To My Mom, On Mom’s Day

My mom doesn’t read my blog.

I don’t know why, really, if she even has a reason. I suspect it’s more about the fact that computers to her are for work, are for getting things done. She turns elsewhere for entertainment, books or television, golf. She would find it silly to sit and read her computer.

And it doesn’t bother me that she doesn’t read my blog. I’m often surprised, still, that my dad reads it (hi, Dad!).

So I don’t really have to spend time here wishing her a Happy Mother’s Day. I sent her flowers yesterday, and she and Dad are coming down for brunch today. So I’ll have the opportunity to say it in person — a fact for which I am infinitely grateful. I know lots of women and moms who aren’t lucky enough to be able to tell their moms, face-to-face, to have a great day, to eat a meal with them. My own mother is faced with a unique situation on this Mother’s Day, a mother who probably doesn’t remember that she is a mother.

I don’t have to tell you, who actually read my blog, anything that is great about my mom. Why I love her. Why she is such a treasure. She’s not going to read this.

But you know what? I think I’m going to anyway.

I’ll try to keep it short.

My mom is always there for me. And she’s there in a totally non-intrusive way. When I was planning our wedding, I said to her, “Do you mind if I have it in Pittsburgh?” I had been living in Pittsburgh for 10 years when I got engaged; most of my extended family lives here, as well as my husband’s family.

She didn’t mind at all. She gave me the names and addresses of a few people from Erie she wanted me to invite, but she was totally flexible.

When we were shopping for wedding dresses, she sat quietly while I tried on any number of gowns. Finally, I said to her, “Hey, what would you think if I had my dress made?” She responded, “You know, all these dresses you’ve tried on are very pretty, but they’re not really you.” So we traipsed off to a dress maker I knew and I got the dress I wanted.

When I was talking about Mother’s Day today, one of my co-workers mentioned that she didn’t want to tell her mother where they were taking her for brunch. “She’ll just change her mind,” she said, clearly exasperated. I am lucky enough to have a mom that’s not like that. She decided she wanted to come down today for brunch, but she pretty much left the planning up to me. I appreciate that.

I know there are things about my life that drive her bonkers, and that worry her. But for the most part: My mom has faith in me. She trusts me. She NEVER, and I mean NEVER, played the “this is what you should do” card with me regarding my kids. She NEVER told me I was doing it (feeding, changing, schooling, anything) wrong.

Not once.

When I lost my son, she grieved almost as hard as Dan and me. And her grief was two-fold: for her grandson, whom she would never meet; and because she couldn’t help me. She couldn’t protect me; she couldn’t kiss it and make it better. That was hard for her. I think she struggled with that almost more than the loss. (I think my dad, the ultimate “fixer upper” in my life, struggled just as much, too.) On the third anniversary of his death, she and my sister gave me an angel bracelet. She has never forgotten him, and she never shies away from mentioning him. I appreciate this about her too. I know she is an exception in the babyloss community.

She’s fun. My mom is the most fun Nonna in the world. She’s goofy, she’s silly, and she’s infinitely patient with her grandchildren. She doesn’t blink when it comes to changing diapers or feeding them, and when she’s done, she’s sweeping them off to her activity for them (children’s museum, zoo, Presque Isle) where she won’t just keep up with them — she’ll lead the way.

Becoming a mom has made me appreciate my mom all the more. When I talk about my frustrations with my girls, she often laughs. “You were perfect children,” she tells me, about us three peas — me, Dr. Bro, Dr. Sis. I don’t she says that because she doesn’t want to give me advice or because she actually thinks we were perfect. I think she tells me that to say: “I believe in you. You’ll figure it out.” Because she wants to see me do it. She knows I can.

That faith, that belief — I think that’s the greatest gift my mom has ever given me.

So thanks, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day. I know you won’t read this (unless Dad tells you to), but I hope you know how you feel. I hope the flowers and the cards and the smooches of your grand-daughters let you know: Your quiet belief in me has been the best thing you’ve ever done for me. I don’t know that I could repay that, unless I can pass it on to my own kids. But at least I can say: Thanks. I love you.

Twitter: The Lecture*

* To clarify, not from me to you. From my dad to me. To clarify further, the title is a bit of an inside joke, which I will explain in a different post.

