Archive for the 'parenting' Category
I’ve been in a funk the last few days. I don’t exactly know why. The weather is gorgeous. We’ve had the most beautiful October. Ever. And we are all healthy. Maybe it’s because I joined the PTA. I stayed away as long as I could, until I couldn’t anymore. PTA moms are an altogether different species, and I just couldn’t see how to make myself fit in. I still can’t.
This is what I’ve observed so far: We, PTA moms, seem to have no other interests but to make copies, staple classroom information packets together, decorate for the auction, fundraise, and meet for lunch on Wednesdays. Where, I will add, bottle upon bottle of cheap white wine will be consumed and very little food will actually be eaten. And then when the weekend comes, we, PTA moms, can think of no better way to spend the time than to congregate on one field or another and cheer our kids on. We are so certain, that at least one of them, if not more, will be a professional soccer or football player. I mean, come on! Have you seen those kicks?
The entire social network of PTA moms seems to be made up of other moms with whom we discuss everything from how awesome our kids are - they are PERFECT and as such deserve only praise! - to whether milk is good or bad - it’s BAD, by the way. Very, very BAD! - to how often we have sex with our partners, - apparently we are all in our sexual prime because we have sex AT LEAST five times a week! When our husbands are home, that is. Because a lot of our husbands travel for business. - to how our single friends, or childless friends don’t understand us anymore -we feel betrayed. So it makes sense that with our husbands traveling and our other friends betraying us, we turn to other PTA moms for friendship.
Since we are so busy being PTA moms, we really have no time to read books. Unless it’s Shades of Grey, of course. Which we discuss quite a bit, giggling over some of the parts, and justifying how this book is a story about redeeming love - really! - and all of us can’t wait for the movie -NOT!!! If any mom suggests that we read something different next time, we immediately silence her with a look. I mean, doesn’t she already know that life is hard enough, and we are so busy, and our families and society as a whole, expect so much from us? If we read, we read for pleasure. We are such romantics! We are suckers for love stories! And reality TV.
If this is a harsh portrayal of my fellow PTA moms, I apologize. If I seem to arrive late for our meetings, and leave early, I apologize. If I yawn quite a bit when you all go on and on about one thing or another that is beyond boring to me, I apologize. Perhaps I’ll get around to your way of thinking one of these days. Until then, I’ll go and read Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. That is sure to get me out of this funk.
Summer’s finally here. And it is HOT! In the Pacific Northwest we only get two, sometimes three months break from the relentless rain that hammers against us, our towns and our forests. When summer finally arrives we treasure it for about five minutes and then proceed with complaints about how unbearably hot it is.
Which just shows how ungrateful we are. Because really, what’s there to complain of? Hours of doing absolutely nothing other than sitting at an outdoor cafe with our kids or our friends? Picking raspberries, cherries or peaches at the multiple family farms surrounding Portland, which we’ll take home and turn into pies and cobblers? Biking and picnicking in the shade of a tree by the water’s edge? Meeting friends for happy hour and not having to rush home and get the kids to bed? Exploring new hiking trails?
There is really no reason to complain.
So hello, Summer. And welcome!
Yesterday I took my daughter in for her yearly check-up. As she had her vision tested I remembered when I had mine at her age, but not because it was mandatory, but because I was a naughty little girl. Two of my closest friends in my first grade class were wearing glasses. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted glasses too. My friends said that they had headaches from all the squinting they had done. They said their eyes hurt. They said their eyes turned red.
I went home and cried to my dad that my head was killing me, and that my eyes hurt so terribly, I was afraid they’d fall out of the eye sockets. I rubbed and rubbed at them, and my eyes became red and inflamed from all the rubbing I did. I walked around the house squinting and rubbing at my eyes. My parents were worried. Bad eyesight was a common occurrence in my dad’s family. Three of the seven siblings were wearing bifocals.
So my dad took me to see the eye doctor.
The doctor’s sitting room was filled with kids who, no doubt, had the same idea I did. There they all were in their blue and white school uniforms rubbing at their eyes and squinting. And there were the parents slapping the kids hands away from their eyes, looking worried.
I was sure I would come home with a pair of glasses. I was sure I could fool the doctor just as I had fooled my parents. I was sure that all I had to do was just squint and rub at my eyes. No one told me I had to make mistakes reading the eye chart. I was a first grader and proud to be reading already. I wanted the doctor to see how smart I was, and what a good reader I was, and that I was sure to receive a certificate from my teacher claiming that I was the smartest little girl in all of the first grade.
