I chose my first presidential candidate when I was in 4th grade. My dad told me if I watched the news and read the newspaper he would vote for whoever I told him to. He called me from his office and told me he was on his way to the polls and asked for my recommendation.
“Jimmy Carter!!” I screamed.
I might not have imagined then I would have the chance to vote for a woman running for the highest office, but my mom probably did. Were she alive today, my mom would be a couple of years older than Hillary Clinton, and she would have no doubt have campaigned for her – and voiced her opinions about what she should have done differently.
Growing up in Alaska in the ’70s and ‘80s, we talked about politics and current events a lot in our house. My mom was committed to making sure women were involved in the process – and on the ballot. When my sister and I were young, she lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment and was an officer in the League of Women Voters. She and other strong women had raucous conversations in our home and worked hard on the issues and for candidates they believed in.
My mom ran campaigns and enlisted our help going through rolodexes and making phone calls. She helped elect school board members and state lawmakers, and she also campaigned for candidates who would have brought about real change but didn’t win. She volunteered at polling places, let us go behind the red, white, and blue curtain with her, and even took us to some election night parties.
Alaska is a small state, and Anchorage was a tight-knit community in those days, so many of these people were our friends. I babysat for the former mayor and governor’s kids, went to sleepovers with the daughters of legislators, and greeted many past and present lawmakers at my mom’s memorial service.
My mom was always trying to show us what women could accomplish. When I had to write a report on a historical figure in 6th grade, she suggested I research Golda Meir, who was Israel’s first (and only) woman prime minister. I did.
I remember my mom and her friends cheering when Geraldine Ferraro was chosen to be Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate in 1984. They were crushed in the election, of course, but the progressive women who surrounded and influenced me over the years considered it progress that a woman would be nominated for such a high office. Even though she would have disagreed with her politics, my mom might have even felt the same about fellow Alaska Sarah Palin.
We talk some politics around our house too. My 9-year-old son helped me fill out my ballot (mail-in state that we are – it’s just not the same. I want my sticker!) He formed his own strong opinions throughout these prolonged campaigns about who he wanted to see in the White House.
“It seem strange that a woman has never been president,” he told me recently. “I always thought they were the most intelligent.”
The grandma you never met, my dear, would be proud.It looks tonight as though my son’s statement remains true and we won’t have a woman president. Still, though disappointed and shocked at the results I saw unfold tonight, I raise a glass to my mom and the many women of her generation who fought so hard to make a difference that led to Clinton’s historic run.
My son loves to have his friends over, and I usually plan some kind of outing when I can. But sometimes when we do this, he goes a little cray-cray.
Like the day just before school started when I was driving with three hyper boys and our excitable dog in the car. We were listening to pop radio on way home from the park. I spent 40 bucks on lunch they didn’t eat and let them run wild while I played with the dog. I was taking them home to change so we could head to the pool. Awesome mom, right? So fun, so chill.
Suddenly, the car door my son was sitting by flew open. I panicked, slammed on the brakes, and turned around to see him sheepishly trying to pull the door closed. Then I noticed he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I screamed, as his friends looked at me with mouths agape. “You opened the door of a moving car and you don’t even have your damn seatbelt on?”
And then I saw his smirk, and my rage reached a new level. When my quite bright son told me with a straight face that door “accidentally” came open, I completely lost it.
“Do not try to tell me you did not do that on purpose! You do not have to act like an IDIOT when you are with your friends. You are not impressing anyone! If this is how you’re going to behave you can play BY YOURSELF the rest of your life! I can’t believe you would do something SO STUPID!”
I mean, this kid is 9 1/2. I thought I was past the point of cheerfully saying, “Buckle up!” when we get in the car. Apparently not. And maybe we’re not even over those child locks. Seriously?
Yelling, swearing, name calling, idle threats. Not my proudest mom moment, but I know a lot of you have been there too. When I told this story to my friends later that night – over wine of course – they laughed out loud, told me to give myself a break for losing my cool, and toasted to the fact that I got through the whole episode with dropping any f bombs. They got it.
And they understood too that behind my total freak out was fear: Fear that this son of mine, this confident, smart, funny, talented kid, could be hurt, not by accident, but by his own foolishness. Instantly my mind filled with thoughts of his brains splattered on the pavement, his legs mangled, he and the dog tangled in the leash, run over by my own car. I was literally shaking. Tears filled my eyes as I tried to calm down.
There are enough things to worry about when raising kids – especially daredevil boys like mine who start swordfights with sharp objects, wrestle like they’re part of WWE, and walk across the top of the monkey bars and jump down, ignoring warnings of “That’s too high!”
