So there we were on our way to Philadelphia to surprise the girls. Oh yes, I said surprise. Turns out that YK, who is six years younger than her sister, asked to spend the weekend with OK and The Boy to celebrate OK's birthday. This threw me off for two reasons: YK was willing to leave her newfound Happy Place (college) for the weekend, and The LC (Love Couple - yes, I need to add this to my sort of legend) was willing to drive almost three hours to get her. That fact really tickled me.
Like my girls I have one sibling, my big sister who is nine years older than me. We are blessedly close in adulthood though our lives still rarely parallel. Her two daughters are married and the closest in age to OK is ten years older. My sister is a grandmother of three (and an awesome one at that) while I am in the midst of watching my oldest just begin her wedding plans. We were bonded by our love of music but other than that, there wasn't much for us connect with as kids. Come to think of it, we weren't really kids at the same time.
At six years apart in age (seven in school due to birth dates) that same fate could have fallen on my girls, but somehow they drew closer once OK went off to college (and YK had to deal with us on a daily basis alone). It is also to YK's advantage that The Boy thinks of her already as his little sister but not in an annoying little sister way. When the three of them are together they are a veritable trio of sarcasm and silliness, and they are immense fun to be around.
I miss them.
It had been a month since we deposited YK at The School and visited the OK and The Boy before heading home to our newly empty nest. I have been trying to be good about limiting my texts and calls and letting her voluntarily tell us about how things are going. No - that's not true. I ask her often how things are going. However, I am now accustomed to her reply being "good" and don't push (much) for more as long as I don't detect distress in her voice.
Showing up unannounced was my brainchild. The Boy alone was aware and worked extensively with me to set up the perfect rendezvous for us to suddenly appear - which, by the way, changed several times in the last 24 hours. Before arriving I even had to coach S on "mom text" as I drove and he replied to a message from one of the girls. Make sure you put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, I said. And write 'I love you' with an exclamation point.
The average kid may not notice the subtle difference in texts. Mine probably would, and then the phone would ring and then we would have to explain where we are driving to. It was like a movie plot. I kind of enjoyed it.
By now you must be wondering - what was the final outcome? Exuberant hugs? Annoyed eye rolls?
A couple of people were careful not to express their doubts as to this type of trickery. My boss, however, was obvious about her misgivings when she thought I was talking about walking onto YK's college campus and yelling, "Surprise!" Trust me, I am not so foolish or naive to think she would even remotely enjoy that kind of bombshell. Even this scheme was slightly nerve-wracking. I had full confidence OK would be very excited to see us but was not sure if it was too soon for YK. However, once she realized we came bearing warmer clothing for fall weather and the enticement of a stop at Wal-Mart for supplies if she agreed to let us to drive her back to campus, I was pretty sure she would come around.
Planning a sneak attack of sorts can be quite intricate. The more people involved the more likely it is that someone will say something to ruin the element of surprise. And so it was with this past week as we narrowed down the best way to blow the minds of OK and YK. In the end we detoured from the main city to the King of Prussia Mall, a city in itself where YK had been set free and was probably hoping to find a quiet corner in which to camp and live happily ever after. Thanks to The Boy, who had been spending an inordinate amount of time under the guise of calling his mother and needing the restroom, we managed to slip up behind them in a store while he distracted them.
I am ecstatic to report that it was hugs all around and they continued the rest of the evening.
Our future son-in-law played his part well and aroused minimal suspicion, and I have no doubt he thoroughly enjoyed having a part in the whole stunt. You definitely have to watch the quiet ones.
There was more to this trip than a happy visit. At the same time we have been seeing my husband's mom losing ground and getting closer to dying. At 93, her life has been full and she will leave behind a legacy of love in her hand crafted gifts to her children and grandchildren, as well as memories of family time and travels with all four of her kids.
Hours before we drove to Philadelphia we sat in a nursing home and held her hand, knowing this was the last time we would be with the physical presence already vacant of the person we knew and loved. It was hard to leave and at the same time we have been praying for her to mercifully let go.
We needed our kids after this, to be in a place of light and laughter after a heartbreaking visit that could only end in a final goodbye. The call may come today or tonight or tomorrow. It can not physically go on much longer than that.
Surprising the girls might have been risky but it was the best thing we could have done - no doubt for us more than them. The next time we are together will likely be at a graveside for their grandmother. Fortunately, their memories of her will be Gramma whose beautifully crafted quilts in their favorite colors lay across their beds and whose embroidery adorns their pillowcases with birds or bunnies or flowers. They are surrounded by these pieces of her love.
And being surrounded by our blessings is what it's all about.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
When I was a young mother I was sure I would make mistakes - mostly because one or two other more "experienced" mothers were so forthcoming with their advice, critiquing how long I breast fed, and then what my child ate, did and said, that I knew I had it all wrong.
