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Shirley Temple, Miley Cyrus, and My Daughters

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Feb 25, 2014 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters

On the day Shirley Temple died, my daughters and I spoke about her over the breakfast table. We were sad to see her go but knew she had lived a good life. Dying at the age of 85, after living an incredibly full life is not a bad thing.

“Shirley Temple died today and I really liked her,” Tess said. “Class act.”

“Now, there is a child star who didn’t die from an overdose or get all skanky like Miley Cyrus,” Emma said.

“You’re right,” I said. “She went on and did something meaningful with her life.”

“I think Miley will die of an overdose in some cheap hotel room,” Emma added.

“I think she will die by a wrecking ball,” Tess said.

Ba-da-bing.

But seriously, Shirley Temple’s life speaks for itself.

And so does Miley Cyrus’—or at least that’s what we think. As I tell my girls all the time, we think we know these people, but we don’t. But what we do know about Miley is that she’s a mixed bag of wasted potential and bad cliché.

When they were younger, my girls loved the show “Hannah Montana,” which starred Miley Cyrus and her dad, Billy Ray. I liked the show, too, even though the premise was kind of silly, wherein a girl lives a double life. Nobody knows who she is except her best friend and family. She is superstar “Hannah Montana” by night and a school girl who hangs out at the beach with her friends during the day. In the show, there was a lot of exploration of what it means to be famous—and what it doesn’t mean. I liked it because of the music and because Miley portrayed a good kid. Billy Ray played an attentive and involved father.

This prompts me to wonder where he is these days in the young star’s life.

Unfortunately, Miley has become quite the teen star cliche. We can see this coming from a distance—yet the people around her seem helpless about how to rescue her.  Now is the time for someone in her family or in her circle of friends to step up. Or is so she “powerful” that nobody has the guts to try to help?

The young star “drama” happens so much I think our culture has become jaded about it even when it’s still deeply disturbing. I think of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and Justin Bieber. Jail. Drugs. Bad relationships and bringing children into the mix.  I also think of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. The whole fame at young age thing often leads to tragedy. With Miley, there have been drug arrests, films of her doing lap dances, the horrible music award fiasco, and so on.

My daughters and I watched her latest video together, and Tess said, “That’s so disappointing.” It was great hearing that from my 12-year-old’s mouth.

Miley’s “new act” doesn’t seem to be an artistic exploration as much as it is a privileged young woman profiting from acting like a spoiled brat and flaunting that she can do whatever she wants. She’s also buying into the whole “I need to rebel because I had this sweet image” thing and wants her fans to think she is strong and sexy because of it. And yet it’s unsexy, weak, and seems incredibly fake and gratuitous.

I can see some people pointing their fingers and calling me a “slut-shamer.”  I want to be clear my attitude is not about that at all. I’m all for a young woman owning her sexuality, and I don’t even use the word slut when I talk about Miley. (In fact, I love some sexy female singers who strut their stuff–Madonna for one.) It’s not about the sex. It’s about the rest of it.

It’s about how precious this life is and how you can choose to make it matter or not. How if you are born into privilege, it makes the rest of us sick to see you squander it. Not just the money—but the opportunity to make a difference, even if that’s just by way of living a positive example. And what is she rebelling against anyway??

Do you know what would be rebellious for a 20 year-old superstar? To NOT go down that road. Like Shirley Temple. On that, my daughters and I quite happily agree. Shirley Temple, from a cute talented little girl, to a teen star, and then as a woman who served her country on an international scale, is a much better role model—not just for girls, but for all of us.

 
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Counting Beans and Hunting for Empty Egg Cartons at Midnight…And How To Be the Best Mom Ever

Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 19, 2014 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters

A rare moment of traditional motherhood--decorating cookies with Heidi

A rare moment of traditional motherhood–decorating cookies with Heidi

Have you ever done your kids’ homework?

Come on, I know you have.  Sometimes you do it because the project is so clearly over the head of your child or any other child of his or her age on the planet that you question the teacher’s sanity in assigning it.  My seventh grade science teacher is a prime example of this. She used to assign the most complicated engineering projects to us that they all essentially became grand competitions between all our fathers to build the best “Rat Mobile” (i.e. the fastest moving object powered by a mouse trap) or strongest structure made out of drinking straws and fishing line. That was when my builder father taught me the power of triangles….

However, I digress.

Last night was my turn to break the rules.

After having been delayed on a return from Chicago for more than 24 hours by bad weather, I finally arrived just barely awake at my daughter’s babysitter just before 10 p.m. I grabbed the already pajama-dressed darling and all her accoutrements, tossed her in the car, and dragged into our house 20 minutes later only to find her backpack full of instructions for school the next day:

“It’s the 100th day of school tomorrow!!!! Please make sure your child dresses like someone who is 100 years old and brings in 100 small items in to count in groups of 10 (like Skittles, buttons, or paperclips!).  Also, we are making caterpillars this week.  Please send in empty egg cartons for this project ASAP!!!!”

Am I the only one who wonders why kindergarten teachers employ so many exclamation points? Having worked in marketing and advertising for years, I’ve always lived by the anti-exclamation point rule: If you need to use an exclamation point, you’re not actually conveying information effectively. You cannot excite another human being about your product or service by simply employing the use of a line and a dot.

It is at this point in the evening that I realize following the rules is not going to benefit Heidi in the least. It is more than 3 hours past her bedtime, and I already know I’ll be up all night answering work e-mails and writing articles.  I put the kid to bed and begin working on her homework myself.

A friend calls just as I am counting out 100 dried beans.

“Hey,” I say, “Can you stop talking for just a minute? I need to count beans.” There is an awkward pause and silence on the other end of the line. 

