OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reflections on Diversity and When Does Letting Your Child Fail Help Them Learn to Succeed

One Thursday evening this fall, I was wrapping up my evening of catching up on work after the kids were asleep. I saw the schedule of events from my second son’s school. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. I saw in black and white -- the deadline to enter the art contest called Reflections was the next day. Normally, I hound him for weeks to complete his entry. This year, it had slipped my mind except a mention a week before. I was busy with work and trying to pull off my first charity auction. I felt the nausea of working mom guilt creeping in .. but my mind rebelled, “It was not too late!”

I circled the deadline and put it on the kitchen counter. My hope was he had prepared something and just needed a reminder to bring to school – I knew it was a long shot but maybe. I came down in the morning and he was printing something off. I felt a weight lift . . .until I looked at the paper. It had weird lines running across it. But worse, I could see clearly he had just thrown some words on top of a background this morning. The nauseous feeling from the evening before returned with a vengeance.

Still not willing to admit defeat, I told him I would send a frame with him. He could work on it during the day and hand it in before the end of the day. He usually has no problem writing poetry so I was still hopeful. The theme was diversity. We talked a bit as he got ready about how that applied in our lives. We discussed that his dad is from Greece, my parents are from Holland and Indonesia and his sister is from Ethiopia. And we all have diverse interests and talents.

He rode his bike off to school and I crossed my fingers. After he left, I thought could help him a bit more. I collected some pictures of our family and different trips we had taken I thought might provide him some inspiration. I dropped them off at this school. I was rewarded by one of his huge ear to ear grins and a “THANKS MOM!!”

Later in the day, I checked my voicemail and saw a number on my cell I did not recognize. I was surprised when the message was from Damian. He was sobbing as he spoke. Something about he couldn’t get it done in time and they wouldn’t even let him turn in what he had done because he did not fill out the form which required a parent’s signature. My heart sunk; the depth of his pain and disappointment became mine as his words washed over me.

I felt like I let him down in a big way. But another voice in my head countered, “Maybe you didn’t. Maybe allowing him to fail will help him. He didn’t do what he needed to for this and you can’t always do it for him.” I know I am not unique in wanted to helping my children be successful. It is hard for me to see one of them fail when I could lend them a hand and help them get a different result. Damian is unorganized. He constantly forgets his homework, his chores, his gear for sporting events, and the list goes on. We are trying to help him manage his responsibilities for himself. But he has a long way to go.

Allowing my beloved children to fail and sample the bitter taste of disappointment is excruciating for me. I don’t know in this case if I did the right thing. I am not sure if I want to believe I did to make myself feel better. He brought his poem home. He had crumpled it in a ball and didn’t even want to show me. I rescued it after he went to bed and when I smoothed out the paper I saw his traditionally messy handwriting. But when I read it, the words drew me a picture of our family and diversity intermingled that made me both ponder and smile.

Diversity is family, black, tan, white, everything.
My sister was adopted from Africa; me and my bro are from America.
My dad is a Greek; my mom is a Dutch.
Yes, that’s four nations, you genius!
We, in my family, are all different you see,
My dad is a b-ball coach and knows how to teach calculus.
Now my 3 year sister loves to boss us around, but she is the cutest girl in town.
Me and my brother play two sports and love to read.
My mom is the lawyer. Yes please, now that’s diversity!

I hope next year he can take his considerable talent and combine it with some planning so he can share it again in the competition. Our diverse family is pictured with Damian showing his off-key nature and timing.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Complete Trust - Motherhood Reward and Responsibility

A recent Tuesday early morning, I was snoozing contentedly, savoring the last few minutes of peace before the hustle of getting Leyla and me out the door. I hear my firstborn’s newly deep voice roust me, “MOM!” I felt the prickling of irritation rise as I saw the opportunity to revel in those final moments fading. I responded according and asked brusquely, “What do you need?” He then again said, “MOM!!” and I could hear the tears he was holding back in his voice. I found myself fully upright in bed on instinct. I then saw him standing next to my side with blood on his chin and forehead mixed with tracks from his recently shed tears. I noticed his hands are also bloody. I was now fully and painfully awake. “What happened honey?” I asked feeling guilty for my earlier thoughts. He said, “I fell when riding my scooter to the bus stop.”