My father tried to leave a comment on my blog regarding my Lenten Twitter fast. And my blog ate his comment. (Good blog.) (Just kidding, dad!)

As I got to drive him to the airport the other day, though, he was able to deliver his comment in person.

To paraphrase:

One of the reasons we Catholics give up something for Lent is so that we can shift our resources to a more worthy area. For example, if one gives up chocolate or the daily Starbucks concoction, one takes the money one used to spend on it, and gives it to charity.

In terms of giving up Twitter, what I am gaining (aside from perspective) is TIME.

My dad shared his ideas with me as far as what I could do with the time I have not being on Twitter.

1. Spending extra time in prayer. I wish I could say that of course of I am doing this. But instead of attending Mass more often or even reading my Bible, I’m probably dedicating more effort into getting and keeping my house clean. What’s that old cliche? “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”? So, uh, I’m in the ballpark.

2. Spending quality time with Dan. This is an effort that is being made both ways. Dan and I picked up the book Love Dare. And we are working our way through it over Lent.

I always thought Dan and I had a pretty good marriage — I still think that. But just because it’s “pretty good” doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better. We both have areas in which we need to improve. Giving up Twitter has certainly given me the time to reconnect with Dan, and the Love Dare has given us both a vehicle to use for that reconnection. We don’t spend every night having deep conversations or anything like that, but we are working together more, and talking more, and just spending more time together. It’s really nice.

3. Spending more time with my children — interactive time, not just sitting in the same room with them. This is a weakness of mine in general, I admit. The computer and Twitter have less to do with it than my own personality. It’s an area in which I needed to improve in any case, and since I’ve got all this time on my hands, I figure no time like the present.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m a good mom. I love my girls to pieces. But I have to give them more of myself instead of just caring for them — the bathing, the feeding, the clothing. I have to talk to them and listen to them and play with them more. I have to laugh with them more. They are growing up fast. Granted, it’s difficult (especially that laughing part) when I’m dealing with a controlling 3-year-old who doesn’t want to poop on the potty.

But that’s just the thing: Kate needs me so hard right now. I don’t know how else to put it. She creeps into our bed at 5 a.m. not because of ear aches or nightmares, but because that’s where I am. She fights us for control of everything not because she actually wants it, but because she needs to push to her boundaries to see where we push back. When I read this post over at Mom 101 recently, it made me think of Kate. Not because she’s so much like Sage (although I do see similarities) but because of the contrast of my two girls — yet another post for another day.

For now, I have to be available to respond to Kate’s needs (and Flora’s, too, of course, although at 5, she is quietly independent and more willing to explore her own space). Her need for control, her need for cuddles, her need for me. It’s hard to be available when I’m tweeting. I have to fight that urge to run to the computer and tell about the latest cute thing (or crazy-making thing) that my girls have done. I have to save it up for a blog post; I have to Twitter in the spaces between my girls’ time — after they go to bed, for example, or during “quiet time”.

And even then, I’ll have to limit Twitter. It’s easy for me to spend an hour on there and not get the laundry folded.

My dad had a fourth suggestion for this Twitter-free time, but it’s completely escaped me. Maybe he’ll try to leave it in the comments again.

Mommy Me

Not that I want to continue to dwell on the less positive aspects of my weekend, but, well, I got a lot weighing me down, so I’m going to.

My mom, who so seldom criticizes my ability as a mom, actually criticized an aspect of my parenting this weekend. Or what she saw as my parenting. I was actually so surprised that I didn’t really defend myself. Plus, it wasn’t that harsh a criticism. More like a suggestion, an observation.

What she said was, “I think you should play with your children more. Wait to read books after they are in bed.”

Now this was said as she was playing with my children, and, yes, I was reading a book. And I did want to point out to her that I was not playing with my children because she was.

Generally, I do wait until my children are in bed before I go off and read a book. It’s usually one of those end-of-the-day activities I still like to indulge in. Helps me wind down before bed. Which is not to say that I spend tons of time playing with my kids, either. Although I do like to take them to the zoo, and the park, and out for walks in the evening, play board games with them, and read to them, I also on a day-to-day basis leave them to their own devices sometimes so I can do things like clean the kitchen after dinner or throw in a load of laundry. I’m not super engaged every hour I am with my kids, although I don’t feel neglectful, either.