There are a million ways for these boys to hurt themselves, and only so much we can prevent. I mean, kids get shot in elementary schools and movie theaters these days, and babies get sick for no reason. That random violence and heartache we have no control over, but don’t we all try to avert needless danger where we can?
My son wants to play tackle football and I’m like hell no, you could get hurt. I make him wear his helmet over his protests when he’s riding his bike and his electric scooter. I teach him not to open the door to strangers or touch a hot stove and look three ways before crossing the street. But he opens the freaking door of a moving car?
I want him to push himself, to be brave, to be fearless. I don’t want to be overprotective or overreact. I want him to be independent. I want him to be bold. But I also want him to be smart, to avoid intentionally putting himself in harm’s way.
I was able to explain this to him later that night when he was getting ready for bed. He said he’d never seen me so mad before.
“Sorry for losing my temper, especially in front of your friends,” I told him. “But you really scared me.”
I told him he’s the most important thing to me, and keeping him safe is my job. There will be a lot of things you will confront as you get older that can be bad for you, I said, so you might as well start now with making the right choices.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” he murmured.
And then I laid down beside my growing-up-way-too-fast-but-still-little boy, kissed him and hugged him.
And he let me.
This post originally appeared on Ravishly. Check out their site.
It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about my dad.
He is kind, wise, generous, honest, funny, hard-working and compassionate. He was a provider, a supporter, a caretaker, and my biggest fan. He always told me, “Go for it!” and made me believe in myself.
How do I adequately say “thank you” to the man who who helped me become who I am? I am fortunate to have had the parents I did. I hope my kids feel the same about me.
I tried my best to show how much I love, admire, and respect him long before I started blogging, when I submitted an essay, “Priceless Treasures” (starts on page 53) for the anthology, “My Dad is My Hero.” I was honored it was included, and I share it now in honor of Father’s Day, and this man who really is my hero.
Against my better judgment, I wore flip flops to the dog park on a 90-degree day. Big mistake. Traipsing after the tennis ball, I stepped right in a pile of fresh poop.
Oh, I beg of you. You, yes you, with the cute, cuddly Chow Chow, and you with the pair of poodles, and everyone else who comes here, I plead with you to watch where your dog does his business. Because as well as leaving a mess, this park smells pretty freaking horrible on a hot day. I’m still pretty new to this dog thing, but I’m the stay-at-home-dog-mom, so I’m a regular at the dog park now. I find most pet parents to be responsible, lovely people. I look forward to friendly conversations as I try to wear out our boisterous Bella throwing the same ball approximately 872 times. But nearly every day I see something that irks me about this canine community.
We all know parents have some pretty strong feelings surrounding playground etiquette (share, take turns, stop texting and watch your own kid, you know the drill). Some of these guidelines should also be adopted when we take our dogs to the park to play.
So I propose eight commonsense rules of the dog park.
1. Clean up after yourself. I know you want to gossip with the your human friends or maybe just sit down and relax with your cell phone while your puppy plays with the other pooches, but please, keep an eye out for the tell-tale stance. You know when you go to the park, your dog is going to go. When he’s been out of sight for a while, chances are he’s done it. Don’t leave it behind for us to pick up – or step in. There are even bags available if you forgot yours. This seems like Dog Owner 101, but I can’t believe how many piles I dodge. Trust me, this is a lot worse than stepping in your kid’s Gogurt or finding an abandoned juice box that didn’t make it to the garbage can.
2. Bring your own toys.
Listen, I’m all about sharing. I’ll throw the ball for your dog too. But if Fido chases my dog’s ball then runs away with it, just bring it back. “That’s not yours,” you can say, just like we do when our children claim another kid’s truck or doll. “They’ll let you play with it, but we have to return it.” And if you know your dog loves playing fetch – which you must, because he does it with me every single day – maybe invest in a Chuckit of your own? You can get one online for like 8 bucks.
3. Don’t let your baby be a bully.
Dogs love to play, we know. Some are more rambunctious and louder than others. I get that. But if your dog is overly aggressive with other animals or people, making too much noise, or just getting in someone’s way, step in. The other day I was surrounded by three yapping Chihuahuas I’ve never seen before. They relentlessly circled me for at least 10 minutes, jumping, yipping, jumping, yapping. There’s no way the owner didn’t hear them. When I finally tried to escape to a different part of the park, they followed me. Their owner saw them with me and said, “Were they harassing you? They’re kind of out of control, so they just harass everyone.” Not cool.