After parceling them out in groups of 10 because even at age 38, I can’t count to 100 effectively at midnight after flying two hours, driving two more, and having about two dozen things on my brain that, awful mother as it may make me out to be, I find vastly more important than bean counting.

“Okay,” I say to my friend, “go ahead.  Tell me about your date. Oh, wait, do you have any ideas for how you would dress if you were 100 years old??”

Together we come up with a shapeless sweater dress, shawl, string of pearls, and (courtesy of my friend) a grand idea to draw wrinkles on Heidi’s forehead and cheeks the next morning.

Now it’s time to empty the no doubt already past expiration date eggs in the fridge out of a carton, so Heidi can start making a caterpillar for a science project.  For a moment, my brain drifts to the W-2s I’ve not yet sent into the IRS and the feature article I need to write on growing Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber. “Stop it!” I counsel myself. “Focus on finding Heidi’s missing ‘Dick and Jane Jump’ book.”

“I didn’t realize the 100th day of school was such a big deal,” says my single working mother friend whose daughter is the same age as Heidi. She has called to tell me she must cancel our yoga/meditation retreat weekend because she’s too stressed out to go.

“Yes, the 100th school day thing is quite pervasive,” I remark as I zip up Heidi’s backpack, confident I have accomplished all requisite tasks…that is until I see a stack of permission slips and paperwork I’m supposed to fill out.

“You know, men couldn’t do this,” my friend says. I remember the last time I saw her. She was sitting in her home office in space alien pajama bottoms, hair in a ponytail, dark circles under her eyes, Disney Princess paraphernalia scattered about here and there, losing her shit on a conference call with colleagues after suffering through four hours of sleep the previous night.

“I am exhausted,” she tells me. “I get up every morning, fight with my daughter to eat her pancakes, tell her repeatedly she has six minutes to get out the door, drive her to school while I’ve got my headset on and am talking to a customer halfway around the world, drive back from school, sit on tele-cons for 8 hours, try to squeeze in a trip to the gym, not that I need it since I don’t have time to eat anyway, pick up my daughter, struggle to make something resembling a home-cooked meal with the help of a slow cooker, pull out hot glue guns and colored paper for the latest school project, play games, do storytime, bathe her, get her to bed, back to the office to catch up on e-mails until 2 a.m., then do it all over again the next day.”

This is the life of a working mother. And honestly, it often doesn’t matter if we’re single.  I can’t recall my life looking all that different when I was married, despite my father’s injunction, “You need a husband….”

Maybe. What would he do?  I suppose he might do a better job than I of reading Dr. Seuss’ What Was I Scared Of? (Though there is something disturbingly entertaining about recounting the story of the glowing green pants that run around all night in the woods.) And no doubt he’d do a better job of cooking dinner. It’s pretty easy to beat rice krispies served alongside raw broccoli and carrots. 

But, as a rule, men just don’t take life as seriously as we do.  Maybe it’s a gift that they’re okay with the little ones heading to school with homework undone and hair unbrushed. Society is more forgiving of men if they are 10 minutes late to pick up their daughters from ballet.  They get accolades galore if they show up for Christmas concerts and school field trips. I show up for parent-teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments, and interviews with clients so that I can pay the bills that cover food, home, and, hopefully, college education. Forget retirement.  That’s never going to happen.

And that’s what cuts to the core…when my daughter looks up at me tapping away on my laptop, as she builds castles from Legos on the floor at my feet. “Mommy, when are you going to retire so you will have more time to play with me?”

How does one answer a question like that? The only way I know how is by counting beans at midnight and caring whether or not she shows up at school with her requested Styrofoam egg carton. And sometimes I fail at these things. I drop the ball, fall asleep at the wheel, miss the deadline, forget to send tennis shoes for P.E.

But one thing I never forget is love. The morning hugs and tickles to draw her out of bed. The promises to be there no matter what, even when she’s grown. The good night tuck-ins and the sometimes blissful crawling into bed beside her to hold her sweet little sleeping body next to mine as she clutches stuffed bears and kittens and whispers in her dreams, “I love you. You’re the best Mommy ever.”

And I am. If you don’t measure it in miscounted beans and lost library books….

 
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Loss of Cabin Pressure: How I Cope When I’m About to Crash the Mother Plane

Posted by Claire Vath on Jan 13, 2014 in Motherhood, Musings, Relationships

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to flight XXX with nonstop service to XXXX.”

 As if flying weren’t panic-inducing enough these days, the laundry list the stewardess off-handedly ticks off is absolutely horrifying if you really listen. “Welcome aboard, here is a list of ways you could die.”

“Emergency exits are located here and here. Each exit is equipped with a safety slide.”

If there’s a fire, you’d better hope to God you’re close to an emergency exit. Have you SEEN how long it takes for everyone to exit the plane at the end of a routine flight?? Let’s hope you even get to the slide before you burn to a crisp inside this metal oven we call an airplane.

“In the event of a water landing, life jackets are located under your seats.”

But when’s the last time you heard of anyone using those things, really? Hope you at least filled up on our complimentary peanuts before sinking to your watery grave.

“In case there’s a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling above you. To secure, pull the mask toward you, secure the elastic strap to your head … Breathe normally. Even if the bag does not inflate, keep in mind that oxygen is flowing. Always secure your own mask before assisting others.”

And there it is. A laundry list of ways you could meet your maker non-stop from Denver to San Francisco, but it gets at some hard truths too: You have to help yourself before you help others.

“So, are your kids still at home with you all day?” my pediatrician asked as she shined a light into the eyes of my shrieking 15-month-old.