I got up and cleaned up his face and hands as best I could so I could see how badly hurt he was. To my mother's eye (experienced from a number of his incidents as well as numerous ones myself as a child), it didn't look good but also did not appear serious enough that an emergency room visit was warranted. I made an appointment with our family doctor for later that morning to confirm.

I then got his little sister ready for pre-school and prepared for the delay in my work day start. Out of the corner of my I eye, I could see he lying in our bed looking more like my little boy than the gangly teenager he has become. “Mom, can you stay home with me today?” he asks. My first response was, "No I have a day full of meetings. I will take you to the doctor and then your dad will come home early.”

“Ple-ea-ase mommy (the description he reserves now for when he really wants something from me),” he pleads. I look again at my schedule and see some of the meetings I can call into and others I can reschedule. It appears I can avoid a "bad mommy" moment. I tell him I can stay and am rewarded with his trademark grin – now including his braces which had cut into his lips in the fall. I hurt looking at him. But it is gratifying to know that even now he trusts "mommy" to take care of him. He is pictured below a few days later . . hamming it up with his new teenage battle scars beginning to heal.

I was taken back to when he was three years old. During pre-school, he was wacked in the mouth with a wooden block by another pre-schooler cutting his top lip. One of his front teeth turned also brown. The dentist said he needed a root canal. And told me the normal procedure for his age is to put the child under general anesthesia. Wanting to avoid that if possible, I said I thought he would be okay if he could be with me. The dentist and his staff were extremely skeptical but agreed to give it a try.

I lay down in the dentist chair and then pulled my son up. I wrapped my arms around him and told him he needed to lie very quietly. "Mommy is right here. The dentist is going to fix your tooth and everything is going to be fine. You just need to be my brave boy.” As I lay there, my little three year old let the dentist deliver the pain killing shot and drill extensively into his injured tooth. On a couple of occasions, he said in a little plaintive voice, “I don’t like this Mommy!!”

But when I replied, "You are doing great. I am very proud of you," he lay quietly until the dentist finished his work. I was hit at the time with the realization that what allowed him to do so was his complete faith and trust in me. Even as the long needle entered his gums and the vibrating drill dug into his tooth, he believed me when I said it was all going to be okay. My eyes filled. I was touched and humbled. I don't think I appreciated the full responsibility of his complete trust until that moment. The staff too was amazed and gave him a stuffed animal he kept as a special memento. At that age, his cheeks were plumper and he took his injuries a bit more seriously, as you can see below.

He still has that trust although it looks and is communicated differently more than a decade later. Its manefestation range from the serious to the more trivial. For example, we talked about a potentially life altering illness. He asked me “Are you worried, Mom?” I said, “No honey, I feel good about the likely outcome.” He responded, “If you are not worried, then I am not either.” Again, I was struck that his trust allowed him peace rather than worry.

Another time, when he was waiting for text, he asked me if I thought it was significant he hadn’t heard anything yet. I honestly wasn’t paying close attention and said something like, “I am sure it is no big deal.” He signed and said, “Thanks. If you don’t think so, then I feel better.” Then I felt a stab of guilt that I hadn't responded more thoughtfully because he put a lot of stock in my answer. He is growing into a young man and our relationship changes as he matures. But we still enjoy a close connection -- this photo taken during our visit to Greece this summer.

I found motherhood to be hard, complex and often messy (and with this one even a bit bloody). It requires the best of me but can also bring out my worst. It’s in these moments of revelation, I come to understand a bit more of the depth of what all motherhood really entails. And there in lies both the reward and the responsibility.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to Balance Two Careers and Three Kids Over Two Decades

In this blog, I generally focus on my life as a working mother. My husband Michael makes a cameo appearance now and then and generally prefers it that way. The truth is he is integral to my balancing act. And he has his own as another working parent. We celebrated 20 years of marriage this August 19. It is hard to believe two decades passed since we said our vows to each other. We are pictured here in Greece, his homeland which has grown in my heart to become my second home.