One day my excitable dog took a liking to girl with long hair and wouldn’t leave her alone. I called her off, pulled her off, to no avail. So you know what we did? We left. No one else should have to deal with my dog’s misbehavior – or yours.
4. Don’t be a helicopter parent.
If you are worried your little princess might get hurt or dirty, put her in the separate, fenced small dog area. I’ve seen giant greyhounds and tiny terriers get along just fine, but if you think every big dog is out to devour yours, don’t let her roam. Don’t expect all the dogs in the park not to check each other out, and say, “Do you want to be my friend?” Unlike our kids, their feelings won’t be hurt when one says no, but you can’t police their introductions. Also, if you’re a mom who insists on going down the playground slide with your toddler on your lap, you probably shouldn’t bring her to the dog park either.
5. Safety first.
There are two gates at each entrance. Please make sure you close at least one (preferably both) when coming or going. There are way too many distractions beyond the fence – other dogs, joggers, oh and loud cars and trucks – to chance someone else’s dog darting off.
6. Dress appropriately. I will do everything I can to keep my dog from rubbing her muddy face up against you, but chances are, she or another is going get your white pants dirty. I apologize (most people shrug it off with, “Well she’s a dog.”) But if your wardrobe is important to you, leave the designer duds at home and wearing your oldest jeans or yoga pants. And boots.
7. They won’t always listen to you.
Like our kids, I think dogs have selective hearing. I hear you calling your dog. I’ve heard it 100 times. He hears you too, but he’s having way too much fun to do what you say. When it’s time to leave, or if you need to get your dog out of some trouble, you might just have to walk over and get him.
8. Leave it how you found it.
Simple: If your dog poops, you scoop. I know, I’m repeating Rule No. 1. But apparently it needs to be done. The sign doesn’t say, “Watch your step.” My shoes and I thank you.
Hey kiddo. I’m sorry I missed your big baseball playoff game the other day. It was your best game yet, and your huge hit helped send your team to the championship. I wasn’t there because I was at my high school — a place I hadn’t been for 30 years — singing with other former choir students in preparation for a reunion concert to honor the director who inspired and influenced countless students over her career.
During a break from our rehearsals, I checked my text messages, and Dad had been keeping me up to date on the game. I let out a “Whohoo!” and told everyone around me about your great success. We all cheered for you and your team.
Then we headed back on stage to keep singing, which was where I really needed to be that night. It was a big decision to go on this trip during this incredibly busy end-of-the-school year rush. I felt guilty about leaving Dad and you, about buying a plane ticket, asking my friends to help shuttle you to your activities (thanks to my mom tribe, who totally got why I wanted to be there). I told you there would be a lot of games in your life, but this reunion concert was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I really wanted to be part of it.
Once I was standing on the risers under the lights, sharing harmonies with singers who I had known for decades, I knew I had made the right decision.
I haven’t gone to my class reunions because our family had other things going on. But being at this reunion was important for me, and it turned out it was even more meaningful than I expected. I stayed at Grandpa’s house with two of my best friends from high school. When we all piled into the car, parked at our high school and walked into the auditorium for rehearsal, it felt like no time had passed. We had made that same trip hundreds of times during high school.
I spent endless hours in that auditorium over four years, rehearsing for concerts, learning songs from “The Messiah,” and practicing for musicals like “Hello Dolly” and “The Music Man.” One year, my friends and I went on stage for a special number, dressed in robes with bandanas and curlers in our hair and sang a song called, “We’re Not Ones to Go Round Spreading Rumors” that was made famous by an old TV show you’ve never heard of. We made up our own lyrics about classmates and teachers and we brought down the house. I hadn’t thought of that for a long time.
There’s a lot of stuff about high school I’d rather forget. But being in choir was the best part. Music does bring people together, and it was magical to reconnect with classmates and others who were just as moved as I was to sing together again under the direction of a woman who was a big part of our lives at a time when we were learning who we were. This time around, people were older, some grayer or balding, some heavier, some gorgeous as ever. But the voices were the same, and I felt sheer joy sharing the stage with them all. Our conversations picked up like we had been there yesterday, like we were all still the teenagers we once were trying to get our songs pitch-perfect.
When we weren’t rehearsing or reminiscing, our conversations revolved around what had happened since then, our families, our careers, and our real lives that started after we left high school and our parents. We have all lived through a lot, survived blows more crushing than not being asked to prom, and had moments much bigger than high school graduation. No one can tell us that things that seem like the end of the world at 16 won’t matter one bit when we’re holding our grandchildren.
