self performance review: blogging

phr keyboard December is a very hot month where I have worked for the past 20 Decembers.  While on the outside, winds, rains, and several months of chilly darkness blow into town, inside it is an overheated  pressure cooker.  The reasons why are unimportant (and idiosyncratic to the cult of personalities we call our firm).  Let’s just say that last December internal temperatures escalated even further when one of my partners ripped a page out of a business school text and suggested we should add performance reviews of ourselves to the mix.  The exercise was just as sweaty as we had feared.  However, after I finished, I had to admit – the self study had done me some good.  So recently I applied the same scrutiny to my blogging to uncover why I am so surprisingly horrible at it!   Nine posts since fall 2011 !?!  I am particularly embarrassed to admit that in one of my first posts I  even bragged:

I was born to blog.  Some  might say I have been blogging since long before “Al Gore Invented the Internet.”  Harriet the Spy was my childhood heroine.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_the_Spy  Yes, I was the one in the hoody, hunched over the notebook chronicling the late  1960s and the 1970s in Upstate New York and Ontario.  My family rolled eyes, cringed and made paranoid comments in stage whispers.  The compulsion continued and I have innumerable volumes tucked away in locked trunks and sealed envelopes on my property in An Unnamed West Coast City.

https://momdeguerre.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/if-a-mother-cries-out-in-cyberspace-does-it-make-a-sound/ I  blog in my head constantly, but seldom unleash the text onto the keyboard.  Why?  I am opinionated, nosy, and surrounded by people doing meaningful, kooky, sensitive, and absurd things – often all at the same time.  In other words, I live in a land deep in rich material.  So why don’t I write?  Why don’t I write HERE?  On WordPress ??  What are my excuses?  Thanks to my self review, I now know.

  1. No time.  Like nearly every other  citizen of the  modern world, I am very busy and “important.”  I do not have time for this self-indulgence (even if it would improve my mental health)! 
  2. WordPress is too confusing.  I believe this, but because I am so busy and “important,” I have not had time to find a good alternative.
  3. Perfection is the enemy of the good.  This one is probably self-explanatory.  In me, the condition can be acute.  It usually affects structure, language choice, and message.  I probably do not need to mention that I also hate typo’s and misspellings, especially my own.   Interestingly, I do a lot of writing in my everyday professional life and turn out a good work product without letting the pursuit of meaningless perfection rule my days.
  4. No theme!  This one is important.  I love other people’s blogs and follow them.  I read about writing.  I read about blogging.  One of the first rules about the latter is to have a theme.  My head is like a tossed salad; there is no organizing theme, not even the vinaigrette is reliable.  My family and friends and colleagues are similarly scattered.   I think this is a problem with my writing in general.  I am not exactly writing about any particular thing on a regular basis.  You know, like the pretty meals I have cooked, the books I have read, my travels, or even carpools I have known and loved (or hated), being a lacrosse mom, the emptying nest, or what it is like to have a child run away (even though you know exactly where he is).
  5. Fear of the ordinary.  I say I fear the ordinary, but at the same time, I believe in the ordinary – mine and everyone else’s.  That’s why I like following blogs and talking to people on buses.  I have even written about my belief in the ordinary.  https://momdeguerre.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/joy-v-08-19-12-the-long-good-bye-begins/
  6. Fear of being uncovered.   I really try not to write anything that would embarrass my people, but …..recently I wrote a barbed review of an evening at my home with a visiting relative.  I compared our kitchen that night to a saloon and mentioned that it was my first lap dance ever.  (It is well-known that  I am not leading a lap dance sort of life.  )  Then I emailed it to a few friends, but would be mortified if the kitchen island lap dancer, who is related to my husband, ever read it.
  7. Not sure I like my blog name and I do not like the subtitle.  Okay.  I love the name, mom de guerre, because of the play on words but it is grim to the point of being a mismatch with  my everyday life.  As for the subtitle (“musings from the dark side of parenting”), it spilled onto the screen during a black period of child raising.  I have had my nose pressed against the underbelly of parenting and it is ugly.  The child who takes me there has given me permission to be open about it, but at core I am upbeat and hopeful, as well as protective of his privacy.  Besides, I really do not want to wallow there even if I should.  I have entertained a new blog name and maybe for my mental health I should adopt it.
  8. The dogs need a walk, there is a load of laundry to be done, and I brought some work  home.  This relates to # 1.  There is always something more urgent to do.  I am a horrible relaxer and consider that a character flaw.  I also have a 20 year long guilt streak about being a mother who works hard outside the home.  Even as I write this, I am thinking about our federal taxes (due Monday), two cards I have to write, whether this is a productive way to spend an afternoon off of work, and, of course, the dishes in the sink.  Oh! And did I exercise yet today (not really).
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Hustling on the Bridge Between Today and Adulthood – summer 2012 – a flashback

English: Ryan Jergensen bare footing on Lake B...

English: Ryan Jergensen bare footing on Lake Berryessa in 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am the mother of a boy who loves summer. I get it. We live in an emerald city surrounded by water and mountains. But good weather comes late, if at all, and when it does it is a golden reward for surviving the rest of the year and makes us forget the trials we endured for the reward.

The boy is now 17 years old and heading into his senior year of high school. Before this summer began, he said to me dreamily one day “what i love about summer is being on the lake or beside the lake, hanging with my boys.” One of my favorite summer photographs is of the lot of them lined up on a dock in their bright swimsuits in the early evening July light. 15 year old limbs and bravado everywhere. The confidence that the summer belonged to them and always would hung in the air. I remember that summer. Mountains of damp towels, sleeping in tangled combinations here and elsewhere. It was before they could drive.