And then research was published affirming that we women are like our moms. (Something that our husbands would be very wise NOT to point out, research notwithstanding.) So whatever I am doing, I come by it pretty honestly. Because while there was plenty of reading to and affection and praise in my childhood (and zoo, park, and library trips), there was also a lot of time left to my own devices so the kitchen could be cleaned. (I figure, too, this is where siblings come in very handy. My girls don’t seek me out to play because they have each other. Although sometimes I have to stop what I am doing to play referee.)

We Won’t

I certainly won’t forget John Hughes. He made my high school years bearable. Well, he and some really, really good friends did.

To this day, in my opinion, The Breakfast Club remains one of those iconic movies that totally captured what it was like. “It” being high school — even though I went to an all-girl school, and even though I never had detention, I got it. Hell, I was living it. It felt to me that The Breakfast Club didn’t condescend, and it didn’t lie.

I completely loved the letter than Anthony Michael Hall’s character leaves for the douchebag principal. I thought about it all day yesterday:

“Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.

“Does that answer your question?… Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”

Whirlwind

I distinctly remember, growing up in Erie, thinking, “There is nothing to do.”

So why now, when I visit my parents with my children, is the weekend a whirlwind of activity, a blur, a veritable smorgasbord of things to do?

Saturday, we went to the Erie Zoo, which is much improved since I worked there as a teen.





That line you see behind the rhinos? The zoo was having some kind of frozen safari promotion day. It was packed. Before lunch, we had Rita’s ice, ice cream, and a slushie. (Okay, I skipped the slushie — too sweet.) That last one explains the blue-ish tinge around the girls’ mouths in the next couple of pictures.







The zoo definitely has animals and features it didn’t when I lived in Erie.



The we went downtown to The Cove, a new restaurant in a new waterfront hotel. Bun listens better to Nonna and Pap-pap than she does to me.


Of course, Pap-pap buys blue gorilla dolls, so there you have it.

It was Roar on the Shore 2009, so we had to share State Street with about 5,000 bikers. And we went up that tower at the end of State Street — what is that called? — with the children, where I had a severe vertigo attack. Looking out at the horizon, I was fine. Looking down was not an option.

Quiet time was an absolute no-go back at the house.

Then we headed to the Cherry Festival in Northeast. I didn’t even know Northeast had a Cherry Festival.







I don’t remember being this busy as a kid.

ABBA-esque

I learned a few things yesterday:

1. Monkey knows all the words to “Kids” by MGMT.
2. Monkey really hates Louis Armstrong’s version of “It’s a Wonderful World”. “It’s not a wonderful world,” she cried in response when I wouldn’t skip it. “It’s just not.”
3. ABBA, the original group, isn’t together anymore. Although, contrary to rumor, they are not dead.
4. I was clearly spoiled by Mamma Mia! I expected some fabulous dance numbers. But the costumes were disco-licious.
5. Clearly, I will go to just about any lengths to spend time with my best friends.

Okay, I already knew that.

When the Steelers won the Super Bowl one year in the ’70s, the montage afterward was set to ABBA’s “Winner Takes it All”. Does anyone else remember this? N says it was 1979, after the Steelers beat the L.A. Rams. I’m inclined to believe her because N has a memory like a photo album. I remember feeling bad for the losing team because of that song. That’s the video I was looking to put here. Instead, you get “Dancing Queen”. Feel free to picture me dancing ecstatically to it — wearing black.

That’s So High School

I didn’t feel a burning desire to go to my high school reunion, as I’ve mentioned.

That’s not because I didn’t like high school. I took high school for what it was, pretty much: a way to go do something else. And make some friends.

It’s not because I didn’t like people with whom I attended high school. I had a circle of very close friends (we called ourselves ‘the claque’). As in any high school, there were cliques, of course: the uber popular girls, the jocks, the smart girls, the creative types, the burnouts.

Did I mention I went to an all-girl Catholic high school? That’s relevant.

