Category Archives: family

Our mishmash Christmas tree is full of memories

construction-paper-small-copyright

What mom could resist?

As we were decorating our tree this year, my son held up two of his handmade ornaments — jaggedly cut pieces of construction paper with black marker scrawled on them.

“Do we have to put these up this year?” he groaned.

The date on the back shows he was nearly 3 when he wrote “Mom” and “Dad” and drew stick figures on them. Of course those are going on the tree, I told him .And so are the wooden ornaments you colored over the years with babysitter, even the one with the crooked googly eyes you made when you were 4.

And the Popsicle stick Gods eye your sister made, and all the other ornaments we’ve accumulated over the years.
I have friends whose Christmas trees are works of art, with impeccable arrangements of elegant ornaments, worthy of the oohs and aahs. One couple we know buys chic new ornaments every year to create a different theme for every season. Some of my friends don’t allow anyone else to help decorate tree, lest they interfere with perfection.

Not me. I’m all about the color, all about the memories.

Christmas deepens my already sentimental, nostalgic side. I love the annual tradition of choosing the tree, hauling out the boxes, then carefully unwrapping our ornaments and decorations. I remember where just about every one of them came from. There are “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments, faux wine bottles given to me by friends, and decorations we have picked out as a family on vacations. There are trinkets I bought the first year I lived alone and put up a tree by myself in my tiny apartment. They remind me how far I’ve come.

I have lots ornaments with my daughter’s name on them. She has a daughter of our own now. I suppose I should pass them on to her, but I love having her name hang in our house on soccer balls and sleds and candy canes. And besides the Shrinky Dinks my sister, brother, and I made still hang on my dad’s tree, along with the other prized possessions he and my late mom collected over the years. I like seeing them there when we visit at Christmas.

Our decorating doesn’t end with the tree. On the mantle over the fireplace, we arrange the beautiful Nativity scene three of my oldest friends gave us for a wedding gift, and in the hall, we hang the Christmas prints my mom gave me years ago.

peanut-copyright

The peanut savior

pinecone-copyright

The rocker angel

And on the piano, we place the tiny manger that holds baby Jesus in the form of a peanut with a smiley face and the pine cone angel with haphazardly placed glitter and a shock of curly blonde hair that gives her a decidedly less than angelic look. My son brought them home from his church preschool. I can’t find the tape of the gift tags, but I’ve manged to hold onto that peanut for the last six years. I thought it was ridiculous when I first saw it, but I adore it.

And our centerpiece, our tree, will be covered in hundreds of colored lights and that glorious array of old and new. The are crystal stars next to Seahawks Santa hats, and a sock monkey ornament near a glittery glass heart. There will be no rhyme nor reason to the placement, except for the antique angel always that goes on top.

angel-copyright

Grandma’s angel watches over us all.

My beloved grandma passed her down to me years ago, and I cherish it. She has a painted porcelain face and dainty ceramic hands and feet peeking out from her delicate lace dress, her satin wings outstretched behind her. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I have no idea why I was the lucky grandchild to inherit this beauty.

My kids have asked over the years to instead put up a star, or something with more bling or shine, but I hold fast to this tradition. She’s the last thing we take out, and the last thing we pack away, encased in bubble wrap and cardboard to preserve her for next year.

Our tree is not color-coordinated nor stylish. It’s far from flawless. It’s not picture-perfect. It’s just perfect.

I hope however you celebrate the holidays, they are full of memories you will cherish.

(If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it with your friends.)

 

Advertisements

I completely lost my freaking mind in front of my kid and his friends

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.

 

 

 

My dad is my hero

dad and me

I don’t remember this photo being taken, but I know my dad has been holding me up all my life.

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.

Happy Father’s Day. I love you, Dad.

 

I missed my son’s playoff game to make music

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.

hee haw honeys

The Hee Haw Honeys, from our yearbook. Two of these silly girls were at the reunion with me.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

A letter to my beautiful stepdaughter, who is about to become a mom

hay and hawke cropped

Seem like yesterday this little girl was holding her baby brother. Soon, she will be holding her own baby.

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.”

We have come a long way.

(This post originally appeared on Ravishly.)

 

A toast to the moms and the motherless

box2

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.

I adore you. I cherish you.

 

 

He’s 9, and he’s fine. But what about me?

My 9-year-old son walked to school by himself for the first time today.

He goes to a school that’s a 10-minute drive away, not within walking distance, but he can catch the bus at the school in our neighborhood just a few blocks away from our house. His school has a late start, and he usually wants to have extra time at home in the morning and prefers I drive him to school. My flexible schedule allows me to do that.

Today, he wanted to walk to the bus. Alone. For the first time.

While he typically dawdles through the morning routine, he practically raced through it this morning, preparing himself for the day. I said I would walk him down to the corner. You can literally see the school three blocks away from that corner. He declined my offer.

“I am fine!” he insisted.

I watched him walk away, his heavy backpack not slowing his steps at all.

I know it’s the first of many times I will watch him leave. Soon he’ll be asking for the car keys, and after that, going to college. Realistically, I know there are many years before that, but it also feels like yesterday I was carrying him on my hip. It goes so fast, we all say. Because it simply does. I remember last week — or 10 years ago — when my stepdaughter decided she wanted to ride her scooter to school at about the same age. Now she’s expecting her own child.

As soon as he turned the corner, I got in the car, thinking about driving to meet him. I sat there for a minute. “I am not a helicopter parent,” I told myself. “Don’t I always say my goal is to raise independent, self-sufficient children? He’s a smart, strong kid. He is 9. He is fine.”

But I still started the ignition. I drove the opposite way, and reached the back of the school, where I saw him proudly walking toward the waiting area for the bus. See, I just wanted to congratulate him, to tell him I am proud of how he’s growing up. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the same reason I followed my stepdaughter that day on her scooter.

I gave him a high-five and a big hug, told him to have a great day, and walked back toward the car.

“Sometimes it’s hard to leave them,” another mom kindly said to me.

It sure is.

 

(If you liked this post, please share it with your friends.)