“Well,” I said in hushed tones, as though my words would absorb through the walls, “I don’t get all my fulfillment from my kids.” 

She nodded understandingly. But people aren’t supposed to admit that, right?

My children are not my whole life. Motherhood is not the ultimate fulfillment. Sure, it fills me up, but I need other things to help make me whole.

But that sounds selfish. Because it’s supposed to be enough. Two gorgeous, healthy children whom I have the privilege of nurturing, and nourishing, and rearing. What more could I possibly want?

Again and again, I find myself straddling this awkward fence of motherdom and … other-dom. I’m no great feminist, but quitting my office job was a no-brainer when I popped out two kids. I wanted the few short, precious years I’d have with them before they were forever schlepping to and from school. 

But just because I stay home, that didn’t mean I had to lose myself in the process. I am a mother, yes. Sometimes a good one. Sometimes a surviving one.

But first and most important—and perhaps most selfishly—I need other things too.

So I find things that fill me up and allow me the opportunity to flex the non-mom brain muscles.

I write and edit stories, sometimes slogging through tedious blocks of copy wondering why I accepted a job (money); other times writing story leads and rewriting story structures that I enjoy. I take leisure classes to learn things like calligraphy and photography. I have periodic dinner dates and drinks out with friends. I read at least one book a week. I read critical essays and political columns. I watch trash TV.

And I date my husband. Often, those dates consist of a microwaved dinner after the kids have gone to bed, maybe a glass of wine and a TV show on Netflix, but I never said those dates were perfect. Having children has changed us in ways we never imagined, but we work—sometimes hard, sometimes not as hard as we should—to keep our relationship strong.

And in the mornings, I often get up before the kids have begun stirring and put on a pot of coffee before I get them up. Sometimes I have a bowl of oatmeal before I fix their breakfast.

I spend nearly all their waking hours with them—lots of quantity, frankly, not all quality. With so much quantity, I’ve come to accept that it can’t be all quality all the time.

I need my me time: my outside interests that span beyond the confines of diapers and timeouts and story hours and playtimes.

I need friends and adult interaction and things that challenge my brain outside of the motherhood vortex. Because in the end, it’s all those outside things that allow me to be a better mother to the children who (most days) I’m profoundly privileged to call mine.

It is all those things that fill me up and allow me to feel fulfilled—including, but not limited to motherhood. So when my proverbial cabin loses pressure, I will secure my own yellow mask first, so I can then help my children. Because if I’m not breathing comfortably, they won’t be either….

 

 

 
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Learning How to Write…From My Daughters

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Dec 18, 2013 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Writer Rants
Mollie daughter

My daughter hard at work…

My girls are both writers. I’m not sure how I feel about it, given how difficult life can be as a writer. But even though they’ve gotten involved with things like theater, music, and dance, what they do at home when they have downtime is write. For fun.

These days they are both working on entries into a national competition. They both have such different working styles, but it’s been fascinating for me to watch and even  learn from them.

Yep. I’ve been writing my whole life, now as a mystery novelist, cranking out a series and, believe me, I still learn things every day. It’s really not so surprising that I’ve picked up some writing tips from my daughters when parenting has been the most learning-intensive experience in my life.

Now, to be fair, these things that I’ve learned are not necessarily new, but they are excellent reminders. That’s one of the best things about parenting, isn’t it? The way your kids remind you, take you back to certain youthful moments—opening Christmas gifts, the magic of birthdays, learning to read, and to write.

Here’s my daughter-inspired writing reminder list:

  1. Figure out your working environment. Now this may seem simple enough. But working at a desk in front of a computer is not for everybody. Watching my oldest daughter Emma writing brought back a flood of memories to me. She takes a notebook and sits in front of the TV (while it’s on) and writes. Which is exactly what I used to do at her age. She then transposes it on to the computer. My younger daughter, Tess, loves to sit at the computer and write—but she does have notebooks filled with her thoughts as well. There is something about putting pen to page, about the way the pen glides across the page that is meditative for me. I must not forget that, even as I pluck away at the keyboard. But at the same time, writing by hand was a major obstacle for me to overcome in college—learning to write on the typewriter (now computer) and not in the notebook. Tess already has made that leap—but Emma’s process is important, too. In her transposing of text, she is also editing and reworking, and that is a huge step forward for any writer. That first draft is never worth much, so get over it and get on with the work.
  2. Write what you DON’T know. Writing is the best way for some of us to learn and live out our fantasies and dreams. If you follow “writer’s rules,”  one of them is “write what you know.”  It always makes me cringe. Part of my process has always been writing to discover, to learn, to communicate, and entertain. One of my daughter’s stories is about a gang. (My first novel was about a gang, too.) There’s something to be said for working that stuff out on the page—instead of real life. Feelings of not fitting in, finding others like you, and yes, even exploring darker, deeper sides of yourself. Writing about it gives you the emotional texture of having experienced it without the real dangers.  My other daughter is writing a paranormal story about a young woman with special powers who is facing great changes in her life. Wow. Without the paranormal element of “special powers,” that could be any teenage girl’s story as she faces so many changes every day, right?
  3. Write what you love. Once again it sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But I think especially as we mature and other things enter into our process—like keeping the market in mind—this might be one of the hardest lessons of all. Our time is finite, and we feel like we need to write what will sell to a publisher. If we are lucky, we hit a sweet spot where we enjoy what we’re writing and can sell it. Some days, I can hardly pull Tess off my computer to eat or watch TV because she says, “I’m writing, Mom.” And I have to tell you the only kind of writing worth doing is precisely that kind of writing. Because if it doesn’t hold your interest, it’s not going to hold your reader’s interest either.

