Sunday, May 12, 2013

Welcome to the Mothership

    “The power that a mother has to create another human being, with a sense of self-esteem, with a sense of possibility, that is a job that you should honor…this is a person who is making sacrifices all the time so that your life can be better.  So I think the more we can acknowledge moms in our own homes and beyond, the more women will feel empowered in that role.”

--Maria Shriver speaking of her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mommies, grandmas, aunties, Godmothers, and ‘second mothers’ out there.  You all know that Mother’s Day morning I will be milking this to the hilt as the one day I get to sleep in with all the justification in the world. 

The Mother’s Day bandwagon is one which I have recently joined myself.  Truth be told, the only other humans who truly understand the sacrifices other mommies have made, is well, other mommies.  I was on the train the other day speaking with a co-worker who has a 5 year old, a 3 year old and a six-month old.  I said to him “What is Carol (aka Mrs. Australian) doing for Mother’s Day?” and he said she’s having a weekend out with the girls.  I said that’s the way to go.  Everyone needs a break from their children, especially on Mother’s Day.  Ironic as it may sound, I have a 15 month old whose molars are arriving with no lack of drama and me and my 30+ year-old molars don’t need to listen to this crap. 

In my whopping 15 months of experience as a mom, which, I know is not quite a solid match for the tours of some others on mom-duty, including my own mother, I do feel comfortable stating that motherhood boils down to two elements: what you DO for your children and what you WANT for your children.

What you DO for your children is highly visible and easily measurable.  Right now I’m in a DO FOR the child phase, as are most moms of little children.  We do the basics:  feeding, washing, dressing, explaining words, phrases, actions, vocabulary, we play with the little ones.  We teach building, sharing, colors, shapes.  We regulate that the daily vegetable intake should exceed the daily French fry intake.  We do your laundry, we snap you snugly into your carseat, we drive cautiously as if the most important person is in our car, because the most important person IS in our car.  We tuck you into bed at night and we liberate you from the crib each morning.  Your laundry still has a baby smell to it, and we love it.  Moms love to snuggle you!!!!!!

Big or small, near or far, what moms WANT for their children knows no boundaries, not age, not distance, not for lack of communication, not for excess of proximity, not for traits in common, not for diverse personalities, your mom always wants what’s best for you.  And maybe you scoff at the idea, but it’s true.  When I was pregnant in the late summer of 2011, I was excited for this baby and I thought I was having a girl.  I thought to myself, dear little girl, I want you to have a fantastic life, and I want you to avoid all the mistakes I made and I’m going to tell you exactly how to do that.  Then, on September 14th, 2011 we had a sonogram and found out you were not a little girl at all, but in fact, you were a little boy.  And I knew nothing of what it was like to be a boy, so, little baby, you and I are going to figure out the Mom-baby boy thing together. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 15 months.  (Even if you were a girl, I’m still new to this mom thing so not really sure what I was thinking there). 

Boy or Girl, I was already formulating all the life lessons that I though you needed to know.  Filtering out the really important lessons, getting ready for the excitement I thought your life would hold, bracing for the disappointments I thought may come your way, based on my own experiences, and always hoping the excitement would outweigh the disappointments, hands down.  I know we are still working on building vocabulary and using utensils, but I hope that my little one finds his talents early on, that he treats people with respect, and learns to recognize that he deserves the same, and whomever become his friends or significant other, whether I like them or not, if they are a big part of his life, they are always welcome to come over for dinner, or more likely, takeout. 

In my 15 months on the mothership, I have also developed great empathy for the other mommies out there and the challenges they face.  My own mother didn’t found the Special Olympics, but at one point she worked three jobs at the same time.  I can see how my mom worried if her daughter would ever come back from London (she did) or if her son would ever walk again after losing his leg (he does).  When I lost my father at ten years old, many, many things seemed topsy-turvy.  But I was told this was going to be very difficult on my 76 year-old Grammy, burying her 44 year-old son.  I saw the sorrow on her face that day and filed it in my ten year-old memory.  Now, on the mothership, that sorrow has an all new, raw, context when retrieved from my ten year-old memory. 

No part of me wants to lose my little boy, I don’t even know how anyone can recover from that.  But I have to admit, there is a part of me that felt like once this kid was born, my job was done.  As if I had secured the next generation and thus my time was up.  Even if time’s not up, I have this feeling that I have to protect my little guy and guide him on his path to adulthood.  I think most moms feel that way.  I had never really considered my own mortality in this regard until I had this little guy to worry about.  I’ve already decided that if the events of this world take me out of it and keep babycakes in it, I’m determined to be his guardian angel, his watcher, the spirit on his shoulder, because even if I’m at a point where I can’t DO for my child, I will always WANT for my child, for his happiness, for his health, for his well-being, and so that he may know his Momma always loves him.  Even if he still calls me Daddy. 