Although there were these groups, these breakdowns that occurred along brain/beauty/talent and/or (yeah, I’ll admit it) class lines, everyone pretty much knew each other and got along. For the most part. (I was threatened with bodily harm after school exactly once. And, let’s face it, I called the girl a horse. I wasn’t an innocent bystander — although I didn’t exactly intend for her to overhear me call her that.) There was cross over; there were friendships among different levels of brains, beauty, talent and class. I would theorize that this happened for two reasons: 1. It was a pretty small school. My graduating class was only 150 girls (and it would have been 120 if they hadn’t closed the other all-girls’ Catholic high school the year before); 2. No Boys.

There was no competition for boys’ attention in the classroom. No agonizing self-consciousness there, either. Boys simply were not a day-to-day… distraction, let’s say.

Not that we didn’t like boys. We did. And not that we weren’t friends and girlfriends with boys; we were. And not that we were not jealous (envious? I get those two mixed up all the time) of other girls’ boyfriends. I remember quite vividly (and with a goodly amount of embarrassment) lusting after one of my friends’ boyfriends.

Also, I clearly recall thinking at one point, “These are supposed to be the best years of my life? ‘Cause, Houston, we’ve got a problem.” Not because those years sucked. But… come on. The best years of my life? Really? I was super skinny, awkward, brainy, and had pimples. I hid my self consciousness behind sarcasm. I didn’t know where I belonged or who the hell I was or wanted to be.

I was hardly the self confident hottie you see before you now. *snort*

Anyhoo, what high school was good for, for me: Discovery. I learned I had a love of reading and a gift for writing. I was encouraged in these endeavors by two teachers (Leigh Constantine and David Monteith — I owe them a debt of gratitude. I’m sure I’m not the only one). I was a smart creative, toward the top of my class; I wrote and edited for the newspaper, the yearbook, the literary magazine (hell, I founded the literary magazine); I dabbled in “theater” on both sides of the curtain. (Due to my height, and my short hair, I was cast as a man in one play. Afterwards, a mother of one of the other actors commented to her, “Oh, and the two boys in the play were brilliant.” Yeah, I was one of the boys of whom she spoke. The other was actually a boy — from the all-boy prep school in the area. I believe I went to his senior prom with him. Weird.)

I graduated, with honors. I left Erie — twice really; I did go back home after my freshman year in college. Not after sophomore year, though. No, Erie and I were pretty much through.

Ten years ago, I went to my reunion. I was single, child-free, and working as a writer. Many of the girls I saw that night were married, still in Erie, some with children. It struck me at the time as a weird dichotomy.

Two weeks ago, I was persuaded to go to my high school reunion. It was more fun than I had suspected it was going to be. I will admit to not recognizing the majority of my former classmates. I, frankly, am shocked how many of them recognized me! I don’t think I look much like my senior photograph, that’s for sure.

For a while, I surreptitiously checked out names tags (which also had our high school senior pictures on them — that was unique torture). Finally, I just consulted with H and M. And then (after dinner, and after a couple of glasses of bad wine) I mingled.

It was pleasant. It seems the majority of my classmates are married (some divorced); many have children; many have found homes outside of Erie, but just as many are still (or, as in H’s case — back) there. I was glad I went, and glad I got to spend time with H and M. I felt comfortable and at ease among my former classmates. I don’t remember being sarcastic once!

After all, these are the best years of my life, so far.

About a Mom

So I got a good night’s rest last night, and I’m feeling a little better. Plus, aside from bedtime (Bun had a meltdown, but it is an exception instead of the rule these days) I didn’t have to give my girls time out yesterday.

It was a good night.

What I wrote yesterday and a lot of what I read that contributed to what I wrote got me thinking. And then I read this, about another mother, and it made me feel even better and left me amazed that someone could write so powerful a tribute to her amazing mom.

It made me think about my own mother on this spectrum of “bad” to Good.

My mom is a great mom. She is a real mom, if you know what I mean. Growing up, she didn’t give me unrealistic expectations of how to have a career and be a loving mom and wife. She wasn’t Super Mom. She was a super mom, and she is one of my heroes, but I never think to myself, “How did my mother do this?”