We got married the year before I entered law school. I was committed to going to the best one I could. I received an acceptance letter Georgetown University School of Law in Washington D.C. My joy and relief at knowing I had achieved a huge goal was tinged with sadness. Attending Georgetown would mean Michael and I would need to live apart. Michael’s work required him to be in Chicago where we lived at the time. A threatening black cloud marred my bright blue sky. Whenever I tried to bask in the glow of hard fought accomplishment, an ugly voice of doubt whispered in my ear, "What if this is not the right thing to do?"

But Michael was enthusiastically supportive. If we needed to live apart, then we would do that and it would be just fine. I worked a number of odd jobs to support myself through college including waiting tables. A few months later, I was wrapping up an evening weekend shift at a popular local burger joint downtown called Boston Blackie’s. The bar tender handed me the phone. I did not get many phone calls there. And cell phones were still uncommon . .I know I just aged myself . .a lot!

I had to plug one ear to drown out the restaurant noise. Michael was on the other end. He read to me from another acceptance letter, this time from the University of Chicago Law School. I could hear the happy tears he was holding back in his deep bass voice. I was struck at that moment that I truly could not say who was more overjoyed with this news.

After law school and a few years into my professional career, Michael encouraged me to take the leap and start our family although it took some time for me to get there. After our first son turned one, I received an offer to work at Sear Roebuck & Co. headquarters in the suburbs of Chicago, close to O’Hare International airport. I was a mixture of amazed, excited and terrified to be offered this senior level position only three years out of law school. But I didn’t see how I could make it work. We lived close to the city and fighting the traffic to get back and forth to the interviews had eaten up much of those days. And I didn't want to be the mom who didn't see her kid except on the weekends. Adding a long commute to a challenging job would make that nearly a certainly. At that moment, I felt completely torn between my professional ambition and my young son, who owned my heart.

Michael looked me straight in the eye and asked me, “Do you want to accept it?” I said, “Yes. I really do.” Then he responded, “Okay, then we will move closer and make it work.” For him, it was that simple. He too has professional ambitions. He has always made it about balancing both rather than trading off. But our family, then one son (and later his brother and his sister) were our priority.

Frankly, moving had not occurred to me. I was planning to turn down the offer and hope I would find something comparable closer. And if I am completely honest with myself, I couldn't imagine asking someone to make that kind of sacrifice for me, maybe in part because I am not sure I could reciprocate, although I want to believe I would. And move we did 6 months after I started the role.

A number of years later, I received another big stretch role, this one from Amazon.com in Seattle. Moving the family across the country was not so easy to contemplate. Our eldest was in a school he loved and Michael had a job he enjoyed. Michael was also under contract so could not leave for a year. Again, Michael pushed me to take on the new challenge even though it meant we would really live apart. For ten months, he flew back and forth approximately every two weeks from Chicago to Seattle.

It was one of the hardest things we had to do as a family. At one point, I got a sense of how lonely he was being there without us. I asked him, "What good shows have you seen lately?" His response was an assessment of the entire television line up for that year. And usually, he watches few shows outside of sports. I learned from friends he rarely went anywhere.

We spent Christmas in his one bedroom apartment as a family of four because he couldn’t come to Seattle because of his job. It forced us to live a whole different kind of together. But the experience brought us a deeper level of closeness. When Michael joined us permanently, we had gained a new appreciation for how much we enjoy being a family unit in all respects, including geographically.

Michael is my best friend. He is also my biggest champion. And he pushes me to take risks and make choices I likely would not on my own. I hope he knows how much I appreciate his support for my balancing act and how much I respect the choices he made to achieve his.

Here’s to twenty more wonderful years. . .TOGETHER!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dropped Out of College, Moved to Europe, And Found Some Answers . . .

When I completed my second year of college, I had to face an ugly truth. I wasn’t going to be a doctor. I didn’t have the grades . .. not even close. Academics had always come easy to me so this was quite a blow. But worse than that, I did not know what I wanted to pursue instead. I thought smart people became doctors. Or at least knew what they wanted to do.

I frankly hadn’t give much thought to what other possibilities there might be. I was following what I thought was a defined path. Hitting this type of brick wall was not something I anticipated. Since I was paying my way through school, all I knew at this point was I didn’t want to continue without knowing where I was going. I felt lost and confused. "Who was I if I wasn’t the good student? How was I going to make a future for myself without a good education?" What did I even want to do . . .. or be? These questions dogged me.

