Tuesday, December 16

Loosening the Grip

“One of the most difficult responsibilities of a mother is the process of letting go… As
mothers we have this incredible desire to be with them every step of the way. We
know we need to let go, yet we want to walk with them just a little longer. We
feel torn as we recognize new levels of independence. We struggle with our
identity as they take steps away from us. It is a bittersweet experience at
times knowing that their independence is the ultimate goal of motherhood, yet
wanting time to slow down.” jill savage, professionalizing motherhood

Over two months ago, I read this quote as I endlessly searched for writers and authors who documented similar feelings I was experiencing as my older son’s second birthday quickly approached. I needed some type of affirmation that the rollercoaster upon which I was riding was a frequent ride in the journey of motherhood. For the longest time I invested conversation in my husband begging for empathy that he too felt dismayed with our children growing up so fast.

“Sure,” he would agree with no further details. “But that’s life.”
So simple, I would think to myself. Isn’t there more?

“But doesn’t it make you sad?! To see how quickly the kids are growing?” I would plead. With each question my voice became more desperate. Sensing this, he again would agree with nothing further discussed. I persisted.

“Well, I mean, Justine is now fourteen. Obviously you must also feel a larger array of bittersweet feelings, Jas, right? How do you deal with it? The sadness you feel to acknowledge how quickly your life is traveling and the light speed at which your kids are growing, how do you make that pain go away?”

He paused, and his quiet response was simple, yet genuine as I realized that he also feels the same, but just responds to the pain differently.

He sadly replied, “You can‘t. You just accept it.”

With that last comment before drifting off to sleep, I quietly stained my pillowcase with tears that this feeling is real, and that even a human with concentrated levels of testosterone can experience this bittersweet ride although maybe fathers deal with this differently. However, I had to acknowledge and continue to struggle with the fact that the principal of letting go is something I must begin to practice regardless of how unwilling I am to do it.

Perhaps, instead, someday I’ll figure out how exactly we can slow time.

Monday, December 1

Mindful to Moderation

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing
succeeds like excess.” Oscar Wilde

As we near the time of year when is excessive is usually the operative word [e.g. over the top blow up decorations in my neighbors yard, ridiculous pounds of butter in the family shortbread recipe, or the back to back jewelry commercials sounding their bull horns through the TV], it’s nice to consider the idea of moderation.
I’m not a nutritionist but I do have some applicable ideas in helping you cut back on the calories this holiday season. It’s certainly as simple as common sense.

1. Give plenty. If you’re going to spend hours baking those non-low fat cookies that have been around since Great-great-great Grandma’s time, [who used lard, shortening and butter to make them taste sinfully delicious], make sure you pack them up to spread the tasty holiday cheer with others. If you plan to make eight varieties of cookies at two dozen a pop, keep a couple from each batch for your family. Otherwise, pack the rest in sealable, air tight containers and freeze them until needed for others.
2. Socialize with Conversation. Everyone does more visiting and socializing during the holidays, and where there are parties there is food. Where there is food, copious amounts of adult beverages, rich appetizers and creamy chocolaty desserts linger, and unfortunately there are boundless calories to be consumed. Enjoy yourself at holiday events, but be mindful of where you keep your company. Try to avoid standing over the buffet table, and make an effort to talk more and eat less. When socializing, avoid eating until you’re able to sit and truly enjoy your food, which is when you will be less likely to overindulge.
3. More water please! Whether you’re baking for Santa’s stop on Christmas Eve, or preparing a feast for twelve guests, keep the water pitcher handy. People are more apt to pick at food consuming extra calories when prepping food in the kitchen. Water, albeit a tasteless substance, will keep your stomach feeling full and less likely to indulge in the test tasting, and less likely to overeat when the meals are served. Also, if you need a fixation in your mouth while cutting the crudities, unwrap a five calorie piece of sugarless chewing gum to satisfy your needs.
4. Smaller is better! During mealtime or party time, rather than fill an oversized dinner plate with food, opt for a salad plate. Common wisdom would suggest that the less food on a plate would also suggest less food consumed… less calories… you get the idea.
5. Move. Literally. Just exercise, and if that’s not feasible, then just do the much contemplated but rarely followed idea to take the furthest available spot at the shopping mall, or walking up four flights of stairs to your doctor’s appointment instead of taking the elevator. If you have the energy, then go outside for a walk, run or even hike if the mood strikes. Whatever your pleasure, try to take advantage of your down time and do something productive. There certainly is a connection between physical activity and the serotonin levels in your brain. The more you move, the better you will feel, [and the less guilty you will feel for eating the last piece of Aunt Kay’s Pecan Pie].

When in doubt, take on the daunting task of preparing a holiday feast. I can tell you that having recently cooked a fantastic, borderline gourmet Thanksgiving feast for 14 people, the last thing I felt like doing was consuming more than a custard cup full of food. Take my advice with a grain of salt [or sugar], but when you do indulge in the delights of the holiday season, do so without feeling regret. Enjoy, but take heed: everything is best when done in moderation.