 

I love what I do. It’s my sanity, my escape, and my work all rolled into one. If I didn’t love it, if I could think of something else I’d be good at, something else that could hold my interest and earn me a living, I’d do it—because writing is also a heartbreaking, lonely, gut wrenching experience. The business is one of the toughest and cruelest. One of the edges I walk is trying to don a vigilant thick skin, while allowing myself to open up enough to write honest words on the page. Sometimes when I read a negative review or I get a rejection, I hibernate awhile and lick my wounds. But the words and the page pull me back every time.

“What if I don’t win this contest?” Tess asked me one morning. “What if I work so hard on it and I don’t win, then what happens?”

“Are you writing the story just to win the contest?” I asked.

She thought for a moment or two. “I’m writing it faster because of the deadline, but I’d probably write it anyway. I like the story, and I’m having fun.”

And that, my friends, is exactly what I wanted to hear.

 
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Out of the Mouths of Babes: Why Children Are Emotionally Smarter Than We Are

Posted by Deborah Huso on Dec 9, 2013 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Relationships

Not everyone within my sphere of influence agrees with how I raise my daughter. I’ll admit, there are things about my parenting that look a little risky. Not the least of which is the way I don’t protect her from the realities of life.

For example, I cry in front of her. I have done this since she was very small.  Thus, she has come to see tears as a natural expression of sadness, which like any human emotion, is a temporary state. And she knows instinctively, so it appears at times, what to do with another person’s sadness….

“Mommy, why are you sad? Who has been mean to you?”

And I will explain in the best terms I can for a six-year-old to grasp.  And Heidi will put her soft little arms around my neck, plant my cheeks with kisses, and say perfectly reasonable and comforting things like, “Sometimes life is complicated, but it will be okay. I will always love you and be here for you.”

Profound yet so simple.

I asked my friend, Bill, the father of three, how my daughter knows to say these things that adults are so often incapable of saying, “Children are pure and untainted,” he says. “Honesty and sincerity come naturally to them.”

And then life breeds it out of them. Sometimes parents do, too.  I know my parents did.  Their efforts were well-meaning.  They thought they were doing the right thing, both in protecting me from their adult troubles and in teaching me to protect myself from letting others see me.

But the thing is—kids have emotional intuition on a scale that most adults do not. No one has to tell them that Mommy and Daddy are worried about how to pay all their bills or that Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other anymore. They may not know what is wrong, but they know something is. And then they act out and fret themselves silly the way children who are afraid and uncertain will do—maybe they will misbehave at school; maybe their grades will plummet; maybe they will have anxiety attacks.

My parents never fooled me. And their efforts to protect me often had the opposite effect.  I tried to fix complicated things that were broken. When Dad didn’t give Mom a Mother’s Day gift one year, and I saw how upset she was by it, I changed the card on the rhododendron I had given her to read Dad’s name instead of my own. I figured it was much more hurtful to her to be neglected by my father than by a little girl. She saw through my ruse, of course.

And then when I couldn’t figure out how to fix the things I didn’t understand because no one was explaining them to me, I would cry…only to be confronted with admonitions from both my parents to quell my tears, not to alert the world I was vulnerable.

Trust no one, my parents words and actions told me. Rely on yourself. Keep your true feelings to yourself. Don’t let anyone know they are getting to you. Then they hold power over you.

I do not resent my parents for any of this. They did the best they knew how.  They raised me as they had been raised. Granted, it took me nearly 20 years to train myself out of that mode of thinking, to be fearlessly who I am before the world, to let people in even at the risk of great pain, to both give and receive love and solace openly.

Honesty and sincerity still work in this world…if both sides are willing to offer them up.

When I’ve had a rough day, and I snap at my daughter for being too chatty and asking too many questions of my exhausted brain, she will frown, look me in the eye and say, “It hurts my feelings when you yell at me.”

How many adults would do this?  Most would walk away, resentful, and give me the silent treatment for the rest of the day for wounding them.

Not Heidi. No way is she going to let anger fester.

And I recognize what I have taught her—honesty, straightforwardness no matter what.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’ve had a stressful day. I did not mean to yell at you.” And I kiss her on the forehead. She is satisfied. Everything is as it was two minutes before.

Heidi knows people get over shit.

If they allow themselves to….

But hardened adults that we are, wounded by life, torn asunder by love gone wrong, protective of what little hope we have left, carry our resentments, our anger, our pain under lock and key, where it festers and corrodes, slowly destroying any chance we have left of unfettered joy—the joy of being who we are and letting others love us for it.

Heidi knows, even at the tender age of 6, what pain and trouble look like. She has seen her parents divorce. She has seen her mother hurt. She has seen elderly relatives sick and fading, slowly losing their minds. She comes home from school some days and tells me plainly about a boy who pushed her on the playground or a girl who called her a mean name and asks my advice. I tell her, “Keep your distance from people who hurt you. Surround yourself with good people, people who make you feel good about yourself.”

I did not come to this wisdom easily. I have learned it from long and difficult experience and from deeply kind and loving friends like Bill, whom I’ve known since childhood. When I commented that openness and honesty, though I strive for them, often leave me in the lurch when it comes to human relationships, that too many people seem to find those qualities threatening, he remarked, “Be true to yourself, and you will draw good people to you. Don’t waste your time on people who can’t take you exactly as you are.”

It was the same advice I had given to Heidi hours before, just spoken a little bit differently.

May my daughter remember it always, even once she is gone from me, that she may not waste time, as I too often have, on people who are afraid of themselves and, therefore, afraid of her.