At the time, I was working as an assistant to the director of my modeling agency in Michigan as my summer job. I learned I could build up my portfolio and get good experience in Europe. I had always been the awkward one growing up. Being acknowledged for my appearance was a welcome change and a bit of an escape from the rigors of college. I found I enjoyed the non thinking part of modeling.

With the naiveté of youth, I decided to drop out of college and move to Europe. I could pursue modeling there full time. I had illusions of grandeur including how impressed everyone back home would be if I was wildly successful. In the deeper recesses of my mind, although less acknowledged, I hoped I could somehow figure out what I wanted to do with my life. When I returned to Denver for a visit to my parents at the end of the summer and announced my plans, they were shocked and less than pleased. As a parent myself now, I can better appreciate their reaction than I did then. At the time, I thought they had no right to have an opinion since I was footing the bill.

I originally planned to move to Hamburg after spending a brief time in Holland. My folks are from the Netherlands so I had family and friends there. But after making the rounds to the modeling agencies there and feeling quite lost with my limited German, I decided to stay with my people and signed with an agency in Amsterdam. I did get the occasional job for a print ad or modeling a designer’s new line for prospective buyers. But mostly I got time to think and just be.

"Who am I? What do I want to be?" There was something about being where everything was unfamiliar that provided me more clarity. On long bike rides across the flat Dutch landscape seeing fields of tulips like those pictured, I considered what I enjoyed and what I was good at. I thought about what I wanted out of my life and my career. I always knew deep down that modeling was not a long term option for me.

As I passed the infamous girls of Amsterdam in the windows on my way to the agency, I knew they represented much of what I did not want. Instead, I sought success as I defined it including the ability to control my own destiny. I realized being with people I cared about and who cared about me made me truly happy . . .not chasing the elusiveness of fame and fortune. Europeans are generally better than Americans at savoring the simple pleasures like a great conversation, a perfect meal or a well brewed cup of coffee. Their slower pace and example helped me focus my priorties and breathe.

When I returned to the United States about a year later, I had a few foundational elements to build my path upon. In challenging situations since, I use lessons I learned during this time. The path to clarity for me often lies in changing everything familiar, looking at my life from a different vantage point, and confirming what is true and good.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mom Love Poem

How much I love you

I love you deeper than all the oceans combined
I love you farther than the sunset
I love you past the clouds and back

Finding words to describe my love for my children is not easy. It is a love I never knew before and nothing I read or heard gave me even a sliver of a sense. Each time I was handed one of my children, either after giving birth or in a transition house in Addis Ababa, I was overwhelmed with the same emotion that took my breath away.

As my children grew, now 14, 10 and 3, my love for them evolved. Having my children spaced apart in different stages provides a unique vantage point. I remember my 10 year old as a 3 year old when my 3 year old passes a new milestone. I remember my 14 year old as a 10 year as my 10 year anticipates the end of grade school. What a difference a few years made -- nearly a foot taller, feet almost as big as his father’s and a voice that deepens by the day. My teenager scolds me, “Stop using my sister (or brother) for life lessons.” This usually occurs after I told him something like, “When you pout, you looks just like your sister throwing a tantrum . . . just bigger and more ridiculous.”

When they were infants, I loved their sweet, innocent angelic versions. They were completely dependent on Michael and I for survival. I found this terrifying. . . each and every time. My love was mixed with much worry .. . are they eating and sleeping enough, too much, are they developing normally . . .

As my kids became toddlers, they developed the gift of language (which they all have in spades) and began exhibiting their independence. This push to become their individual selves, I found both exhausting and exhilarating. I also gained a glimpse of the adults they will one day become.

With both my biological boys through the years, I had the sense they were “mine.” I knew intellectually they were their own people but my heart felt them as extensions of my husband and me. When we brought our daughter home from Ethiopia, I was forced to rethink this comfortable assumption. Here I had another child who was bound to my heart. Yet, I knew her biological mother was a very important piece of who she is and will become. Could she still be mine then . . . I pondered?