Sunday, November 30

The Beaten Path

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of
failure.” Sven Goran Eriksson
Prior to writing this entry I searched for my quote, and decided to look in the appropriate category of fear. The number of fear quotes on this website [thinkexist.com] was nearly as popular as friendship or family quotes. It’s not surprising or at least comforting to some degree that many people have their own phobias. My phobia just happened to be listed as numeral uno on the list.

Perhaps fear of failure is one common to many people, but suffice to say it is my greatest nemesis. However, my fear is as much a phobia lurking inside of me as it is something of my own conscious decision: I choose to be afraid of failing.

Last weekend, as I drove to work which I do part-time on the weekends as a banquet server to an upscale facility in my hometown I again began to feel the sinking notion that I’m doing nothing with my degree. And it’s not as if I “never did” anything with my bachelor degree. For four years I worked in public relations, copywriting, editing, page layout and design, and basic graphic design for an alternative energy company. Two of those four years I worked while attending school part-time so I could finish my degree in my four-year goal, and pursue my career full-force. After graduating, I stayed with the firm and traveled quickly up the ladder to be working alongside the CEO, vice-chairman and several VPs of the company doing pertinent projects to the mission of their ground workings in alternative energy.

Then… kids happened. Well my kids didn’t just happen. Since the get-go of my relationship with my husband I inherited the step-mom badge, but after a few years of marriage I finally got pregnant and later determined that I wanted to stay home to raise them. And so for the time being, in light of our ever-fabulous economy I am working part-time in the restaurant industry’s ever draining environment on the weekends so my husband can stay home while I work, and vice-versa.

After working for a couple of hours last Saturday, at least a dozen times I passed the table of name cards for the two-hundred plus wedding we were catering. Normally I scour over these names, although I rarely ever know any of the guests. A half an hour passed and the guests arrived. I passed a woman chatting to another guest who appeared to be mother of the bride or groom. I did a triple take as I noticed I knew this woman as the mom of a girl I graduated with from high school. I dashed back to the card table, and scanned the names of the guests. My stomach began to churn and my hands sweat profusely as I realized that literally over a third of the people would undoubtedly know me. Even worse, they were the “people you could do without seeing until your 25th reunion, but even then it’s too soon” classmates.

It was an awkward night of doting over my guests and serving or clearing the plates of the irritating twits I graduated with over eight years ago. It was the continual “So you’re a… waitress now?” My confidence fizzled when I uttered “Well, I stay home with my boys.. Full time. And I do this on the weekends.” Stabbing myself in my eye with a red-hot poker was more inviting that being present. Although I have the utmost respect for anyone who commits to the restaurant industry and does it well, I cannot continue loathing the fear of failure. I am not saying that being a server is beneath me. I’m just through being too damn scared to pursue my writing career on my own. Sadly enough, it’s far easier to travel on the beaten path of ease than it is to take a trail of greater resistance. And if it’s nothing but the squeamish feeling I had from seeing old classmates again then fine, but it’s time for me to face my fears head on and pursue my career.

Tuesday, November 4

Meeting on Middle Ground

“This is the true nature of home -- it is the place of Peace; the shelter, not only from injury, but from all terror, doubt and division.” John Ruskin
With Election Day finally upon us I think most living individuals are breathing a sigh of relief. Unfortunately all of the vacant ad spots so densely filled with campaigning efforts will soon be snagged by every major toymaker, jeweler, florist, and grocery store enticing you to overindulge for the holiday season upon us. After all we are five days past Halloween, so we are behind the eight ball to get things focused on materialistic crap to purchase for that special someone.

Despite all of things to come on our TVs I have to say that I'm mostly glad it's Election Day so our country can finally unite. Honestly regardless of the outcome there will certainly be parties hurt across the country that their vote did not make their candidate of choice to office, but for the most part I hope an overwhelming majority will just move on. Personally I cast my vote for Obama/Biden this morning, but if you chose McCain/Palin, kudos to you. My aunt is a die-hard McCain/Palin fan, so much so that we in my family have cast her as the crazy McCain fan satirized in the SNL skits this fall. There is an uncanny resemblance. But unlike the aloof manner of the character on SNL my Aunt Joyce has no qualms in telling you why you are ruining the USA if you vote Obama. She is so far out in right field it's hard to stomach listening to her. I'm not a left-wing loon either. I just agree with Obama's points that are most important to me. Period.

I just want to reach a middle ground. Sometimes conflicts, like the divided differences in this campaign, drive people a part instead of uniting. I'm truly looking forward to some peacetime although as I mentioned earlier I have a feeling it may take more time to achieve that.

In my own family there has been undoubted division as we have a teenager, who is just about as foreign as they come to the human race. Justine has gone through significant changes in the past two years. An only child for 12 years, and suddenly is a sister to two boys in the period of 14 months, we are finally able to get back to her. I've realized how much it has been a black and white issue with Justine-- between my husband and I, and then Justine. It was classic right and wrong, but the error in that was how we looked at it. We didn't budge from our point of view for much of anything and likewise for her. As a result it has been a long time since the middle ground was even visible.