 
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Resisting the Beast Is Hard: First You Have to Acknowledge There Is One

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Nov 19, 2013 in Men, Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Relationships
Belle

My daughters with Princess Belle

When my daughters were small, we’d play the princess game.  I’d make up little quizzes about each Disney princess and they would guess which princess belonged with which trait. I also played this game with Goddesses—but that’s another story.

I always told them that Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was my favorite for two reasons—she loves books and she sees the beast for who he really is. And hey, it worked out for Belle, didn’t it?

I think a lot about myth, story, and fairytale. My girls and I never miss an episode of “Once Upon A Time,” which is a modern-day mash-up of fairy tales. I also loved the “Beauty and the Beast” show that was popular in the 1980s. The “beast” lives beneath the streets of New York City in this fabulous underground space full of books and antiques. So romantic. He was another beast that had that softness underneath him.

I love that kind of man—sort of rough and bristly on the outside, but a real sweetheart underneath. Part of the deliciousness of a relationship with this kind of man is that very few people know him like you do. My own husband is kind of like this. There’s something about a man who is confident, in-charge, and knows what he wants—and feels good about taking it.

But the danger in falling for a beast type, of course, is that sometimes a beast is just a beast.

Which leads to the arduous trial of trying to separate the real beasts from the crusty on the outside but soft on the inside ones.

So much of that can mean years of sorting through our own personal mythologies where we tell ourselves things like “boys will be boys,” (or Goddess forbid) “If I give him one more chance, I know he won’t drink/cheat/hit me again.”  These are the kinds of beasts that deserve no second glimpses. Maybe someday he will change, but probably not, and who has time  for that crap?

Move on, sister.

On the other hand, a cool part of the story is that Belle overlooks the beast’s horrific face to see him for who he is. And this is a great lesson. I can point out several men that I’ve been attracted to immediately; then they start talking and reveal they are sexist or stupid, and suddenly the attraction is gone. I’ve had it work the other way, too, where an attraction grows as I get to know someone. This is definitely, for me, the best way.

So as the mother of two daughters who love story, I use the “Beauty and the Beast” story sometimes in my parenting. My oldest daughter is almost fifteen, and she flits from crush to crush and boy to boy. But every once in awhile, a boy comes along that she falls hard for—and most of the time, he’s more of the “beast” variety.

For example, her current crush is a high school senior. (She is a freshmen.) One minute he seems to be leading her on, the next minute he acts like a jerk. Of course, I took the opportunity to point out that, first of all, he’s too old for her. Secondly, whether he really likes her or not is not her problem. You judge people on how they treat you. Period. Okay, he’s basically a kid and maybe a bit confused himself. I get that. But his confusion is not my daughter’s problem. She needs to believe that.

I also took the opportunity to point out that he may be very cute on the outside, but may be a beast on the inside. It’s so hard to see people for who they really are. In truth, I still struggle with this in my own life. I wish I could see my own friends, colleagues and so on as clearly as I can see hers. The cute guy on the outside really will do nobody any good if the inside is beastly.

Sounds very simple doesn’t it? But the truth of the matter is we are emotional creatures, responding to attractions on base levels at times. I’ve made those mistakes where I don’t listen to the voice in my head, but instead I follow the more fun lusty voice that made me feel sexy, even for just one night. Or two. Hell, maybe even more than a few years. “He’s not really as bad as he seems.” Or “I will be the one who can save him.” It never led me to a good place.

I’m not exactly Belle, who ended up living in a castle with a prince—most of us are not. And while I find myself wanting to sharpen my swords and cut down the beasts in my daughter’s lives, I know it’s futile. They will each have to find their own way, learn their own lessons of the heart and body. I can advise, but mostly, I will have to watch from the sidelines, open mind, open heart, open arms.

But I’ll keep my swords nice and sharp—albeit tucked behind my back. You never know when there might be a real beast to take down.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Building a Holiday-Free Zone: Struggling to Go Guilt and Family-Free

Posted by Deborah Huso on Nov 15, 2013 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters

Eating gelato in Venice on Thanksgiving Day

Eating gelato in Venice on Thanksgiving Day

A friend of mine whose had some pretty sad experiences over the holidays, ranging from ending her marriage one year to losing her mother to cancer another, told me recently she was making her home into a “holiday-free zone.” “No turkeys, Christmas trees, or mistletoe are getting into this house,” she proclaimed.

I regret to say I fully understand.  I haven’t exactly had the best run on Thanksgiving/Christmas seasons myself. Long married to a man who eschewed much celebration of Christmas because it reminded him too much of being tugged back and forth between divorced parents as a child and having long been a member of a dysfunctional family extraordinaire (i.e. relatives who can sit at the same dinner table for an hour or more and never make eye contact much less speak), the holidays often seem to me more like something to “get through” than to enjoy.

The last couple of years I’ve found creative ways to escape the holidays. I spent Thanksgiving 2011 in Venice, Italy, where there was not a sign anywhere that Americans across the Atlantic were gathering around extended dining room tables carving succulent birds and spooning cranberries onto the fine china that’s pulled out only twice a year. And Christmas 2012, I was so desperate to escape family drama, I opted for taking my daughter to Disney World as an excuse for not showing up to the holiday dinner table.

So far my daughter hasn’t minded…or at least hasn’t noticed.  But I wonder sometimes if that’s because she just hasn’t had much experience with the Norman Rockwell version of Christmas.  And honestly, do any of us?  At least since passing the age of 12 when we started to notice that maybe our aunts and uncles really weren’t that fond of one another and that Grandma so-and-so hadn’t spoken to her son’s wife in five years?