After considerable soul searching, I realized I was thinking about it wrong. None of my children are “mine”. . . although the connection is so visceral and deep it is hard to get enough distance to see this with any clarity. They are mine to love, to raise, to guide, to teach and to nurture. But ultimately after I give them what they need, I must let them go to make it in the world on their own.

My heart breaks just a little each time they push me away and pull a bit more for themselves. My 3 year old’s version is, “I do it myself, Mama.” My 10 year old’s is, “I don’t need a ride. I will take my scooter.” My 14 year old’s is, “I am going to hang out with my friend’s. Sorry I can’t go with you.” I know it is good and right but it still gives me a little pang.

The poem above was written by my 10 year old to me for Mother’s Day. Yes, I teared up as I read it. He has a gift with the written word as I shared before. As he described his love for me, he also described my love for him (and his brother and sister) perfectly in a way I never could. He also gave me the gift of knowing that the depth of love runs both directions. My three awesome, goofy children are pictured below enjoying each others company . .my heart is full.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Do You Need to be a Mother to Appreciate Your Mother . .. . or Does it Take More? - - - - - Happy Mother’s Day to “The Best Mother I Ever Had!!”

I blogged before that my mom and I were close when I was a kid but a gulf grew during my teen years. In my early adulthood, I also put physical distance into the mix. I moved to another state to go to college. When when I didn’t know “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” I dropped out and left the country. I checked in occasionally but my primary motivation was to visit my little sister. My mother and I were cordial. But there was a brittleness.

When I had my first son, I gained a different, eye opening view. Before, I had a sense my mom should know most everything and somehow be immune from youthful insecurities. However, I did not feel at all competent when I became a mom. I was more than a little terrified to leave the hospital. It seemed ludicrous I couldn’t drive a car without getting a license. But I could be handed my innocent, helpless child and allowed walk out without showing any evidence I was up to the task of raising him.

After my son’s birth, my mom wanted to come and help. I was unsure; I didn’t want our complicated relationship to color the pure, simple love I was experiencing. I didn’t know if I had the energy to navigate that complexity as I adjusted to my new role. I asked my elder sister to come first and my mother later. As I watched her soak up her new grandson, a window opened to a different relationship – mother to mother. Her validation of me as a mother was a defining moment.

I had a dear friend then who was my mother’s age. I talked to her about the distance that persisted even though we could connect about my son. She explained how she felt about her four daughters and gave me the “mom of grown-ups” view which helped me to see things from my mom’s vantage point. Over the years, we became closer. There were still pieces held back but they mattered less.

When my son was seven, I received a serious diagnosis requiring surgery. My mom again wanted to help. I thought I would be fine with assistance from local friends. Many lent a hand. The friend I mentioned drove my second son to day care every day. My mom insisted on coming a couple months later. She gave me a piece of her mother's vintage jewelry. I knew this was a deep sacrifice. My grandmother shared my love of the sparkly (although ironically I am named after my other grandmother). Her pieces were a special connection for my mom since her mom passed. This gift told me more than the words she couldn’t always find. After she left, I wrote her a letter sharing how much I admired her even if we did not always agree and how touched I was she shared a piece of her memories with me.

This exchange seemed to take down the remaining walls. My mother wasn’t perfect but then neither am I. I enjoy getting to know her more deeply as a woman, a mother and a grandmother. She has wonderful stories from her days growing up with five siblings in the Netherlands. My mom recalls interesting moments about my early life that for me are buried in my subconscious. She sent my baby book at one point which let me see her as a young mother with the same joys and insecurities I had.

My kids adore their Oma (Dutch word for grandmother). And they remain the primary topic of our conversations. My mom recently asked if I could bring Leyla, our youngest, for a visit. My boys spent lots of time with my parents. My mom admitted she was concerned Leyla hadn’t gotten that chance. And as my mom gets older, I see her not taking time for granted. I found a weekend where the two of us could travel. My daughter is shown here giving my mom one of her special “Leyla hugs” – which make you feel like the most loved person in the world. Looking at that closeness, I hope I can use the lessons of our mother - daughter relationship as my daughter and I go through the normal ups and downs in our relationship.

