Love what you do

I frequently question why I do this. Why do I feel guilty when I don’t post “enough”? Should I schedule the post even though it could stand more editing? Is it OK to re-use copy from a previous post? Are there too many book reviews and not enough life? Really, is this a blog or a journal? What’s the difference?

These are the questions that run through my brain at the oddest hours. They steal moments when I should be folding laundry or vacuuming. They nag at me every time I ask my sons to wait a few minutes while I finish writing. They also motivate me to get up and write when I’m zoning out in front of the television.

My life was in a different place when I launched alenaslife. I had more flexibility and freedom in my schedule. My writing assignments for work were centered around my family and personal interests, allowing me some overlap between work and blogging. Now that I’m trying to fit alenaslife around a full-time job and schoolwork, three boys full fall schedules and some semblance of a personal life, blogging isn’t so easy.

But, I always return to my personal bottom line. I love to write and I love to share. When I publish something that strikes a chord with readers and elicits comments and feedback, I am thrilled. I don’t understand the magic formula — some mix of topic, style and timing I think — but each time it happens, it’s like Christmas Day.

So, in crisis, I look to the blogosphere, where I frequently find wisdom and inspiration. About a month ago, I bookmarked a post I knew I’d need at some point. Liz Gumbinner’s Mom-101 is one of my favorite sources of humor about life. When she wrote about the blog world’s “existential angst,” I could relate. You can read the full post here, but this is the excerpt which struck me:

You serve best by doing the things you love most.

It struck me that this is the key, isn’t it? For all of us? Whatever it is. If you’re writing for love, writing for money, writing for fame and glory. Writing to bear witness or make change in the world, writing to understand your place in the world. Writing as an escape from your life for a few moments out of every hectic, whirlwind of a day. Writing to connect, writing to feel connected.

It’s all good.

It’s all okay.

It’s all important.

It’s how you serve.

It’s easy to look at people doing so much and think, I could be doing more. It’s easy to look at bloggers making wholesale changes and question your own path.

Use them to inspire you. Don’t use them to beat yourself up.

I will use Liz’s words to remind myself that whatever I blog, however often I do it, and on whichever topic strikes me that day — it’s all okay.

I would love to know what motivates or inspires you to do what you love.

How can he be 10?

“I know it’s only one night’s sleep, but I’ll never be 9 again.”

Those were the final words my son had for me before bed last night. I knew just what he meant. He will not be fundamentally changed when he wakes on his 10th birthday – he will still be smart and funny and athletic and sensitive. He will still be the middle child. He will still have to brush his teeth, put away his clothes, and do his homework.

But 10 feels different from 9.

It feels different for him and it feels different for me. Somehow the passage to double digits marks a shift in childhood. He hasn’t been my fat-cheeked baby for a long time, but he’s still been a little boy in my mind. With age 10, the adjective “little” disappears. He is most definitely my big boy, and that’s tough.

At such a milestone I can’t help but look back. Have I done enough? Have I been the best mom for him? I joke about forgetting the first year of his life, swamped as I was with two babies. Now I think it’s not so funny.  I look back on his baby book and, despite all the parenting advice, compare his slim volume to his big brother’s 3-ring binder. Oh, the mom guilt.

So then I look at the big boy himself. Oh, the mom pride. I marvel at the person he has become. How have we managed to raise such a wonderful kid? He is loved by his classmates and his teachers. He takes pride in his work and his athletic achievements, especially in baseball. Sometimes quiet and reserved, he also possesses a kooky sense of humor we adore.

With all these gifts, it’s easy to forget his sensitivity. I worry about how easily his feeling bruise. His brothers have long figured out the quickest ways to push his buttons. Even at age 10, he can go from smiles to tears in an instant. I take more pride in the way in which he is sensitive to everyone else’s feelings.

Today’s crisis is who to pick as his birthday helper. As the birthday boy, he gets to pick 2 friends to help him pass out treats at school. He is so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by not picking them. He just doesn’t know what to do. It seems a small dilemma to be sure, but I understand that for him, it’s enormous. I also understand that it is only one of many perceived crises that I will not be able to solve for him.

The trouble with growing up is that, more often than not, you have to solve your own problems. As much as I’d like to pick him up and whisk him away from any hurt, I can’t do that anymore.

He is 10.