My first-born did not say words as early as a couple of other toddlers in her play group did, so their moms naturally sent me over the edge by repeating every word their little angels would say (just in case I didn't hear it the first time), then tilt their heads slightly (for effect) while OK followed quietly along. For a short time I wondered... was I not communicating with her enough? Were we reading the wrong books to her or speaking for her when we should have been encouraging her to get the words out? Having already scheduled a regular appointment, I decided to ask her pediatrician.
After spending a few minutes just talking to her and observing her reactions his very wise, very seasoned reply was, “She’s observing." He put me at ease by saying there was nothing to worry about. This kid was just going to take her time talking until she had something to say, and that rather than one or two words she would probably start out with phrases or sentences. That is exactly what happened, and I was extremely thankful while the thought may have crossed my mind to be concerned, I had not bought into the advice from other 'experts' (as lovingly as I’m sure it was given).
When her sister came along six years later words were not an issue. That child came out jabbering from the womb. Eating, however, not so much. After age three YK decided variety was overrated, and she became extremely finicky during mealtime, rarely eating what we were having. I tried disguising her food, pleading with her, and yes, threatening her with losing a privilege or a prized possession. Nothing got beyond that stubborn stance. During one trip when I felt particularly pressured by others around me, I refused to let her have anything other than what we had been served. She did not eat for a whole day. That evening we were in the car on the way home when her sister announced that YK was crying in the back seat because she was hungry. At that moment I admit I was angry that she had been so dang stubborn, but I was also a little worried. Out of desperation we stopped at a MacDonalds (new parents: you can get grilled cheese anywhere) and I brought her in with me to order. As we stood in line I glanced (I'm sure not too kindly) at her by my side - just as she was starting to sway. I grabbed her and got her to a seat, stayed by her until I was sure she was all right, retrieved the grilled cheese and hightailed it out of there with trembling child in tow.
That was when it hit me. What was I doing? Yes, my kid was incredibly stubborn at times but she was not being bad. All the way home I was inwardly slapping myself for putting her in the way of possible physical harm because I let someone else tell me how to take care of my child.
Again, I consulted a pediatrician. This child only eats four things. What do I do? Her questions to me were as follows:
Is she talkative?
Seriously? She should have her own show on cable.
Is she lethargic?
Are you kidding me?? Even her preschool teacher said she has two speeds – fast and faster.
Other than her eating habits, is she an active, normal child?”
She pronounced YK healthy, suggested a multi-vitamin and sent us on our way.
My girls have grown up to be intelligent, healthy, and beautiful young women inside and out. I know we taught them a few things but I know they also taught us a few things along the way. They showed us how to be parents... not perfect parents (thank goodness that isn't a prerequisite), not all-knowing parents who had the right solution to every problem – just their parents. There were days when parenting felt more like a science experiment or a never-ending essay question - or worse yet, a multiple choice quiz where every choice may be the wrong one. We also learned that listening to advice is not a terrible thing. Much of what other parents offer can be helpful, and usually they are simply trying to help you. Usually (my mind drifts back to the days of Little Stevie’s ultra-annoying parents on I Love Lucy). Still, every mom and dad has to make the tough calls sometimes. We slowly learned to trust our gut, even if that meant getting the right kind of advice because our gut was clueless.
There were definitely some slip-ups along the way that still make me chuckle. When OK was not quite four years old I took her to an open house at a new gymnastics studio. She fell in love with the mats and bars and she jumped and tumbled nonstop for probably an hour, a huge smile on her face the whole time. When it was time to leave she was less than cooperative, and it took a small reprimand to get her to finally sit on a bench so I could help her with her shoes. As I was slipping a sneaker on her foot I heard a very soft “Dammit” just above my head. I stopped, looked up into that sweet face, and asked, “What did you just say??” She wouldn’t look me in the eye but she replied, “Darnit.” Yeah… that’s what I thought.
At that moment I was thrown off kilter because I thought we had been so careful about not using bad language in front of her (granted, I was definitely better at it than her dad but that term probably came from me). I was also a little bit in awe of the fact that she knew the appropriate context in which to utter said expletive. Obviously, pointing this out to her would have been the wrong thing to do at the time.
We also took great care in teaching both girls courtesy. Always say please and thank you, we would tell them. They got that. More or less. For a while when YK was around four (seems to be the prime age for these eye openers) her favorite phrase became “Please and thank you!” As in: “May I have a cookie? Please and thank you!” I can see where it was confusing and yet useful at the same time.