She just did it. When we were very young, she stayed home while my father (a pharmacist) worked full time and more than full time. Eventually, my mom started back to work (she is also a pharmacist) on a part-time basis — as little as one day a week. When her youngest daughter started first grade, my mom returned to work full time. She and my father were partners in a business. They talked about it a lot. As a matter of fact, I remember as a 12-year-old suddenly exploding at the dinner table: “Can’t you talk about something beside work? I’m so tired of hearing about your nursing homes!” My mother and father exchanged a look. And changed the subject.

Was she a perfect mom? Did she revere us children, put us first in her life? Did she bake cookies and never yell?

I do recall some cookie baking. And some yelling. And the occasional swat to the behind with a wooden spoon. She wasn’t perfect. But she was still great.

Her marriage came first. She and my dad had date nights (I remember disco lessons and bowling league). They were partners, and neither one of them ever chose one of us children over their partnership.

They were loving and stern disciplinarians. We had boundaries; we learned to toe the line. We had mealtimes, and bedtimes, and curfews, and chores. We had structure. It’s something I am striving to provide for my own children.

My mom took care of us. She cooked meals — we ate as a family probably five times a week. She packed lunches, tended to us when we were sick, made sure we had clean clothes, read us bedtime stories (my dad read to us too). She took us to the beach and to the zoo and she made us laugh.

My mom did all the things that to my mind moms were supposed to do. And that includes having a strong, loving partnership with her husband, and pursuing a career. I’m not going to say she made it look easy. I remember frustration and silence in my house; I remember stress and tension. But it never looked so hard that I thought to myself, “There’s no way I can do that.”

My mom provided encouragement, both through her words and actions, and by example. At a time when many women were choosing college to get their MRS degrees, my mother pursued a career instead. She was probably the only woman to graduate from Duquesne School of Pharmacy in 1968. And, yeah, that’s where she met my father, but that’s not why she went. She went because she wanted to work. My parents didn’t get married until they were 25 years old.

My mom didn’t always approve of my choices — whether clothes or boys or the decision to pierce my lip (I was a college graduate by then; she couldn’t stop me). One of my mother’s catch phrases was “that’s not appropriate”. She worried about me, and the decisions I made. But she was always there; she never turned her back on me (we had a close call once; dad intervened).

She danced at my wedding. She was there when Gabriel died. She was there when my daughters were born. She’s still here, and that makes me a lucky woman, daughter, and mom.

She doesn’t interfere in my life, and she doesn’t offer a lot of advice. She says that we were perfect children; she also says she doesn’t remember struggling. I believe her. But she always listens to me, and she always assures me that it will be okay. And I believe her.

Besides, she is a perfect grandmother — or Nonna, as my girls call her.

I wouldn’t want it any other way. I wouldn’t want any other mom. I hope I do it half as well as she does.

Random Thoughts: The Update Version

We went to the ENT for Bun’s myringotomy follow-up. Bun is doing just great with ear tubes, and the doctor seemed very pleased. She let me take a peek in the otoscope to see what it looked like in there; it was like a pipeline. Then they gave Bun a hearing test, and she got 100%.

Which kind of surprised me only because I have to call her name about 20 times before she hears me.

****

Today is the girls’ last day at DCL. I have to admit to being a chicken about the whole thing — DearDR volunteered to tell her they were leaving, and I let him do it. When I apologized for letting him to our dirty work, he said, “You’re not good at stuff like that.” Wondering exactly what he meant, I asked. “Being diplomatic,” he replied. “You’re not good at it. I am. Don’t worry about it.”

He’s right, too. I could not be called diplomatic or tactful. I think I’ve come a long way from high school though. The “no filter” years. Trust me.

****

Speaking of high school, if I haven’t missed the RSVP date (and if my MIL can watch the girls overnight), we are going to go to my 20th high school reunion. Up in Erie. I don’t really want to go, except out of morbid curiosity. I’m in touch with the people I want to be in touch with from high school — all two of ’em (hi, H; hi, M). I do miss A, but she and I have grown very far apart. It happens I guess.

Between the reunion, and our vacation in Cape Cod the following week, it’s time for me to commit to getting back in shape. (Yeah, in less than 3 weeks.) I have the 30-day shred DVD. And I’m doing it.

