Sunday, April 1, 2012

....By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

A few weeks ago my granddaughter had been over for a visit. We were in my bedroom and she was seated atop my bed, sketching and writing on a tablet. I had been putting some things into my dresser drawers and we were talking. Out of the blue she rips a piece of paper from her tablet and hands it to me. She said, “Nonni, I wrote your name!”

She had indeed. She had written what was her phonetic interpretation of my name. She’s only ever called me “Nonni” and I can’t say she would have heard my name spoken very often elsewhere. Of course she would know what it is but in the context of our conversations and those within the family, I’m usually known either as “Mom” or “Nonni”. Looking at this piece of paper with my misspelled name written in the hand of a precious seven year old, I thought about how I am perceived by my children. I thought about how I want to be perceived by my granddaughter.

As parents, we spend a lot of time thinking about the example we set for our children. Actions speak more loudly than words so we are careful about what our actions say to them, or rather we should be. In my role as parent I have always tried to strike a balance between setting the bar for expectations and allowing room for human nature to be what it is. I wanted to be an example of what to aspire but not set an unattainable goal.

What I wanted them to see was a strong, quietly confident and independant woman. Trustworthy, accomplished and decisive. Content in myself as a person. Committed to the family, having complete faith in them as individuals and possessing unwavering and limitless love for them.

That is not to say I want them to see perfection. I’m far from perfect and they know it. I just never want my children to see my weaknesses, Weakness that is not to be confused with my vulnerability or the soft places that lie within me. While such things are not as prominently displayed as my strengths, they are nevertheless equally important for them to be able to see. And they do.

What I don’t want for them to see is failure, my failures. Shortcomings I have not conquered. Shortcomings that remain within my life’s struggle. As they grow older they will inevitably figure them out for themselves but hopefully having also drawn whatever conclusion they may based upon the entire picture and not my singular place in it. I want the roots I have given them to be strong and true and suitable to support them as they grow into the adults they have and will become.

So it is with a measure of amusement that I ponder how it is my granddaughter will perceive me (as well as how any other of the children of my children to come will). It is completely within my control as to what I let her see and how much of me she will know. Grandparents are in a unique position and one that is to be arrived at with great care. We want to advise and not interfere. we want to support and not supplant. We want to love unconditionally but with the full understanding that we will always be a close third at best in the order of things. As it should be.

I think what I want is for her to simply see what my children see, the strength and the commitment. A standard for her to understand is worthy of upholding. But I also want her to see something else, something that is part role model and part safe haven. A link in the chain that is our family and a tie that binds her to unconditional love with a good dose of expectation. A tie that binds her to my heart as she goes forward in finding her way. Always knowing that when she faces what she may struggle to conquer, she need only look back from where she came to find her way. Look back to me.

And however she may spell my name is not important as long as she knows that when she calls it, I will be here. Always.


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Seanny’s Mother Really Is Awesome

She is.

I have known Seanny’s mom since she was slightly older than our sons are now. She was working part-time in my office while going to school. Our mothers are friends and I probably know more about her than she realizes. We lost touch over the years but had re-connected when we found our sons were playing freshman football together and had become good friends.

She’s about ten years younger than I am and has had two unsuccessful marriages. Both of her children, high schoolers, are from her first marriage. She is a single mom by definition and had mostly raised her kids herself. She was working a second job for a while and just recently has been able to give it up.

Her enthusiasm for life is incredible. She’s an endearing circus act and you can’t help but love her. My youngest gets invited to an annual Mets game each year and he always returns with stories of their adventures that day complete with photos. She called me one day to see if I could do anything to improve her son’s chances of getting a job in the security department where I work. High school kids aren’t generally hired for these positions but she thought she’d give it a shot. Turns out I could do something and I made a call. She’s still trying to do something for me in return.