Monday Quote: Motherhood

“(24/7) once you sign on to be a mother, that’s the only shift they offer.”
Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

I think of this work shift as I attempt to balance a professional life, marriage, friendships and, of course, reading & writing, into my world of motherhood. Yesterday was a lovely day as I felt very keenly the love of my mother, the love of my sons and ultimately the love of my wild, funny, terrific set of extended family and friends.

I am so blessed to be raising sons among people who truly value my role as mother. They love me, cherish me and lift me up on occasion. Even with all those gifts, motherhood is hard work. It never stops. I am “Mom” wherever I am. That title does not disappear when I am at work, out with friends or at book club. The responsibilities of motherhood do not disappear when we change location or have room service.

But when I start to feel overwhelmed by the “never-endingness” of this job I took almost 12 years ago, I remember also that their love is endless. I will forever be adored in a way that has no equal.

My sons may not behave perfectly, but they love me 24/7. That is payment beyond measure.

I want my Mommy, not my sons’ Mima.

Today I leave for a long weekend with my mom. It’s our Mothers Day present to each other. No kids, just each other for a quick getaway. I’m more excited than I can express.  I will miss my husband and sons but will treasure a couple of days on my own. Besides, I adore time alone with my mom.

In celebration, I am sharing an essay I wrote in 2004. This essay was published in the May 2004 issue of Chicago Parent magazine. I wrote it before I had my third child. My world was so different, but the sentiment remains.

I hope you enjoy this post and I wish much happiness and love to all the mothers and grandmothers out there.

How can I be jealous of Mima time?

It’s been three years since my older son’s birth and I still have a hard time believing that Mother’s Day has anything to do with me. As each May approaches I consider ways I can make the day special for my mom. Since I have toddlers, going out for a crowded brunch is not a relaxing idea for anyone, so I host a brunch at my house. I prepare all week-carefully choosing a menu, thoroughly cleaning our house, arranging beautiful flowers, setting the table with china and crystal.

My friends think I’m crazy. Aren’t I supposed to be taking the day off? But she’s my mom, my best friend. For almost 30 years she was the most important person in my life. I want this lovely day for both of us. So the stage is set. The music is playing. In she comes, full of compliments about the table setting and delicious aromas. But before I can even offer her a cup of coffee, my boys are clamoring for all of her attention. They drag her off to the playroom where she happily builds animal parades, puts together puzzles and colors pictures all morning.

I watch from the dining room because when “Mima” is over I’m pretty much invisible anyway. I marvel at what an amazing grandmother she is, especially considering that she doesn’t come close to fitting the gray-haired, cookie-baking mold. But she excels in the endless gifts, pockets full of candy and zero discipline departments. It is no wonder my sons adore her.

Taken June, 2011

Even as I observe them together, grateful my sons are so blessed, I am jealous. On the inside I’m yelling, “I want my mommy.” I admit it. I want that radiant attention focused squarely on me. Not that she doesn’t try. I am never forgotten or ignored. She is always there for me when I need her and she never fails to know what I need before I do. Still, as I watch her with my kids I am aware that I have lost “Mommy” forever now that she is “Mima.”

I know I shouldn’t complain. My children are lucky to have her. I’m lucky to have her. I still can’t help feeling the twinge of resentment when she takes their side over mine. The issues are minor-candy before lunch or one more video before leaving- but still…aren’t mothers supposed to defend their own children above all else? How did I become the odd mom out?

She would argue that by “occasionally” siding with the boys she is supporting me, because her attention and spoiling take some of the pressure off of me. And she would be right. As much as I might resent her apparent shift in loyalty, I depend on her presence in our lives.

In fact, it’s rare if the boys and I go a whole week without seeing her. We generally spend Saturdays on “Mima adventures,” which might be a trip to the conservatory, museum or even an amusement park.

Occasionally I even make plans to meet her on my own for coffee or some shopping. I remember the first time I showed up for coffee without the baby in tow. The first words out of her mouth were, “Where’s the baby?”

I was so disappointed, not just at the realization that I was not the only light of my mother’s eye. I also wanted her to share in my excitement over having a couple hours with no crying, diapers or spit-up. As the boys have grown, she’s acknowledged my need to just be with her alone. Still, I’m more careful to warn her in advance when it will just be me. It saves us both the initial disappointment.