Ouch.

****

We are officially entering the Gabriel anniversary days. I will be appropriately reflective.

You’ve been warned.

My Wet, Wild Wine Weekend Recap

This past weekend, we headed to the New York Finger Lakes region to see my sister graduate from chiropractic college. (The drive Friday night was horrendous, and the weather Saturday was cold and wet. We did not care.)

As my sister was called to the stage, she was introduced, thusly: “Dr. Soul A. Sista”. She was hooded by my brother, Dr. Brother, who is a dermatologist.

I sat in the audience with my pharmacist parents, and my psychologist husband, and thought, “I’m feeling a little inadequate here.” When I voiced that thought, DearDR quipped, “Yeah, two doctors and a poet.”

Which does pretty much sum up the situation. Ah, well, at least we all have fun. (Scroll past the pictures if you want to see some winery details.)


The Poet


Two Pharmacists and a Doctor


Two Doctors and a Poet I


Two Doctors and a Poet II


Matriarch and Youngest Child


Local Sights


Not Bad


Lots to Choose From


Pretty Relaxed


The Ladies (No Flash)

If you go:

Although it’s a 5-hour car trip, I can heartily recommend heading up to New York Wine Country. Try to plan to be there at least two whole days (we were only there for one whole day, Saturday) to make it worth your time. Next time DearDR and I go (our 10-year anniversary is in a couple of years), I’m thinking we should arrange to drive home on a Monday.

We stayed at a lovely B&B. The room was well-appointed, comfortable and clean, and I am thinking that DearDR and I should invest in a king-size bed. I haven’t slept that well in a long time (we left the girls with Bella & Tadone). The breakfasts were amazing. (They are talking about having some special family weekends. I can see visiting with the girls in a few years.)

We enjoyed lunch at Knapp Winery and Restaurant. The food was excellent — especially the red pepper bisque. The wine at the winery was so-so. We had a lovely Barrel Reserve Chardonnay — which was described to us as being oaky, but was actually a very light fruit flavor with a tart finish — with lunch.

The best winery we went to was Buttonwood Grove Winery. Their wines, ranging from clear, dry whites to a sweet blackberry, were outstanding. Each one I tried (the typical tasting in the Finger Lakes region runs you $1 for six wines) was so clean tasting — no funky aftertaste, no metallic, chalky, or off notes — I wanted to buy a case. From the nose to the finish, each wine was simply delicious. We limited our purchases to their Chardonnay and Redbud — it was a tough choice between the Chardonnay and the dry Riesling.

DearDR got such a kick out of me playing wine snob: volatizing the esters, inhaling the bouquet, talking about the smells and the flavors I encountered. For example, “Oooh, very minerally on the nose, but with a fruit taste of apricots.” Or, “Big, red fruit, like cherries. Tannic on the finish.” Seeing as he taught me a lot of this stuff, I’m not quite sure what he found so amusing.

It was, akin to last Sunday, so nice to be able to take my time with these things. Dinner that evening was at Belhurst Castle with a tasting in their winery before hand. Their Syrah is amazing — big, bold flavors, dark red fruit to black pepper, all the way through — but it was also $25 a bottle. DearDR ordered up a rioja with dinner, which is a different choice for us. As we were enjoying our coffee and desserts, I mused how we never got to do this. Dinner must have lasted nearly three hours!

The next day on our way out of town, we stopped at Montezuma Winery. They specialize in fruit wines, melomels (that’s honey and fruit, no grapes, i.e. cherry, raspberry), and mead. We bought the Vin de Myrtille (a dry blueberry wine) and a Traditional Mead, plus a red blend called Canvasback Red for my MIL for watching the girls. I would put this one on your list too; they have a Cranberry Bog that is so unique — as if Ocean Spray had made a cranberry wine — I lobbied to buy it immediately, and a Sparkling Mead, but DearDR overruled me.

Oh, well. We’ll be back. Maybe some Burgh Moms want to make a road trip?

A big thanks to Mom and Dad for picking up the tabs, and a big thanks to Soul Sista — ahem, excuse me: Dr. Soul Sista for graduating from chiropractic school. You’re awesome, babe.