See, this is who I was long before your dad or sister or you came along. Just a teenage girl who loved singing, worked on the school newspaper, hand-wrote papers for class, went to parties, and worried about whether any boy would ever like me. We giggled with our friends on phones mounted on the wall and met up at McDonald’s to see what was going on that night. We laughed, we cried, we sang. So many memories flooded me as we went through seven poignant songs in that auditorium that was so strangely familiar.
My family will always be my priority. You guys are my heart, my present (my gift) and my future. But my past, experiences like those I relived last week, shaped who I am and made me the person I became that led me to you all. It’s important to maintain those relationships, to nurture the parts of me that are all mine, so I can help you become the person you want to be.
I’ll probably be humming, “How Can I Stop from Singing,” and “Thank You for the Music,” for a while, as I recall this special time with longtime friends. But I’ll be in the stands for that championship game this week, uplifted from my time away.
I talked to you twice yesterday, for a half-hour each time. Each conversation ended with you saying, “I love you.” Your sideways half-hugs have turned into full embraces.
I can’t adequately express how happy such outward affection makes me.
Remember when you and Grandma made those turkey magnets out of fake leaves and straw? Mine has stayed on our fridge year-round. One of its googly eyes is missing, but its felt feet and ribbon bow tie are intact. On the back, you wrote, “I like you.”
That was progress.
I always loved you. Even when you weren’t speaking to me. Even when you scratched my face out of a family picture. Even when you slammed the door and said, “You’re not my parent.” Even when we fought about school and grades. Even when you were a teenager and didn’t come home and Dad and I stayed up all night scared to death, wondering where you were.
Through the screaming and tears, I loved you. I wanted the best for you. I wanted, more than anything, for you to be happy. Who would have thought it would be your unplanned pregnancy that would have brought us this close, and brought you so much happiness. It’s been wonderful watching you mature, seeing you and your love share such excitement over being young parents.
Our recent outing to get you some maternity clothes was the most enjoyable shopping trip we’ve ever had. There was no arguing about whether something was too short, too tight, or too expensive. You were so grateful, so concerned about the cost.
You call me to ask about nursing, talk about your doctor’s appointments and your fear about the birth process. Our conversations are more fun, more in-depth, and more meaningful.
You’ve grown up so much since I first met you when you were 5, all freckles and crooked teeth and attitude covering up your sadness. Your dad fought so hard to bring you to live with us, and you couldn’t wait. When we showed up at the appointed time, you were sitting on the curb with your grandma, all your belongings ready to be loaded right into the car for the five-hour drive to our house.
You were so excited to move to a new city with your dad. You weren’t quite as excited about having a stepmom.
I never envisioned myself in that role either. But I met your sweet dad and his beautiful daughter, and I never thought twice about bringing you home. I wanted to immediately envelope you in love and make our home yours, this family yours. I dreamed of your future, made plans for you, considered you mine.
At our wedding, I wanted to include a special time to symbolize not only our marriage, but the coming together of this family. I searched for the perfect gift, and when you joined us at the altar, we gave you a silver charm bracelet with three hearts on it – one for each of us – and I promised to have and to hold you, in good times and bad.
There were plenty of both as you and I got to know each other. I think we’ll both admit we’ve survived some tumultuous times, and that we’ve come out stronger and more appreciative of the other.
I had a lot to learn. There’s no stepmom manual, so I did what felt right. I figured if I did all the things with you that I remembered doing with my mom, that it would make us mother and daughter. I bought you my favorite books from my childhood – like “Free to be You and Me,” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Each has an inscription I wrote and dated, starting with the first Christmas I knew you, the first birthday I celebrated with you. But you didn’t want to cuddle and read with me, didn’t like it when I sang, “Good morning, good morning!” when I woke you up for school.
You never really liked my silly songs, and rolled your eyes at my jokes. You only wanted Dad to tuck you in at night, so I just told you – as my parents did every night when I was growing up: “Sleep tight, see you in the morning, love you, good night.”
You never said it back, but I kept trying.
On every vacation or holiday, I chose a special charm for that wedding bracelet that reminded me of you, of where you were in your life at that time: a scooter, a soccer ball, a sand castle.
I planned birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and skating rinks, made that Sponge Bob Halloween costume and had your friends over. I cheered the first time you crossed the monkey bars by yourself, took you on your first plane ride, and bought you pads when your period started. I brought you to my office on “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” went to school conferences, filled your Christmas stockings and Easter baskets with your favorite things, and took you to the orthodontist to get your braces put on.