I count her on my list of women who I view as the best moms I know. She’s on that list for the things about her that have nothing to do with motherhood. You see…she’s a woman who is not defined by motherhood. She’s actively involved with her children’s interests but their interests are not her only ones. There’s so much more to her. She’s immersed in a life of her own separate from her role as mother and that is what makes her interesting. She brings that identity to her children’s lives and enriches them as a result. She doesn’t exist for them but her separate existence is what has helped them grow into the great teenagers that they are. She leads by example. She shows them how to live a full life by living one of her own. She shows them that having been dealt a tough hand doesn’t limit. She’s shown them that she’s faced some tough things but they never have to worry about her because she can handle what comes her way. She’s shown them an example of a strong woman for a daughter to become and strong woman for a son to choose as a partner.

She’s shown them that she’s their mother but that’s not all she is. She’s shown them that they are the most important part of her life but she’s also shown them the life she has separate from theirs. She’s shown them that they too will grow into strong and independent individuals who will go on to have great lives for themselves no matter what they face. She’s shown them that she is an awesome woman who has had children, pretty amazing ones at that.

She’s one of the best moms I know.


Seanny and the Awesome Mother

My youngest came in from school not long ago and said, “Seanny’s mom is awesome!!!!!!!!!”

Now my youngest is a happy kid. He’s enthusiastic but is not usually this effervescent especially in regard to somebody’s mom. I wanted to know why it was he was so completely taken with her awesomeness. So I asked him why he thought so. Apparently Seanny’s mom sprung Seanny from school during lunchtime by dropping in and taking him out of school for the day and off to buy a new baseball game for his PS3…. just because. Now the kicker for me is that my son looked me straight in the eye and said, “something you would NEVER do“. Twist the knife why don’t you sonny boy. Twist the knife.

I know Seanny’s mom and yes she is awesome. She’s awesome for a thousand other reasons besides the video game expedition. The level of enthusiasm in my son’s voice is what caused that twisting twinge that I felt inside. I don’t need anyone to tell me what kind of a mother I am, but I would have liked to hear my own son say …”not as awesome as you”. I guess my youngest has not yet reached that point in his maturity where he looks at me and sees the entire picture. It’s not that he’s unappreciative or spoiled. It’s just that he still sees what I won’t do or don’t do rather than all I have done. His vision is still a tad obscured in this regard.

My two older children see that entire picture and have spoken quite frankly where my maternal skills are concerned. Any affirmation I would have ever needed has come from them both in word and deed. If I ever have my doubts I only have to look to them to see evidence of the many things I’ve done right. While I have made more than my share of maternal mistakes, there is an awful lot that I got right. The awesome is right there for me to see.

As far as Seanny’ and his awesome mom are concerned, I’m fairly certain Seanny has said the same of me. A few months ago I made a call and he got the part time job he had been certain was beyond his reach but very much needed. Then there was the little matter of a boy and his mother on senior night and another mother who made sure that the boy’s absent father’s actions did not embarrass his mother that night. My son knows nothing of either event and that’s how it will remain. That’s fine because Seanny doesn’t need to tell my son that his mother is awesome. He’ll figure it out for himself someday.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

You Poor Thing

You poor thing.

That’s what someone recently replied after I had shared a small piece of something that I have been dealing with personally. You poor thing.

Naturally I was taken aback. It was somewhat of a struggle for me to remain quiet and not give life to the thoughts that immediately began to roil about in my head. I am probably the least of the poor things you would ever come across in this life. An understatement if there ever was.

My mother had very definite ideas about what things impressionable young ladies should see and hear. Her agenda in raising me was directed toward shaping me into a serious person. She did not glorify screen actresses. She downplayed beauty as an asset citing common sense as a more desirable attribute. She didn’t exactly tell me how to think but she made it perfectly clear as to how I shouldn’t.