Happy Mother’s Day to my wonderful mother . . .and thanks to my three awesome kids (and amazing husband) who make me feel cherished even if it is expressed as my son Damian once said “You are the best mom I ever had”.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Middle Child Solution --- Food is Love

My second son Damian and I always connected in a special manner through food. He loves to eat and I love to watch him savor my latest culinary creation. We have called him a human Pavlov’s dog because he loudly salivates when one of his favorite foods is mentioned or shown. Damian is also my official “baking buddy.” He takes the responsibility quite seriously. Damian is pictured sampling a Dutch treat called poffertjes which are little puffed up pancakes covered in powdered sugar.

When we brought home his little sister, I could see him struggling a bit to understand his place since his previous position as baby of the family had been usurped. I was a middle child too but my younger sister came 2.5 years after I was born. I don’t remember any different. However, Damian was 7 when his sister arrived and he had reveled in his unique last place spot.

I saw a bit of internal conflict too as he absolutely adored his sister and spent much of his time trying to make her laugh. Often doing things I would prefer he wouldn’t like loudly repeating nonsensical noises which brought peals of laughter from his little sis but drove me batty.

I tried telling him he was the only one in the family that was both a big brother and a little brother. But he appeared thoroughly unconvinced. He still had the air of someone who thought life had just short-changed them. He had lost a bit of his natural adulterated exuberance and seemed a bit adrift within the family unit. I wanted him to still feel valued, unique and anchored. However, what I had tried wasn’t making it real for him and my willing clearly wasn’t sufficient.

So during my adoption leave, Damian and I came up with a plan to create a “Damian and Mom’s cookbook” through tastebook.com. Damian and I would test recipes. His brother Dimitri and dad would rate them. If the finished products received two thumbs up from our judges, we would include them in our cookbook. Damian loved this new “in charge” role. It also provided a great way for me to focus on him while doing something we both loved. We now have a nearly complete cookbook. And more importantly, we have many wonderful memories included in the food, the friends and family who contributed, and the photos. Our test kitchen efforts often lead to some funny and insightful exchanges.

Once, as we were baking my “almost famous chocolate chip cookies,” Damian said to me, “I love baking with you.” My heart swelled, and I replied, “I love you.” Then Damian clarified, “I like baking for the tasting .. .” And then added, rather belatedly and I am guessing perhaps because of a look on my face, “But, a-a-ah, also doing it with you.” Well then, I stand corrected, I thought. Damian is not the most tactful child and is honest about his feelings almost to a fault. I have to remind myself sometimes to not let it hurt my feelings.

Then Leyla bounded the kitchen and I informed her, “Damian is baking cookies.” Leyla’s little face lit up and she exclaimed enthusiastically, “Thank you for making us cookies, DA-MEE-AAN!!” She is a kindred spirit of her brother's when it comes to the sweeter things and instantly smiles whenever he comes into her view. I then asked Damian in a lighthearted tone, “How does that make you feel?” He replied without hesitation, “Like SUPERMAN!!” My heart swelled even more – who knew it was possible.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Am I a Bad Mom if I "Want It All"-- Career and Kids?

Since I started blogging on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle.com and WorkingMothers.com, I spend more time reading other people’s writing. A recent discussion (and blog below) pierced at the heart of mommy guilt. The discussion asked, “Would you choose your baby over your career.” I bristled at the question – to me, it implies there are two choices: your career or your child. I obsessed about this when I first became a mother because I wanted both, to be successful at my career and to be a great mom. I needed to believe it was possible, albeit extremely challenging. I wanted a full range of options without feeling like I couldn’t truly be a good mother if I wanted more.

I was under no illusions that staying home with my baby would guarantee I was a good mom. However you manage your life, motherhood is hard. My mother stayed home with my three sisters and me. She had a successful career as a teacher for ten years before my sister arrived. Those were the expectations of her time; I don’t think she had the same choices available. When my younger sister was 7, my mom planned to return to her beloved vocation. As she got re certified, she exuded joyful anticipation. But then she became unexpectedly pregnant. Even at ten, I felt palpable disappointment mixed with her bubbling excitement of welcoming another child.