The doctor was impressed. Not with my reading as much as with my vision. My vision was perfect, he said. And (almost) perfect it remains to this day.
My daughter is happy she doesn’t need glasses. They’d only get in the way of soccer and ballet, she says. Sunglasses, on the other hand, she can’t have enough.
All children have expectations of their parents. The seeds of expectation are planted in a child’s infancy, by the first cry. From the first: I am hungry, feed me; I am wet, change me; I am scared, protect me; I am hurting, love me, expectations are watered daily, and they grow. The roots go deep. Far into the earth. And whatever the outcome, disappointment follows.
I know all about disappointment, dashed expectations. Mines were dug out, set fire to, and destroyed soon after I turned nine. That’s when my childhood stopped. One day I was a child and the next I wasn’t.
It wasn’t anybody’s fault.
When my parents came to the United States in 1981, with five children clinging to their legs ranging from two years old to nine, they worried more about what things to bring in their allotted two suitcases, than about how they would function in this country. Functioning in the United States, in fact, was never an issue. To their minds they were not the first immigrants and they would certainly not be the last. Besides, they had family here, to secure them a furnished rental house, an automobile, even a job for my father. Within a year or two, with hard work and many economies, they would even be able to buy their own home. So many immigrants with a strong work ethic did it. They would too.
And they did. My father had two, three jobs at a time. He worked from four in the morning to eleven at night. Monday through Saturday. Week after week after week. For years and years. He did this while my mother raised us five, gardened and cooked and drove us to school and to church and to wherever else we needed to go. All because they were determined that their children have a better life than they did. That they’d have better opportunities.
But it was the lack of English skills that they bumped against every single time they stepped out of the house: at the grocery store, at the bank, at the doctor’s office. And as the oldest child in the family, I became their interpreter. A parent to them, in a sense. Their confidant. The one privy to all their secrets and moles and blood clots and financial situations. I had more control over their lives than I understood. And maybe even more than they understood.
While my sisters and brothers chased each other in the rows of vegetables and fruit trees, while they splashed in a plastic blue kiddie pool in the shade of the backyard pomegranate tree, or read books, or played with bits of wood they imagined as dolls and action figures and cars under the scented lemon trees of the front yard, I was translating insurance forms or waiting on the line for the electric company. That’s when the seeds of responsibility were planted. One. By. One.
I did not know any better. I was raised to respect my elders.
If there was any resentment toward them, if there was any resentment that I didn’t have the freedoms of my siblings, it was buried deep within my body, somewhere in my toes, I think. It was the toes that always itched to run away when I heard my name called.
But I never ran. Responsibility had become a vine and I was ensnared within it.
No matter how busy I am throughout the year, I always make time to slow down in the summer. I make time to pamper myself and those I love. I make time to relax. To laugh. I make time to be present in the daily moments of wonder, of gratitude and of beauty.
So here’s my recipe for a magical summer:
Daily one-on-one time with my sweetie. Yup. I KNOW he’s gorgeous.
Eating well. Summer is my favorite food season. Oops, second favorite. Winter’s first;
Long talks with my BB’s - beautiful brilliant - children. Far into the night;
Creating. Playing. Relaxing;
Ice cream dates. Every day. Why not?
Get-togethers with friends. The conversations, the laughter, the ease of being with people who love me and don’t judge.
Reading. Reading. And more reading. Inside. Outside. On a blanket at the beach. On a blanket in a field. Anywhere. Anytime.
How about you? What are your recipes for a great summer?
I haven’t been feeling all that great the last several weeks, dead tired by nine, fast asleep by ten, and wide awake at three. The world is quite different at three in the morning. Every sound magnified, every shadow lengthened. I make my rounds in the dark, check on sleepy heads, careful not to trip over blankets dragging on the floor. In the kitchen I turn on the lamp, settle myself in the big chair and reach for my journal or laptop. Journal usually wins. Because blogging at three in the morning isn’t always wise.
But right now, I feel like blogging, because after dinner last night I picked up Night by Elie Weisel, thinking I’d read a chapter before sleep, and an hour and a half later, I finished the book, tearful and exhausted. There was so much I wanted to say, and don’t know if I’ll remember it all, but all I could manage then was a good cry over all the suffering that goes on in the world. I was so tired, I fell asleep before I even wiped my tears away.
For the last five hours I’ve dreamt only of stifling hot cattle cars and of digging in the cellar for my family’s treasures, my mouth clamped shut over my gold-crowned teeth, afraid the evil dentist was somewhere in the darkness, ready to yank the gold out. It seemed so real! I awoke relieved it was a dream, and that I had no gold anywhere in my mouth.