Another friend has troubles at Christmas because her mother can’t bear to be in the same room with her father. They are divorced but can’t make nice even for a day.  And honestly, why should they have to? How is it the holidays have become this obligatory family-free-for-all, where if the relatives aren’t engaging in shouting matches over some 20-year-old spat, they are at least sitting there sullenly wishing they were home instead watching football or reading a good book?

I have some acquaintances who hold what they term “a dysfunctional Thanksgiving.” It’s a gathering of friends, not family, over a prodigious feast and is open to anyone who would rather be there than at a family dinner table. Not surprisingly, it draws quite a crowd.

Disney 2012 118

Christmas at Disney World

I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to establish my own version of a “holiday-free zone” this year. Granted I’ve already started putting up a few Christmas wreaths here and there (though I’m truly debating whether or not to drag the 9 ft. tall artificial fir tree out of the basement and spend 6 hours decorating it while stepping precariously from step ladder to step ladder).

I might just send my daughter off to spend Thanksgiving with her father’s dysfunctional family and curl up in front of the fire with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. As for Christmas, I found myself eyeing some winter trips to Austria and Germany that, as luck would have it, fall right over December 25.

And in an effort to avoid the over-the-top Christmas cheer already showing up in shopping malls and department stores, I think I’ve figured out a way to order all my gifts online and have them delivered to my doorstep…or someone else’s. Heck, with any luck, I might even be able to avoid wrapping paper, ribbons, and Scotch tape.

Though to be quite honest, it’s not the decorations that get to me so much or even the hours and hours of gift wrapping.  It’s the childhood memories of traditions that will never be again that often make my Christmas blue.

I know my grandmother, who now lives in a nursing home and is suffering from Alzheimer’s, will no longer oversee my creation of Lemon Cloud. Nor will I ever watch her and my mother roll out dough for flatbread and lefse anymore. Dad and I will never sit together competing over who can make the most elaborate bow to plunk on a gift, and I’ll never climb into bed with my giggling cousins and store contraband soda pop in frosted bedroom windows for midnight snack.

And in the midst of all that loss, I struggle with how to shape the holidays for my daughter, wondering if I would even be doing her any favors by trying to recreate the holidays I thought I knew as a child, holidays where my parents and grandparents may have felt just as displaced as I do now.

Perhaps, in the end, it’s better to scoop her off on a Christmas Caribbean vacation or to spend Thanksgiving reading books in front of the fire. These are traditions that can keep going and going, that don’t require loads of extended family, that don’t rely on rituals that will die when the grandparents die, and where the holiday décor and baking isn’t associated with a sense of loss.

Because I don’t want Heidi feeling one day, as I do now, that January 2 cannot get here fast enough. No, I want her to feel confident in celebrating the joys of the season without the guilt-ridden obligations of family or the sense that her life is somehow inadequate if it doesn’t include a spouse, two kids, and a dog.

 
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A Mother’s Love…and Why It Doesn’t Always Come From Mom

Posted by Deborah Huso on Nov 11, 2013 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters
Me with the object of my mother love

Me with the object of my mother love

My dad often tells me I am a lot like my maternal grandfather. That may seem a strange thing, but my dad loved his father-in-law, probably more than my grandfather’s own children loved him. “I missed him for years after he died,” Dad tells me every so often.

So did I. I still do.

I was not quite six years old when he died, but he was like glistening sunshine to me. Lanky and energetic, he smoked a blue streak. To this day, I get lonesome for him when I smell Lucky Strikes. He drank coffee by the gallons, walked fast, dreamed big, worked hard. He wasn’t perfect. I know he had a firecracker temper. But for me, at five, he was the man who scooped me up into his lap and taught me to butter Norwegian flatbread, called me “Grandpa’s cocklebur,” and took me for rides in his big Case tractor, played with me on the floor, put together my doll carriages, held me in his arms while watching football.

His love was big; so was mine.

Because of him, because of my grandmother (his wife), my dad, and later, my dearest friends, I know what love looks like. It is full on, vulnerable, brave, beautiful, self-sacrificing, and wild. It is “no matter what.” And it lives through fear, and anger, and disappointment.

It is not the kind of love I ever knew from my mother, and that is a hard thing in a world where mother love is celebrated as the greatest love there is.

My mother taught me many things when I was a child—to think for myself, not to follow the herd, to stand up for what I believed in, to do my best. But, contrary to popular notions of motherhood, she was not the one who taught me love.

And it’s okay.

Not that it always feels okay. But rationally, it’s okay. I receive my “mother love” from nearly a dozen other sources. From the women friends who text me in my lowest moments and tell me I am “an awesome person, mother, and friend.” From the mother of my childhood best friend who has half adopted me and told me she will always be there for me. Even from my own daughter, only six, who wraps soft arms around my neck, plants wet kisses on my cheek and says, “I will always love you, Mommy, and always take care of you.”

My daughter is, in the end, the true measure of my mother love. In many ways, my mother no more approves of her than she does of me. Heidi is, in her view, too opinionated, too vocal, too willful, too brave. She asks me about Heidi’s academics, wants to know if she is the smartest kid in class, wonders why I don’t push her harder.

And it’s simple. That’s not my way. My love is different, not wrong, but different. I don’t care if Heidi is the smartest, the most talented, the loveliest. I do care, however, if she is kind, loving, generous. When I attended my most recent conference with Heidi’s teacher, my heart swelled when I heard my daughter made everyone laugh, made people happy, made her peers, especially the new kid in school, feel welcome.

Because my life experience has taught me one can indeed get a fair distance in the working world with smarts and drive. But getting somewhere in life…that’s about love. And Heidi overflows with it.

When I tackle her in a hug and send her to the floor in kisses and tickles until she is squealing with delight, my mother will frown at the noise and fuss that no one is helping her make Christmas dinner. My dad, however, will peek around the corner with a grin and say with mock sternness, “What’s going on in here?”