All these efforts, hoping to prove to you that I really did have your back and find the thing that really connected us.
You were so different from me when I was younger. Slender and naturally athletic, with shiny, long chestnut hair and dark eyes, you’re a natural beauty who fit perfectly in skinny jeans and bikinis. I was a chubby, self-conscious girl who always had to shop in the plus size section and hated buying clothes.
I tried every sport and was more than once voted “Most inspirational,” because I put in such effort without ever really being good. You excelled at every sport you attempted. You ran across the soccer field with such speed I was in awe, and you made the volleyball team even though you had never played before.
And through it all, even our happiest days, you longed for your mom. I wondered, why is all she has with us not enough? Not her own room, decorated especially for her, not the undefeated basketball and volleyball teams, not the BFF she texts with incessantly, not the little brother who adores her.
Even with all the counseling, all the talking, I don’t think I saw things from your point of view as well as I should have. I thought I did, but I learned that I was giving you what I thought you needed, without really knowing what you needed. I’m sorry I didn’t understand it as well as I should have from your perspective. I know how hard it was to be torn between your life here with us and your life there with them. I did the best I could, and I hope you know that. I know you wish you had done some things differently as well.
My heart did ache for you when you asked for your mom during the years she couldn’t be there for you. When you cried endlessly in the car after a visit. And that same heart was truly broken when you left us years later to move in with your mom. We knew you deserved the chance to be with her, but I don’t think you knew how hard it was to let you go, how much I cried at your empty room.
I’m so happy your mom found her way back to you, that she is a strong support and that we all now have a friendly relationship. It means so much to me to be recognized along with her as your baby’s grandma, to have a photo of you standing between your mom and dad from your baby shower.
I know you’re going to be a good mom, because I saw how you were with your baby brother – so tender, so careful, so loving. Being his mom taught me a lot about being a step-parent, like how much those first years matter – years when you had no idea who I was – and how kids become who they are so early in life. And how as much as your heart swells with love for your children, all kids and parents get annoyed with each other sometimes, step or not.
You’ll understand it more when your daughter is here – I think you already do – how our children bring us so much joy, and some heartache as well. Sometimes you’ll want her to do things your way, and she’ll have her own ideas, and you’ll know how your parents felt. It happens to all of us when we grow up and look back.
We can’t wait to meet our granddaughter in just a matter of hours. I will hold her and squeeze her and tell her, “Sleep tight. See you in the morning. I love you. Good night.” Maybe you’ll start saying it to her too.
And you can call me when she’s a teenager.
I love you,
Katherine (AKA Grandma)
EPILOGUE: I sent this to my stepdaughter and she said it was OK to post. And she wrote me the best note:
“I’m sorry for the bad times. I didn’t realize what I had was good. I am so grateful that you were/are in my life because my life would be completely different if you weren’t there. Thank you so much for being there when my mom wasn’t. And still being here for me after it all.”
On the last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom, I gave her a keepsake box, with a Maya Angelou quote on top:
“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”
That box now sits on my dresser, holding some of my most precious mementos: photo of my kids, my mom’s charm bracelet, the hair clips my stepdaughter and I wore at my wedding.
On Mother’s Day 10 years ago, my husband gave me a jar of baby food. We had just learned that I was pregnant a few days earlier. Yesterday that little baby scored a couple runs at his baseball game and a touchdown at flag football. Today he gave me a handmade card:
“Thank you for being so supportive of me, caring for me, and giving me so many opportunities though my years so far. I know how hard it is to take care of a kid, so I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done.”
That one’s going in the box.
And my beautiful stepdaughter is about to have a daughter herself. She was the first one to make me a mom when she came into my life 15 years ago, and soon she will make me a grandma.
That Maya Angelou quote is fitting for this holiday, which is wrapped in so many memories and emotions. On this day reserved for Moms – who, let’s face it – will still be doing laundry or changing diapers, packing lunches and checking homework – we all have reasons to celebrate, and reasons to mourn.
Many of my friends are without their moms today too, some for the first time. And there are the heartbroken moms who have lost their children and women who long for babies of their own.
This Mother’s Day, I had brunch with my husband and son. They toasted me and gave me flowers, and I felt their appreciation. Thanks, guys. I love you.
And I thought about my mom, of course, because so much of who I am today I owe to her, and I will always miss her. I thought about all the strong women in my life who are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, single moms, nieces, cousins.
As we make our way through this life, becoming mothers and motherless, I will take Maya’s words to heart.