When I was twelve and reading The Diary of Anne Frank, the pastor at my church - whose daughter was my age and probably reading the same book with her seventh grade class - said that the Holocaust was God punishing the Jews for crucifying Jesus. What shocks me now is that I wasn’t shocked then. I remember that Sunday, the slant of the sun coming in through the windows, the heads in the audience nodding in agreement. All those nodding heads, lacking their own method of reasoning, believing what they were told without question. Just like me, afraid to challenge what I heard lest I lose friends or I become confused.
When I see how strong the need is to be liked and popular and when I see how much effort it takes to think for oneself, I am not surprised how idly we stand by, how we distance ourselves from the suffering of those different than we are, and how quickly we find reasons to defend our apathy. It’s tragic and I hate it. And I realize that as a mother my role is to teach my children HOW to think, and not WHAT to think. Because there will be plenty of people to tell them that.
I still remember that early cool morning, the first day of the rest of my life. There I was, dressed in one of my two blue and white checkered school uniforms, ready to go before either of my parents were even awake, my white collar stiff, my royal blue apron not a wrinkle. Tante Marie, my mom’s aunt, and accomplice in all things exciting for a child, got me ready, giggling with as much anticipation as I had. When my mom awoke, the first thing she noticed was that I hadn’t washed the sleep from my eyes, nor brushed my teeth. Breakfast was a hurried matter, a necessity to ensure I wouldn’t starve before school let out at noon.
With my Tante running to keep up with me, I picked up my brown imitation-leather satchel and slung it across my shoulders, skipping across the cobblestones. I was thrilled at the prospect of opening it and showing off - to my yet unknown classmates - my carved pencil box with its lid etched with red poppies, that slid across the top. I loved my pencil box, and I loved the smell of the pencils I filled it with, pencils received from my uncles and grandmother in the States. I longed to sharpen them all and to scribble away in my composition book.
As the days of summer ebbed away and autumn came with its wind and rain, and soon after winter with its deep, cold snow, I learned my math and practiced my reading and writing far into the evening hours. More than anything, I feared to be called to the front of the class and not know my lesson. Humiliation came in the form of a ruler rapped across an open palm, or across the fingertips. A reminder for the rest of the classmates of what awaited each and every one.
Maybe I was really smart, but most probably my mother kept the teacher well supplied with cigarettes and bubble gum, because I was rarely called to recite any lesson or perform any math equation. And because I didn’t have to prove my knowledge, neither was I disciplined. Still, the knots in my stomach were ever present, even when it became apparent that I was the teacher’s pet.
I think of all this, on the eve of another school year, the first for my daughter. She can’t wait for it to start. She has been counting down the days, morning and night. And I am so happy that she can go on growing in her self-confidence, in her love of learning. For a child there is nothing worse that the expectation of failure. Be it through a parent, a teacher, oneself.
And so in closing, I want to wish a happy and successful school year to all the children. Oh, and for the parents and the teachers, patience and wisdom, cause God knows, we’ll need it.
My mother firmly believed in children taking naps. Her day was busy. The two hours we were supposed to be sleeping was the only time she could dedicate to herself without interruption. She would shut the shutters and pull the drapes, making the bedroom as dark as possible, then line each of us in the big bed in order of age. Being the oldest, I was the last to get in.
I hated napping. I didn’t need much sleep. Everything has changed the minute I gave birth, of course. Now I can sleep and sleep, but don’t have the time.
Sometimes my mother would sit in one of the chairs and wait for us to fall asleep, scolding us to close our eyes or we would “get it.” Getting it, probably meant a spanking or a slap. I don’t know. We never actually “got it,” although we always expected to. The rest of my siblings would fall asleep, and I would listen to their gentle snores and pretend that I was asleep as well. Then she’d leave the room and shut the door, turning the key and locking us in. I know. I can hear you all thinking: Inhumane. But back then everyone and their grandmother did it.
The bedroom had a glass door covered by a lace curtain. It looked right into what would be called the living room, but what was actually a fancy sitting room that also doubled as a guest room. My mother would sit and read or sit and entertain her girlfriends who’d come visit. I would get out of bed as quietly as I could and make my way to the door, crouching there, waiting to see what would happen. I wonder if she ever suspected me. If she read, there was nothing to see, as soon enough she’d fall asleep herself, and she was not a light sleeper. That’s when I would explore the bedroom’s every nook and cranny for the stashes of chocolate I knew were hidden. My mother rarely came to check on us once she had locked the door.
