OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

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.