. I'm going to choose to be glad to be in their orbit and share in their amazingness.
For me, those days of childhood magic and innocence and everyone being excited about putting up Halloween decorations are over, but they existed and they mattered. For my mom, the days of struggling are over, and her life is now enriched by always being the beloved grandma. Tomorrow, I'll put up the decorations by myself and know that even if they don't say anything, they'll be glad I did it. And someday, they'll do it with their kids. Because I didn't give up.