About two months ago there was a breakthrough. We finally met somewhere in the middle of this pothole infested road of our family and agreed to just both let go of our grips ever so gently so that we could both back out of our corners. Suddenly a different Justine emerged, and I have to say two different parents emerged too. Of course the horns will continue to lock as she is at an utmost difficult age that I would never want to return for all the money in the world. But I feel such a sense of relief to be content in the middle of this crooked path.

For the first time in a long time Justine and I just watched a movie together this weekend. Baby Mama. To me, a mom, it was hilarious and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Justine laugh as much as I did the movie itself. I helped her redecorate parts of her room the next day, and the following day got her ready for a Halloween Party. Though she left the house looking like a streetwalker, in the most subtle of terms, it was a kickback to the 80's and makeup was synonymous with being hooker-like. It was fun, and it was on that middle ground that we met.

While I realize a comparison of my teenage stepdaughter to the Presidential Election is a huge stretch, I think it's important to remember that sometimes we are so outspoken about our opinions and righteousness that we divide and segregate ourselves instead of coming together. And at the bottom of things, as human beings I think all of us want to unite so with the close of this long arduous race upon us I hope the great majority of us will slowly make our way to the middle of the road. And for the divided families among us too, the middle is out there somewhere no matter how foggy it is to find. It's there you just have to look in a different direction to find it again.

Raking Leaves

“Parents are often so busy with the physical rearing of children that they miss the glory of parenthood, just as the grandeur of the trees is lost when raking leaves.” Marcelene Cox
I was thinking this past week about the extraordinary autumnal colors taking full effect around our home. I watched over a few days the maple tree in our front yard make an amazing transformation in its foliage. My favorite part was not the deep burgundy color it developed before dropping to the ground, but instead the mid-transformation when the veins of the leaf were still green, and the color progressed outward to yellow, orange and then red. It resembled something I’ve never seen before, as if I was seeing fall for the first time this year. It was so striking to me, in fact, that one day during the boys’ nap I collected some tie-dye leaves and scattered them throughout the various rooms of our house for an autumnal feel inside.
That same day when he came home from work, Jason looked at me more intensely than usual saying very non-verbally “You’ve really gone off the deep end today,” when I explained to him how amazing leaves are as if once again this was a new discovery to be documented on Wikipedia. Then he verbally uttered, “Haven’t you ever raked before, Steph?”
“Of course I’ve raked, Jason, but I’m too busy staring at the brown carpet of decay on the grass to have ever realized this process before.”
I’ve thought lately about maybe how many other things I’ve missed out on because I was hurrying through life, and dreading the raking. Probably too much to count. And I’ve relayed that to my life as a parent.
Mason just turned two yesterday, and it was a fantastic day. It was reminiscent of the very early Wednesday morning he was born two years ago. Absolutely crystal clear, and seasonably warm outside with the colors of fall all around us. Standing misty-eyed in our driveway as he rode his brand new tricycle for the first time I was saddened not only by the rapid pace my life has moved since his birth but regretful for any moments I wanted to speed up in the midst of their difficulty.
The early infant days that felt like eternity. The constant feeding. The constant crying. My negative energy levels. My toothbrush that would go unused for a day. But then it got easier and he grew and became mobile, and suddenly the infancy stage was packed up in the storage bin in our basement. And now I no longer will ever refer to him in terms of hours, days, weeks or months old. He’s a toddler now and he’s two. Two.
This entire week before Mason’s birthday I told myself I was going to be over the top for the boys. To just enjoy them. Four out of the five days I was at the gym at 5:15 am as usual, and though I knew my energy levels would be depleted before Sesame Street [at 9 am], I wanted to have fun. Regardless. I worried less about picking up around the house, vacuuming, or scrubbing toilets during Elmo’s World. And amazing results came. Peyton has always been enamored with me, so I saw no change in his personality. But Mason, my tried and true Daddy’s boy, parked himself on my lap while we watched Cookie Monster scarf his favorite snack. It was Mason draping himself around my neck, yelling “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” trying to ensue a wrestling match. And suddenly I knew it wasn’t just the leaves I’ve abandoned the past 26 years, but I’ve wasted so much energy doing the daily crap and griping, that I haven’t enjoyed as much of my children as I should have. And thus, another life lesson learned at the mercy of my kids.
I feel heartbroken for the people walking past me on this earth who have had the sudden wake up call in the face of terminal illness, who quite abruptly view life in a different light, and who learn to appreciate the changing colors of the maple tree outside their living room window. Thankfully it didn’t take the floor being pulled from beneath me to open my eyes and appreciate the autumn leaves or the blooming spring irises, or the simplicity of enjoying the art of sidewalk chalk. My kids, my ever-draining but endlessly giving and teaching bundles have given such clarity to my life, and although I certainly don’t always appreciate the little moments I have learned to love each of them for too soon they will fade away. So instead of grumbling over the hardships every day brings with the ungodly energy of two mobile toddler boys, I’ve learned it to be more draining but far more rewarding to enjoy the gift of being a parent.