It’s strange that becoming a mother in no way diminished my need for my mother. I thought it would, like a membership to some exclusive club of strong, self-confident women. If anything, motherhood makes me more aware-emotionally, intellectually and physically-of the job she has done.

I wonder if it’s true that we all turn into our parents. It’s hard to believe at this stage. I remember the mom of my childhood as being fun, filled with ideas for outings and art projects, never disciplining us or raising her voice and always, always keeping us neat and clean. It’s with these ideals in mind that I strive to be a great mother. I can’t help making the comparisons between us.

To my mom’s credit, she rarely offers unsolicited advice on how to parent. She listens and sympathizes, offers alternatives when I’m frustrated, and praises often. In other words, she mothers me.

I’m sure that with each passing year, Mother’s Day will begin to feel more real to me. I will continue to watch my mother and my children share an unbreakable bond, probably continue to be envious. But I’ll also know that I am a link in that chain, adored by both generations.

I can sip my coffee, surrounded by crystal, china and lovely flowers, knowing I receive the ultimate Mother’s Day gift every day. I am loved.

A Rescue at Sea

A life preserver, or toroidal throwable person...

A life preserver, or toroidal throwable personal flotation device. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week I had the pleasure of reconnecting with some very special people. When I got Suzanne’s e-mail suggesting that our old playgroup get together for lunch, it hit me. It’s been 10 years since this particular group of women rescued me from the choppy waters of baby life.

Don’t get me wrong — I was treading water fine. Two boys under 17 months. Working from home about 10 hours a week. Still tenuously connected to my theatre company. Plenty of support from my husband and our families. But I knew I was being pulled out to sea. I was losing hold on the life I thought I knew. Who was this new person? I couldn’t focus on anything but keeping these little boys alive and happy.

I faithfully attended Mommy & Me classes just like I had with my oldest son, but this time with a toddler in tow. It was all more complicated, harder. Those days, I felt like a piranha – the only woman I knew with kids so close together. People either assumed they were twins (proof that people see what they want to see) or stared at me, mouths agape, wondering why I would choose to have sons so close in age.

When the gorgeous and exotic Ana invited us all to her house for lunch after the last class, I was thrilled to be included. We laid our babies in a circle, ate lunch, took pictures, traded stories and asked questions. Most importantly, Suzanne gathered all our e-mails. It was the start of something very special.

Without any formal structure, we launched a playgroup. Suzanne merged the names and e-mails from the moms in a couple of her classes and once a week, we each took a turn hosting the gathering of moms and kids — different times, different places, different formats – but the same core group anchoring me.

Within that community, I knew I would find sympathy, advice, laughter and perspective.  Far from feeling awkward, my playgroup friends accepted my two kids without question. In fact, they boosted my confidence often as they turned to me as a mom who “had been through it once already.”

This is a sculpture in Rosses Point, County Sl...

This is a sculpture in Rosses Point, County Sligo Ireland, for people lost at sea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I still marvel at this group’s random beginning. We are all so different. We lived in four different towns. Some worked outside the home. Some were home for the first time. We are the parents of boys and girls. We live in houses large and small. Our children are biological and adopted, single and multiple. We are black, white, Hispanic and Asian, Christian and Jewish. We spoke to the kids in a variety of languages, accents and dialects.

Motherhood trumps all of these distinctions. Sleeplessness knows no ethnicity. Food allergies have no religion. And first steps are marvelous in any size house. Over time, the moms were the ones in a circle as our babies first crawled, and eventually ran, around us. But we still ate, took pictures, traded stories and asked questions. We buoyed each other in rough times. We celebrated each other’s triumphs and we marked milestones together.

And, inevitably, we drifted apart. Kids started preschool. We had more babies. Schedules no longer permitted us to gather during the day. Instead, we transitioned into a monthly “Moms Night Out” group, which was fun in a whole new way. But that too eventually melted away.

Only 7 of us were able to make the lunchtime reunion, at which we ate, traded stories and asked questions (no pictures though). Once again, our common bond overshadowed our many differences. Once again, we shared our triumphs and challenges. These same women threw me a life-preserver as I talked about my trepidation at the “next phase.”

I will carry all of these friends in my heart no matter if I see them weekly, monthly, or once every few years. I thank them for the many rescues. I treasure our shared journey.