I suppose as a result, growing up, I didn’t like the weak women I saw depicted in film or on TV. I was attracted to heroines. I liked the women who figuratively “kick ass”. Once I saw Wrangler Jane on the TV series, F Troop I immediately fell in love. A woman who could shoot a rifle, ride a horse and look good? My kind of woman! I also wanted to be Lt. Uhura on the TV series Star Trek. It didn’t matter that Captain James T. Kirk went around kissing every other female on the show… Uhura was on the bridge and helped run the Enterprise! She didn’t need to kiss the captain to get there either.

It’s not that I was a tomboy but I never much cared for super feminine women who needed rescuing…. by a man. I became annoyed observing women on TV and film who always seemed to fall down helplessly, generally while getting chased by an attacker, appearing as if suddenly they forgot how to stay upright. Wide-eyed and blinking, chest heaving and ready to meet peril, waiting for a man to come along and save the day. They got on my nerves. Of course there are the ones who had to drape themselves over a man while they dissolved into tears, helpless and needy, fearfully expecting salvation. Pathetic. The worst of the lot, to me, were those hapless fools seemingly looking for a rescue, basically tripping over any man in the vicinity who might provide one. Horrid stereotypes, I know, but they were common in the late 1960s. Sadly, some still remain.

It’s not that I don’t like men or like to be assisted or helped out by a man when help is needed. I rather enjoy men. I adore chivalry and appreciate masculine gestures of respect and the kindnesses a man can extend to a woman. I just need them to be sincere gestures born from humanity and not superiority. There needs to be a certain symmetry in the gesture without the slightest suggestion of an expectation other than my thanks.

Nothing more, nothing less.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

One Hundred Ways

One Hundred Ways is a song written by Benjamin Wright, Anthony Tryrone Coleman and Kathleen Wakefield and recorded by Quincy Jones. Most people are familiar with the recording by James Ingram but I prefer the arrangement by Mr Jones. It's a song about the lengths a man should go to show the woman he loves what she means to him.

One hundred ways is also the subject of a thread I came across in an online group this week. The thread was a repost of a list of One Hundred Ways to Make Your Marriage Rock that can be found on the website, We Are THAT Family.

The thread got me thinking. It got me thinking about marriage and about how to sustain one over the long haul. It got me thinking about the many ways I have tried to sustain mine. Many, many ways. More than one hundred, certainly.

Because I am a self admitted, wise ass know-it-all, I set out to poke holes in the logic supporting the list. I meant no disrespect to the person who posted the thread. I thought many of the suggestions were worthy of a try. Some were downright lovely ( # 24 Renew your vows privately with whispers and memories). That's not to say I wasn't doubtful of the validity of such a list. So many of the items on it made me shake my head. It's not so much that I am a pessimist, I'm far from it, but rather I am a realist and I saw lots of room to debunk what I thought wasn't exactly solid advice. My reason boils down to one simple fact. It takes two.

It takes two to tango, it takes two to strike a bargain, it takes two to play catch, it takes two to make a quarrel. It takes two to make a marriage work.

It takes two to make a marriage work ... but just one to make it fail. It doesn't matter how many date nights you plan, how many love notes you hide in his pocket and how many little tricks you pull out of your sleeve to try and infuse love and romance back into a relationship. There is just one trick really. One simple trick that works. One that is tried and true and stands the test of time. The trick is finding that person who is just as willing, just as committed and just as emotionally invested in keeping the marriage strong and alive and fulfilling as the other is in order to make it work. It takes two.

While no marriage is fool-proof, while human nature is what it is, there are likely to be lean patches and troubled waters in most marriages. Life is hard, raising a family is challenging, and sometimes things are just plain overwhelming. Mistakes are made, lines are blurred and strain rules. Couples check out and close off as they try and cope. Often it is the more committed of the two, the stronger of the two who keeps the marriage alive and intact and holds it all together. It is also the more loving of the two who can set aside personal wants and needs in order to try and redirect the relationship. That person can read all of the lists in the world, they can do one hundred things, try one hundred ways .... they can try one thousand ways ... to make things better... but in the end it will always take two to make it work.

It takes two.