Later as a teenager, I pushed back hard against my mother when she called me ungrateful. I vividly recall saying, “I didn’t ask to be born. I didn’t ask you to make sacrifices for me. If you are unhappy about either, it's on you.” I feel almost sick inside thinking about it now. I found out years later from my dad how much I hurt my mother. At the time, she silently left the room. I can almost feel the sucker punch I dealt with those spiteful words as I imagine one of my children saying the same. My mother may have expected more of us because of what not having choices took from her, especially when we pushed for our independence. She also had an extremely challenging experience as a teenager herself.

Having gained these perspectives made it easier to transition back to a job I loved when my first was four months old. Although I had moments like those expressed in this anguished plea from “A Feeling-Absent Mommy”, I also saw an article describing how working and stay at home moms often spend similar amounts of quality time with their kids that acted as a counter-balance. Using my mother as an unscientific sample of one, it seemed about right. And to be honest, I wanted to believe it.

I cherished one on one time with my mother when I was young but don’t recall lots of it. Times were tough. She cooked three meals a day, cleaned and managed our extensive garden including freezing and canning. She sewed many of our clothes and stretched every last penny. I am in awe of her now although then I had little appreciation. I recall when I was 9 and home ill. She made a special box with me out of discarded greeting cards and left over bright orange yarn (I still have it). The day stuck in my heart in bright detail because it wasn’t something she had the time or energy to do often. Also, I witnessed a joyful, creative side of my mother. That memory inspired me to try to create these types of special moments with my kids.

When I returned to work again after adopting my youngest, I realized my barometer is less my mom now and more my earlier motherhood experiences. My eldest and I have a special bond even as typical teenage challenges are our reality. He is an open, caring, funny kid I adore. I get glimpses of the man he will become and I hope to be friends with that person. Sure, I missed times with him as he grew up. But he always came first (as do his brother and sister -- pictured below having a belly laugh -- a frequent occurrence) and he knows it.

I adore my little girl with every fiber of my being. But I knew I would return to work before she joined our family. I had much less anxiety about it because of my experience with her brothers. I realize what a gift it is not to carry that burden. We have an amazing connection. I look forward to helping her grow into her larger than life personality.

I wish I could tell my younger self not to fret so much because doing so robbed me of joy right in front of me. I wish I could share the same with struggling young mothers like the one who wrote the blog. I don’t think there is a right answer. I do believe "having it all" is uniquely defined for each mother. I needed to be happy and fulfilled to be the best mother I could be and that included pursuing a career. I communicate to my children often and passionately, no matter what I do for a living, they are always my first priority.

When I allow guilt and uncertainty to creep in, they steal my ability to live fully with my kids in the fleeting moments of their passing childhoods. I work to recognize when these unproductive emotions are spawned from other's judgments like those implied above. I do my best not to allow them to pull me into their dark undertow. I try instead to hold onto the light and good in my life. I believe I can “have it all” if I chose and work for it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Motherhood ....... My Leap of Faith ..... (okay maybe my eyes were closed)

As my eldest turned 14 recently, I reflected on where I was before he made me a mother. Michael and I were married five years. As I mentioned in my initial post, becoming a mother terrified me. I thought about it a lot over those early years.

Since graduating high school, I supported myself. I worked throughout college and law school. I then joined a prestigious law firm. I took comfort in knowing I could support myself whether through my law career or through the skills I had acquired. I knew I could choose to do something else at any point. I lived abroad and lived in different places in the US. Not all these efforts were smooth or easy but I felt in control.

Becoming a mother felt like I would lose all control. I had a conflicted relationship with my mother. It weighed heavy and forced me to consider what my relationship might be with my child. Would I be a good mother? Would I be like my mother? Would I enjoy being a mother? Motherhood didn’t offer me flexibility to “try it and see”. I needed to take a leap . . and that wasn’t the way I operated.

So I put all sorts of conditions on when we would have our first child. Michael needed to quit smoking. Then, I needed to finish law school and be established in my career. We need to own our home and have our finances in order. When those were accomplished, Michael asked, “Are you ready now??”

I played with his question in my mind. I found a new one feeling as I contemplated motherhood. It was a small peaceful spot within the swirling uncertainty. As I stayed there for a few moments, I realized I was ready. I was still afraid but I felt I could walk toward the fear rather run away.