Vocabulary, Nick, vocab. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Let It Be

"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness,
She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be, Let it be, let it be

Whisper words of wisdom, Let it be

And when the brokenhearted people

Living in the world agree

There will be an answer, let it be

For though they may be parted

There is still a chance that they will see

There will be an answer, let it be"

-       The Beatles

Now for a happier topic

Last June, my little boy was preparing for his Baptism.  He was 4 ½ months old, so by preparing, I mean he was doing nothing.  Rob and I, on the other hand, were sorting RSVPs, filing papers with the Church, meeting with the catering guy and in the 11th hour, we ordered a tent from Westchester Tent Rentals in Elmsford based on the weather predictions.  We were hosting the Baptism in our back yard, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and by ‘at the time’, I mean to refer that you should never party plan while in a post-partum state of delusions.  We had almost 60 people coming to our small house and a 20 x 20 foot tent in the back yard.  Food orders could always be increased but the limited seating and general size of our property could not be increased overnight.  Needless to say, after the Baptismal ceremony, it started to pour rain and all our guests huddled under the tent or in the house.  I was overwhelmed but I said t myself, “Make the best of it”, and ran into the basement, traded in my leather sandals for some Crocs, donned my raincoat, and made it back to the backyard, to hand out plates and beers and toss dinner rolls into the crowd.  We had a great party.

Before the Baptism, I was hiding out in my bedroom, not due to weather but rather due to the increasing amount of boisterous guest who were invading my house.  While Rob, Nicky (Nick’s Godmother) and her fiance, Randy, were in Nick’s room dressing him for Church, I hid in my bedroom doing makeup for myself and Jenn’s 17 month-old Claire.  Claire looked fabulous.  I looked ok.  Nick looked like a mini Mafia baby.  We bought him a little white suit, complete with vest and clip-on tie, and he looked Gangsta’ head to toe.  At Church, Nick was being Baptized along with Finn Patrick (a baby whom I didn’t really know, but his parents went to birthing class with us at Lawrence Hospital) and another little boy.  Finn and the other little boy were wearing proper Baptismal Gowns while we brought in the half-Bronx, half-Brooklyn Mafia Don in his three-piece suit.    

Lord Have Mercy.

Despite all this chaos, despite overdressing an infant, and the untimely rainstorm, uncommon for early June in the Seventh Borough, I was so excited for Nick’s Baptism.  I was so excited for Nick to receive his first sacrament, and a bit relieved I could stop quasi-baptizing him with the holy water at the entrance to the Church, as I had been doing for a few weeks now. 

One night, I lay in bed thinking about how excited I was for Nick, even though, at 4 ½ months old, how much could he really be taking in?  This was not his conscious decision, we decided he should be baptized, as we were, as infants, we chose his Godparent, we chose Chicken Franchese over Veal Marsala.  Yet it was Nick’s day.

It was then that I realized the true value of the Sacraments.  Whatever the occasion, Baptism, Marriage, Last Rites, it was just a matter of presenting yourself as a servant of God and just being yourself before God.  Beyond the hoopla,  beyond the three-piece suits or frou-frou dresses, beyond the Chicken Franchese, it was just an opportunity to let it be. 

This Sunday we are going to see my cousin’s daughter, and one of the flower girls at our wedding, Elizabeth, receive her first Holy Communion.  I’m sure her dress will be pretty and I know we get a choice of chicken, beef or fish, but all Elizabeth has to do is let it be. 

Two weeks ago we were part of Nicky (Nick’s Godmother) and Randy’s wedding.  Technically it wasn’t a sacrament because Randy was raised in the Jewish faith, but for all intents and purposes, I consider it a chance to just let it be.  Two people, before family, friends and God, just let it be.  Come as you are.  Even if the Ring Bearer is a bit unruly (thanks, Nick) and even if all you can hear during the Prayer of the Faithful is the Mr. Softy theme song flowing through the open doors of the church on a warm Spring day, ice cream and wriggling toddlers, Catholics and Jews, all together to just to let it be. 

I admit, at some point during the homily, I spaced out, and was distracted with fond memories of our wedding.  The benefit of having a full mass is that the Bride and Groom get a lot of down time while everyone else is doing the talking, and our backs were to the congregation, all the more excuse for daydreams.  Nicky’s wedding was held at St. Brendan’s, in the Bronx (Fourth Borough), where her parents were married, where Rob’s parent’s were married, where both Nicky and Rob, cousins and friends, made all their sacraments, and from where Rob’s parents were buried. 

But Rob made his Sacrament of Marriage at St. Pat’s in Brooklyn (Second Borough), where I made all my Sacraments, as did my brother, who walked me down the aisle that October afternoon, twenty-one and one-half years after our father was buried from that same church, receiving his last sacrament in 1989.  I remember the light coming through the west-facing stained-glass windows of the church during our wedding.  We were married at 3 PM in the afternoon and I thought to myself, we’re never really in church at 3 PM in the afternoon and isn’t the light coming through the west windows just fantastic!   It was a light I was seeing for the first time.  All we had to do was to let it be. 

How fortunate we are to celebrate family events marked by sacraments, and parish continuity, followed by a choice of chicken or beef or fish, and, of course, an open bar.

"And when the night is cloudy, There is still a light that shines on me, Shines until Tomorrow, Let it be"
Let it Be

Congratulations to Nicky & Randy, and Elizabeth!