Both girls had one – count ‘em – one severe temper tantrum at the age of three (again, a magical number that you are not prepared for after you’ve breezed through what the rest of the world insists are the Terrible Twos without a scratch). Both girls enjoy hearing those stories. Both girls will have those moments if they become parents. I only hope they share every exasperating detail with me.
Whether you are the parent of an infant, toddler, or teen, or even in the planning stages of parenthood, just accept the fact now that your children are going to learn the wrong things once in a while – and they might learn it from you. Accept the additional fact that someone else will "know" better than you what your child should be doing/ saying/ eating/ thinking at various stages. Ask the real experts about it if you are concerned. Maybe even ask your child what he or she is feeling at that moment. Ask yourself... what am I teaching my child here?
And then ask - which would I prefer to have them appear on - Dr. Phil or Jerry Springer?
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Don’t ask me why it is the first week in September and I am dwelling on holiday plans. Blame it on the fact that it will probably be the first time YK comes home since dropping her off at college and I’m already expecting that she will be wishing herself back on campus after one week home (and almost four to go) with her boring old parents. Hopefully having her cat once again take up half the bed during that period will make her happy for at least part of the time.
It so happens that along with the empty nest this year and learning how to negotiate with offspring over long distance comes a refresher on holiday stress. Raise your hand if you've ever had to scoff down breakfast standing in the doorway between the kitchen and living room while Christmas presents are being opened, rush out the door for dinner precisely at noon at the home of Parental Set #1, and run across town (or to another town) to Parental Set #2 in time for one more unwrapping and a huge meal at 5 p.m. The “joyful” holiday season can turn into a competition in which someone’s feelings are bound to get hurt no matter how you try to stretch yourself. This is not a question – this is fact. If you've faced a similar scenario during holidays or birthdays (or anything that encourages families to make you want to clone yourself), I know you get it. I vowed not to do that to our kids. They would not have us dictating what day or time they should be with us on holidays, or even if they are with us on holidays.
I did say that. I meant it.
At the time.
Then OK and The Boy spent last Christmas in Bora Bora with his family (where his dad, a manager for an incredible luxury hotel, was assigned at the time). He set the perfect scene at dusk on the beach, produced a “strategically placed” shell with a diamond ring hidden inside (thank goodness he picked up the right shell), and asked our girl to marry him. It could not have been more perfect.
Naturally, this means one thing. I want this Christmas. So LC (Love Couple – work with me here) has to figure out a way to show up in Maine in the middle of the week (since Christmas happens to fall on a Wednesday this year) without having to use every minute of their vacation time to do so (which I really do not want them to have to do).
It’s not their fault that is that our youngest is happily ensconced at a college she loves with new friends and much more interesting activities than home can possibly offer. I am honestly very thankful she is adjusting well, and that she is well adjusted enough in general to handle the distance. Now here’s the thing about being a mom. I have earned the right to be thankful and still slightly whiney about it. And this does sort of lead me to want us all together for Christmas so that I can get my proper mom fix. Since YK scurrying home for every break is the impossible dream (mine) it is very likely we will go from having dropped her off on campus two weeks ago to not seeing her until Family Weekend the first weekend in November (and thank you so much for the price gouging over that weekend just because you can, Hotels Which Shall Not Be Named or Credited in Any Way).
On the 'up' side of holiday dilemmas, The Fiancé's (occasionally I give The Boy an upgrade) parents are heading to The Dad’s (appropriate, don’t you think?) new post in Atlanta, GA, which means it is likely that - if I get my way.... wait -- wish. I meant wish. Anyway, if I get my wish, they won’t have to leave in the middle of dinner to get to the Other Family. They will be stuck with us. I like it! Let me just say here and now that we love our future son-in-law’s family and my goal is not to take anything away from them. In fact, if the opportunity presents itself I would welcome the idea of celebrating some holidays with them in the future (Yes, I realize it would have been wise of me to figure out how we could have visited them in Bora Bora).
I am also acutely aware that, while this will be YK’s first actual college winter break, it may very well be the last break she will remain home for the whole time (which, having experienced this with OK, may not be the worst thing once she has had a taste of independence). It would not surprise me at all if she either wound up visiting newfound college friends during future breaks or arranged for a study abroad or even a job near the school as part of it.
So there you have it, the reason I am actually ahead of Wal-Mart’s seasonal decorating in my quest to get a grip on the holidays. Oh, and lest we forget, S and I also have family in Connecticut and New Jersey that we hope to spend time with during that period of glad tidings and cheer (or angst and guilt, says the woman who moved three states away). We can work it out, as the Beatles say, and we have plenty of time since I’m jumping on the highway to how-are-we-supposed-to-fit-this-all-in early, so I’m sure it will be just fine with careful planning.
How does a holiday matrix starting the first of November sound?