The remaining uncertainty exhibited itself in different forms. I almost irrationally wanted a boy. I knew deep down it was because of my relationship with my mother. I recall being close to her when I was younger. We road bikes together and talked about all kinds of things. But when I became a teenager, we struggled as I shared on a previous mother’s day blog. Years passed and there remained a gulf.

I didn’t want to replicate this experience. And since I didn’t know how it happened, I didn’t know how to avoid it. I took comfort in the belief it would be easier if I had a boy. My husband had a close relationship with his mother. She was a young mom and in some respects they grew up together. She was the fun, beautiful woman in the pictures I saw in the albums. In many of them, he looked at her with adoration streaming from his eyes. And more importantly for me, they maintained that closeness into his adulthood. I felt I would get a fresh start with a son.

Turns out, I was right and I was wrong. I have a close, special relationship with my first born son. And we share a bond that looks a bit like my husband’s with his mother. We are pictured below in his first few weeks of life and more recently. I also now have a second boy and a little girl. I have an equally special but different connection with each of them.

I appreciate much more now that relationships are unique and complex, and ever evolving. I am thankful to again have a close relationship with my mother. In 14 years, much changed but uncertainty remains a constant. I am just more comfortable with the associated loss of control. And walking into the fear comes a bit easier.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Finding Inspiration

A question I get with some frequency is: “How do you do it?” It is usually followed by some more specifics: “have a demanding job and raise three kids” “have a two parent working house and be involved in so many activities” or “have a job, a teenager and a toddler.” The honest answer is I don’t really know. There are enablers but it’s a fluid and personal process. For me, what makes it possible continuously changes as my life unfolds and I evolve. One key constant remains the inspiration I draw from people who demonstrate through their lives what is possible.

When I was 39, my dad completed a project he had to wait to retirement to find the time to do. It was the story of his childhood to share with his four daughters and at the time two grandkids. Many of the players within his story inspired me. I was named after my father’s mother (and in a bit of cosmic humor look just like my mother’s side of the family). Her story was of particular interest to me. In my father’s accounting, events that happened to my grandmother when she was 39 are pivotal to the family.

My father is Dutch. His family live in Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, when he was born and during his early years. My grandmother was the same age I was reading it when she was forced to flee Indonesia with her five children. Her children ranged in age from 13 to an infant. She ended up in Australia and had to make a new life for herself as a single parent. She needed to learn a new language and raise her kids, three boys and two small daughters, in a foreign country. And do it all while dealing with the unthinkable.

Her husband, my grandfather, was captured by the Japanese and was likely dead or in a concentration camp. My grandmother lived a rather sheltered life up to that point. She was a stay at home mother. And as was common in that place and time, she had help around the house for the kids, the cooking and the cleaning. In violent series of events, she was thrust into a harsh reality. She lived in a foreign place with no husband and no means of support with five anxious offspring.

I thought about how that compared to my life at 39. I also recently had to move to a new city with my two boys, four and eight, without their father. He stayed behind because of his work for the first year. I had a different job to learn, a home to settle in and kids to adjust into a new place and new school. Their father came out every 10-14 days for a long weekend. I struggled as a single parent to keep it all going when my husband was away. It was often lonely and hard. I found my life was reduced to splitting time between trying to “get it” at my job, which was quite demanding, and parenting my two boys. There was little time for anything else. I felt stressed and stretched most of the time.

When I thought about what it must have been like for my grandmother, I can only see the chasm between what she faced and what I had to manage. I don’t know how I would have found the strength to get up each day and the face the horrors of what might be happening to my husband (if he was alive) and the uncertain future for myself and my kids. I don’t know how I would have provided for my children who needed me to be both parents to them as our lives took this unexpected, terrible turn. But my grandmother did it somehow. Her five children retained a special closeness to her even though she was not always as easy woman. They were willing to go the extra mile for her until she died in her nineties. I believe the bonds she forged by being their rock through what is beyond comprehension left an indelible, lifelong impression. Below is a picture of my grandmother and her five kids.

I am inspired by my “Oma” who set the bar very high for any balancing act I might try to achieve. How do I do it, you might ask? One reason is my grandmother showed me what is possible.