Across Five Aprils

Sometimes people do things you just don’t expect.  Their actions are well beyond any expectations you could have possibly anticipated.   For example, the other day, my husband’s cousin’s ex-wife (whom I have never met), sent me a nasty Facebook message totally out of the blue.  Apparently she was upset that I didn’t appreciate a comment she made about my son.  I read this horrific message on my commute home and I was well into the Sixth borough before the look of shock and awe melted off my face.  I reminded myself that she lives in California and there were about 3000 miles between me and this certified whack-job. 

Sadly, just a few weeks ago, and well under 3000 miles away, our brothers and sisters in Boston suffered a horrific attack in the heart of the city during their beloved Patriots’ Day.  I was at work when I heard of the attacks and immediately my heart broke.  How ironic, a terrorist attack on Patriots’ Day.  Boston marathon = Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts.   “What day?” my cube-mate Matt asks.  “”Patriots’ Day”, I said. 

Some 17 years ago, when I migrated to Massachusetts to attend college, I learned of this locally celebrated Spring holiday, Patriots' Day, the third Monday in April, observed only in the Bay State and Maine (?) to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord and the start of the Revolutionary War.  Northampton public schools and UMass Amherst shut down in observance of the holiday, but as a private college, Smith was open for business.  Emigrating from the Empire State only some 200 miles away, I was curious as to what this local holiday was about.  Some staff at school were big Patriots’ Day celebrants, and it’s a big deal in Boston, but as a transplant, I could only appreciate this holiday from arm’s length. 

I never really paid any mind to Patriots’ Day after I left college, until this year.  Four years at college and now, with these attacks, Patriots’ Day has caught my attention again for a total of Five Aprils.  Though the September 11th attacks have seemed to  have (unofficially?) created a new Patriot’s Day holiday, until this year, the events of 9/11/01 and the commemoration of Lexington and Concord were Patriots’ Days of different sorts.  April’s Patriots’ Day has been a celebration of independence and freedoms from an old, remote regime.  Patriot’s Day of September is much more of a somber day of reflection, attention to a still-open wound, a reminder of current-day terrorism and organized sneak-attacks on civilians in public purview.   April of 1775 was a preview to an outright declaration of war following a declaration of independence.  September of 2001 took out people who were just on their way to work.   

Unlike the Revolutionary War, where our enemy (who is now our Ally) sent us correspondence in advance that they were coming to attack us and were easily identifiable in their bright red coats amongst our leafy-green deciduous forests,  the modern terrorist attacks we face are somewhat face-less, country-less and blend in with society, to some extent.  They attack when we don’t expect, at a celebratory finish line or on a cloudless Tuesday morning, they take advantage of our open society, our asylum and public funding.  Then something happens like the April 15th bombings in Boston and you realize you live amongst certified whack-jobs.    I’m not speaking categorically about ‘foreigners’ or ‘Muslims’ I am talking about Whack-jobs,  who transcend all demographic boundaries and are really just extremist haters.  America has grown its own Whack-jobs (Timothy McVeigh, anyone?),  it’s not an issue of background, it’s an issue of hater-ism.  My boss is a Bengali Muslim who moved to the Lower East Side as a child.  He’s a good Accountant, he’s a good father to his three kids, he is NOT a Whack-job.   When I was in London,  in the home country of our Revolutionary War enemy, I got a whole bunch of razzing during July 4th, but come September 11th 2001, those Brits were kind and caring to me.  They were generous with their hugs and I even got a few rides home from work.   The attacks on Boston brought back raw and painful memories to those of us in the Empire State, and sadly, just a few days ago the landing gear of one of the 9/11 aircraft was found wedged in between two buildings a few blocks away from the site of the original World Trade Center towers.  This is a reminder of an event we cannot put behind us because it is not behind us. 

We need to develop our hater-radar.  Not racial profiling, not ethnic sorting, haters come in all shapes and sizes, colors and flags.  Today, on my way home from work, two uniformed MTA police and a police dog were at the Seventh Borough train station.  That set me on edge.  Police and dogs in the subway, ok, but at a commuter station on the outbound platform?  We all have to be diligent, and keep in mind that the hater loves to take advantage of our senses of security and normalcy.  The ultimate antidote to haters is that when something horrible happens, the non-haters in society pull together and take care of each other.  That kind of power will always triumph.  The good side always wins.      

Across Five Aprils  is the title of a novel by Irene Hunt that I was supposed to read in grade school.  I guess I read some or maybe even all of it, because I still remember the book, although I thought it was about the Revolutionary War, and upon further research I realize I was wrong.  It takes place during the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, as some people refer to it).  The gist of the story line is that an extended family is split as some members fight for the Union army and some fight for the Confederacy.  My Civil War history has been recently refreshed by watching this year’s Academy Award winning film, Lincoln, and watching all of Gone With The Wind, in fits and spurts, during maternity leave last spring.  Abraham Lincoln and Scarlett O’Hara were out-of-the-box thinkers.  They made the most of adverse situation, they never gave in to their haters; they persevered.  Though I think Scarlett could have benefited from couples therapy and Abe could have used some Kevlar, that kind of power will always triumph.  The good side always wins.