Love.

That’s what’s going on.

Mother love. And you don’t have to be a mother to give it. Or perfect to receive it. One day, I know, my little girl will grow up to be the kind of woman that people miss for years after she is gone…the way I miss my grandfather. Who loved loud, and hard, and big.

 
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Learning to Say No (While Saying Yes)

Posted by Claire Vath on Nov 8, 2013 in Motherhood, Musings, Success Guide
My serene work environment....

My serene work environment….

It was my dream job, the one I imagined while I sat in meetings sipping tepid coffee out of a styrofoam cup: I want to be a stay-at-home mom and writer.

“It will be great!” I mused to my husband. “Don’t you want all your laundry done, a hot meal, and clean house?”

He rolled his eyes.

“I’ll work too!” I told him. “I’ll need something else to do anyway. I’ll write and edit from home,” I said, picturing myself sipping a cup of coffee and flexing my creative muscle while my child played quietly at my feet.

The driven, perfectionist side of me believed I could be at home all day, cook a hot meal, keep a clean house, find time for hobbies, laundry and meet deadlines.

Those were the lies I told myself pre-children.

But I am a “Yes” person, finding it hard to turn down freelance jobs … mainly to prove to myself that I can do it all and do it all well.

Then I began working from home. My son was 4 months old, and I had a phone interview. In addition to my research preparation and list of questions, I had a spread-out blanket on the floor beside me, a myriad of chewed-on toys that jingled and made music, a bottle and three pacifiers for good measure. I was leaving nothing to chance.

Once on the phone I was confident that, put to the test, my child would be great.

I asked the first question in my list and the person on the phone launched into an explanation which I furiously scribbled down on a pad while keeping one eye on my child.

And my baby, well, he projectile vomited all over me, the floor, himself. On the first question.

One tiny, helpless human being was difficult, yes, but then when I found out a second helpless human was on the way—the first only 7 months old—I panicked. But the second was born, and I was even more determined to do it all, be it all. Maybe even while wearing a dress and makeup?

“Wouldn’t it be even more impressive if I took on more work and responsibilities while raising two children under the age of 2?” These were questions I asked my subconscious, as I told clients “Yes” in the same breath.

“Yes, I’d love to edit monthly copy for you.”

“Sure, I can fill in this month.”

“Next month? Well, yes. That’d be fine.”

“Oh, that story sounds like it’d be fun. Yes, I’ll accept the assignment.”

“Yes, writing product copy would be great!”

I was Rosie the Riveter! I could be it all! The consummate professional, maternal goddess, Martha Stewart, made-up wife.

But my life is far from Pinterest-worthy. It’s 11:30 a.m. as I type this. I am wearing Christmas pajama pants with a T-shirt—my husband’s undershirt he wore yesterday, because it smells good. Forget the bra; I haven’t gotten that far yet. And likely won’t, if I’m being honest. But here I am, pounding out the words on my keyboard for a story well before its deadline.

My third cup of coffee was consumed by 9 a.m. It coincided with my son’s third timeout. I’ve wiped more runny noses so far than typed words. Both children are currently wearing diapers and little else—it’s easier to change them that way—and vestiges of their breakfast yogurt remain in the corners of their mouths and the crevices of their hands.

Last night’s dishes litter the counter. A host of half-empty water glasses and coffee cups surrounds my computer desk. Graham cracker crumbs litter the floor around me from the children “quietly playing” at my feet. And when I get up, I trip over a singing teapot.

Some days—hell, most days—I let my children watch too much television—the same “Daniel Tiger” and “Sesame Street” episodes on Netflix. It is the only way I  get actual paying work done sometimes.

Then it’s finally nap time—time for me to get a good chunk of work done! But I’m exhausted. So I choose sleep for an hour … until a child cries out. I’ll work later. You know, when I’m supposed to be cooking dinner.

And when I’m particularly busy, dinner turns into a handful of out-of-the-can almonds and often the discarded food on my children’s plates. Maybe a stray grape or half a sandwich if I’m lucky. All this as I sit with a pen in my hand and a stack of copy on my lap.

I am not a total loss: minus the dirty faces in the morning, my children are well-loved, well-fed, well-tended, well-disciplined. I religiously take them to the zoo, story time, the park. We read books, sing songs.

I may not know how to turn down work, and I may not have it all—but my deadlines are met. Screw the mopping; I’ll peel the dinosaur stickers off the floor tomorrow!

Will I accept another story assignment or editing job if I’m offered one? …Yes. Probably. A deadline met gives me a fleeting sense of “I did it!” that doesn’t nearly as often come from raising children.

And, maybe tomorrow I’ll find the time to put on a bra?

No. Probably not.

… See? Maybe I can get the hang of this saying-no thing.

 

 
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To Tuck or Not to Tuck? How I Found Out That Wasn’t Really the Question….

Posted by Susannah Herrada on Nov 4, 2013 in Girlfriends, Motherhood, Musings
Before the blowout...

Before the blowout…

There comes a time in life when a woman starts to feel a little rough around the edges. A bit raggedy, feeling like she’s losing a little bit of her edge. Maybe it’s after a baby when she’s feeling sleep deprived and a wreck. Maybe it’s when the grocery store clerks stop asking her for ID when she’s buying wine. Or it could be the first time she’s called “Ma’am” (I remember the first time for me—it was at the Perryville Exit tollbooth on 95). Sometimes it’s as simple as gaining a few pounds, going up a size, opening her closet, and finding nothing to wear.