If her girlfriends came, she would serve them something sweet, and they’d sit around the table talking and laughing. The mother I observed then was a stranger to me. There was nothing serious about her. She was all smiles. I would study her friends’ shoes and clothes, their mannerism. Some were pretty and I was sure they were nice. The not so attractive ones, I was convinced they weren’t. I believed in fairy tales and that outward beauty equalled inward beauty.
Although she never left us home alone, I knew that some of her friends did leave their children to go to work, or stand in long queues for scarce food items. In different cultures people do different things. I used to have a French neighbor here in the States, who’d leave her three year old napping at home, while she’d run her errands. I wonder if that little girl slept the entire time her mommy was gone or if she woke up crying, terrified. But then I realized that it was the American in me thinking that.
If I would get too lonely during nap time, I would pinch the baby whose wails would wake up the others and send my mother rushing in. I would feign sleep. Surprisingly I was never caught; my brother was too young to tell.
Now I wish I had a designated time of day to nap. My children aren’t nappers. My son stopped napping soon after he turned one. He gets by on less than ten hours of sleep. My daughter napped until she turned three, and then just stopped. But I wish I could turn down the bed in the middle of the day and slip between the cool sheets. The room dark and quiet. Ah. Bliss.
The silvery light of the full moon gets trapped inside my bedroom and wakes me up. It’s 3:30 am. The house is silent and asleep. The air outside so still, almost as if the world is holding its breath. I feel restless. I want to go and make myself some coffee, curl up in the armchair in the kitchen, read my book. But I don’t think I can still my mind enough. Down the hallway, through the open door of her bedroom, I hear my daughter grinding her teeth. I wonder what she’s dreaming of, this child of mine made of light and laughter. I want to go and curl my body around her small one, hold her tight, my nose buried in the softness of her hair. Instead, I say a prayer for her. A prayer for my son. My sweet, sweet boy. More than anything, still wanting the approval of his parents.
I feel a sadness deep inside. Threatening. I don’t know what or why. I remember my mother back when I was a teenager. How I would wake up in the night and hear her praying. I understand her now. Her fervent wishes for her children. Her need to know that we would be all right.
I think of how as parents we have all these expectations of our children. And they of us. Nothing profound in that. But when I think about it, I wonder if our expectations are ruining the greatness within them. Perhaps making them feel imperfect, insufficient. Because our aspirations for them aren’t all justified, are they. Most are purely selfish. What we had wanted for ourselves. And what does that teach them?
Twice, this past week, I felt a tightness in my chest, as though I was about to burst. Light headed, my breaths rushing out, the sound of my heartbeat deafening in my ears. It’s probably nothing. It isn’t the first time I’ve scared myself silly, thinking I’m about to die. It isn’t the first time I’ve idealized my worries.
I took the children out to pizza for lunch, the other day. It had snowed with thick snowflakes early in the morning. Chunks of clouds falling from the sky. By noon the day had cleared, the sun stinging my eyes with its brightness. We dressed warmly and walked. We took the train to Powell’s and lost ourselves within its walls. On our way back, I saw a girl on a pink bike, wearing a pink satin skirt. She was at a stoplight, waiting her turn in the car line. Her face was upturned to the sun. There was a stillness about her. A joy.
All these disjointed thoughts swirling through my head. They don’t make much sense, I know. And come the light of day, I may cringe at how foolish they seem, and delete them all.
A quarter of a mile up the road from our house, the woods begin. On a hot summer day, we grab our water bottles and sweaters, and head out. Within five minutes we’ve left the city behind, with its noise, its traffic, its suffocating heat. We follow the dirt path that meanders through the firs, the jasmine, and the wild blackberry bushes, the only sound that of the gurgling stream, and birds calling to each other.
The deeper in we go, the cooler it gets. We don our sweaters and button them up. The kids race up ahead, my son gathering salmonberries, naming ferns and mushrooms, my daughter picking wildflowers she presents to me, or down to the stream looking for salamanders. They jump from one rock to another, wanting to be the first to get to the opposite shore. I watch, my heart in my throat, and caution them. My husband laughs and tells me to relax. He goes to join them, a protective hand hovering above the little one.
Finally we arrive at remains of the old Stone House. This is our turning point. Husband and I sit on a log, quench our thirst, and the little ones prepare to put on a show. The old stone structure is their castle, the forest their kingdom, their dad and I, their subjects.
On our way back down, I offer up a little prayer of gratitude. For my beautiful family, for the magic of childhood, for the trees, and the flowers, and the sun, and the air we breath. I am amazed and moved to tears. It is in the midst of nature that I feel closest to God.