All women go through this, often many different times over their lives. Sometimes it can feel like a mid-life crisis, only you feel like you’re having one every month or sometimes every week.

So that’s where I find myself this month. Up ten pounds (Ack! I’m embarrassed to even write that!), nothing to wear, looking rough around the edges, hair’s a wreck, teeth look crooked and yellow, skin is full of blemishes and scars. I won’t go on, but you get the picture. And for those of you who see me often, you’ll probably assert it’s not really that bad, but for all intents and purposes, this is how I feel.

Regardless of how neurotic and self-damaging this kind of thinking is, the scary part is what I considered doing to try make myself feel better.

This downward spiral started about a month ago at my annual ‘well-woman’ check—you know, what they call the appointment for women who are not going to have anymore kids. It’s vaguely disguised because the doctor doesn’t want to call it what it really is for the next ten years: menopause watch. An hour later, I was dressed, albeit still feeling rather slippery in my nether regions (what do these doctors use, and why is it so persistent?). Walking out of the appointment, it hit me that I had just signed myself up for some elective surgery.

It's not a tummy tuck, but good hair can work miracles....

It’s not a tummy tuck, but good hair can work miracles….

The next week, I was getting my teeth cleaned. I love my dentist. He’s not ten years out of dental school, charming, and never starts a sentence with, “At your age…” Anyway, at my request, this patient young thing spent ten minutes talking to me about cosmetic options—veneers, whitening, gap filling. Sadly, my smile is the one thing I’ve always loved about myself, but it turns out that veneering that big Ronald McDonald grin would cost a fortune. Big teethy smiles equal lots of visible teeth to veneer.

Wondering that afternoon how I would convince my husband that I really needed to spend over $10,000 to get a perfect smile, I recalled a similar conversation with a friend a few months ago. She didn’t seem to have much trouble convincing her husband that a tummy tuck was the way to go. I wondered if I couldn’t get Jorge to spring for the teeth, would he consider some other work? Maybe I’d have more leverage with a lift of some kind since he probably spends more time staring at my butt than my teeth. Actually, maybe not. Maybe like every other man, he spends more time looking at my smiling face when he’s not checking out other women’s rears on the sly. Either way, I think I’d have an easier time convincing him to spring for the lift or tuck. After all, have you ever heard someone say, ‘he’s a teeth man?’

So I found myself in the unfortunate situation this week of feeling mildly depressed over a bunch of silly little things, frustratingly researching the scary downsides of surgeries and procedures and even gel manicures, and knowing in the back of my mind that none of them would really make me happy. I know there should be an insert/sidebar here about self-acceptance, beautiful on the inside, yadda, yadda, but that’s for a different blog. At this time, I just had to get out of my yoga pants and into my jeans.

So I did what any rational woman would do in a similar situation: I ate.

Warm baguettes with soft butter, homemade apple cobbler (for breakfast?!), dark chocolate, or any chocolate for that matter, Ben and Jerry’s Fudgey Candy Bar Cookie Dough Nutty Overload.

Screw the yoga pants. They’re comfortable and trimming with their dark color and flared cut.

Unfortunately, things were going from bad to worse.

By now it was Friday. I had to meet friends for drinks in Georgetown that night. I had to face the reality that yoga pants are just not evening wear, particularly in Georgetown. And even if I had $10,000 to spend…that wasn’t going to do me any good this afternoon.

Nursing my ridiculous woes over a pumpkin latte, I saw a picture of myself flash up on the digital frame in my dining room. The photo was from this past spring, a short six months ago. I looked young. Much younger. And thin. Much thinner. But all that aside, what I really noticed was my hair. It actually was highlighted, cut stylishly and blown out in a smooth, finished look.

I immediately called my stylist. Not deterred by the lack of Friday appointments for highlights, I found myself sitting in a drive-up strip mall parking space, in front of a Hair Cuttery. I knew it was a risk, but I reasoned I had lots of hair. The worst that could happen if this went wrong is that after a repair job at my regular stylist, I’d have a bob instead of hair that fell well below my shoulders. So I walked in. The lady was cranky. She told me about three times in her thick Eastern European accent that my hair had three inches of growth at my roots and looked terrible and needed to be highlighted. Today. By her. It’s one thing to have some random lady cut your hair, but I can’t trust highlights to a stranger. I declined, politely at first and then eventually with a sternness matching her own directness.

After forty minutes, she turned me around in the chair. I looked at the woman in the mirror. No perfect teeth, no nip or tuck, no Botox or peel. Just me, with straight, healthy-looking (highlight-needing) hair. Thirty dollars later, I walked out and wondered if this wasn’t what I had needed all along. It seemed rather shallow, but still amazed me that a $30 haircut and blowout could change my whole outlook.

I know that $30 can’t usually solve life’s problems. In fact, it can often solve very little and sometimes make things worse. Case in point being that between the Ben & Jerry’s and wine, I spent well over $30 this past week. But there’s something beautiful about someone else taking over, doing something for you like brushing your hair, paying attention to every strand, looking at you closely and making you feel beautiful again. No, this is not a promo piece for the Hair Cuttery, but it is a little nudge to every women who reads this to find something to do that’s kind for yourself. And I’m not talking sitting with a cup of tea and reading People magazine. Find some way to really pamper yourself, have someone else care for you, look at you, obsess about only you, even if it’s just for a short time.

And then go home, slip out of the yoga pants for an even more comfortable pair of PJ bottoms, and know that you have great hair (or nails). Know that really nothing that big has changed; you haven’t gone down a clothing size, you don’t have a perfect Chicklet smile. But you do have a quiet message taking root deep down inside that you are worth pampering and that you can pull yourself out of a rut with something much simpler than a tummy tuck.

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