But that is not this summer. Senior year is like a train barreling toward us on the tracks ahead. And he is being recruited for a college sport. There are three teams, one-on-one work outs with coaches, a trainer. And he is criss-crossing the country in a series of airplanes playing in “showcases”. He and his best friend have emptied their bank accounts and taken on investors to start a business: they are ice cream men. There are sober conversations between them across our kitchen island about insurance, routes, sources, and how to keep a circa 1979 U.S. Mail truck cum ice cream wagon on the road.

I wish someone had told me this last summer. I miss the damp towels.

Joy v. 08.19.12 : the long good bye begins

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), Michigan

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), Michigan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think about JOY a lot these days.  I have posted obliquely about the darkness that cloaked 2011 until I stopped looking for joy in life’s headlines and started looking for it places like well-made sandwiches or the late summer return of the sharp shinned hawk couple to the tree we spend the rest of the year worrying will take out the entire block in a wind storm. 2011 was one of those years that proves the second part of this statement: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”  (V. Lenin).  I finally concluded that “joy is in the footnotes” for my own mental health and immediately started looking more closely for it there. 

Now as our nest begins to empty, I look for joy in the everyday for different reasons.  In two weeks my youngest plunges into his senior year.  The long good bye begins.  He lives a good life – crowded with sport, his talents, loving friends, academics, a business, his opinions, dreams and us.  Less and less us, of course.  This summer his father and I have sat on the figurative front porch of his life (and the literal front porch of our home) waiting for drive-by’s.  And we love it.  Even as I miss the carpools, the down times on sidelines of practice fields around the region, long and lazy post-dinner conversations, crowds of boys around the PS-whatever in the basement – and ask my husband why we couldn’t have raised at least one mama’s boy – I know in my heart this is what we raised them to do: to leave, carrying their own portable nests.

Several years ago when one of my sisters-in-law faced the emptying of her own nest, she recommended The Gift of an Ordinary Day: a Mother’s Memoir   by Katrina Kenison, to me.  www.katrinakenison.com When Kenison faced her own sons’ flight from the family life they’d built and known and loved, she wrote about it. At the time I took the book as a reminder to enjoy the ordinary rhythms of our lives together and as a caution that they would too-soon change. I now appreciate the deeper meaning.

Yes, I am going to look forward to this boy ‘s last year at home.  We didn’t get a last year with our oldest son.  He left suddenly one day before he finished high school – loudly, viciously, prematurely with more emotion than plan.  We have been dealing with the backlash ever since.  To this mother, a long good bye sounds delicious. And I am going to find joy in the ordinary every single day.

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I am a full time mother. You are too.

“Blessings on the full time mothers and fathers.”  — comment from an unnamed mothering blog earlier this week

I am in training for the empty nest.  I have a few good coaches in the mothers who have gone through similar nest remodels before me.  Some are my dearest BFF’s or my loving mother-in-law who has never grown stale despite the fact that her youngest, my husband, is now 51.  And just yesterday I discovered this great wordpress blog written by two sisters :  http://afterthekidsleave.com/2012/08/03/where-i-introduce-karen-to-a-list/  .  You know they had me at the subtitle for their site:  “First you rent out their rooms.”

Part of my summer training has been early  morning musing, reading and some times writing while the rest of my full house sleeps deeply and snores lightly.  The writing part is elemental for for me: a part of my makeup, one that the crush of daily life  has forced me to neglect for too long.  But I don’t want too get too maudlin here because “Mum Neglects Mum in Her Zeal to Care for Everyone Else” is a tired headline and beside my point this morning.    I have taken a lot of inspiration and laughter from other mothers’ blogs.  And occasionally I also take a hit of irritation that makes my short hair stand on end.    See the quotation above for example.

I know what the writer was getting at and that is exactly why I did not respond.  I do not need the maelstrom of the stay-at-home vs working-mother debate at this stage of parenting.   As mothers of a certain age,  we shredded that issue to pieces ages ago and with it, at times, unnecessarily shredded each other.   The process was divisive and sometimes even cruel. I remember so well the tension.  It was like a lacrosse face-off over the ball of motherhood.  Only one side  would end up with the ball.  Or so we thought.

   Aside from my maternity leaves, I have worked continuously since before I started reproducing.  It created a chronic low-grade anxiety when my boys were small – one that found me in awkward places pumping milk with an industrial strength machine or up before dawn decorating homemade sugar free cookies with raisin faces and then slipping out to the bus before they awoke.  There were elementary school play costumes held together with staples rather than thread, dinners at McDonald’s ( a  memory so strange that it still makes my organic sons question whether I was mature enough to mother in my 30’s), emailed conferences with teachers, showing up to chaperone field trips in suits and pumps and then raced back downtown.  I was crestfallen when my oldest came home from a playdate during the first month of kindergarten and said, “I just learned you  have it all wrong.  Dads are supposed to get up in the morning and go to work.  You are supposed to stay home.”

 One of my husband’s three stay-at-home sisters remarked early on that it was “heresy” for me to believe I could raise my children as well as our mothers did when I spent 10 + hours a day at an office.

Eventually that sister went back to work, reluctantly but necessarily.  We did not talk about “heresy” anymore.  Because a funny thing happened to all of us between there and here.  As the miles increased on our mothering odometers, judgments about other mothers sprang more slowly from our heads and lips.  It turned out we were better off banded with other mothers than we were alone.  We came to know that we are all “working mothers”   and we are also all “full time mothers”.

When you think about it, have any of us ever met a mother who wasn’t “FULL TIME” no matter how old her children are?  I am not as sure about fathers, but every mother I know is a “full time” mother.  From the moment the babe is placed in our care – whether in utero or later, we are mothers 24/7/365.   There is another program and agenda running constantly in the background of our minds and hearts.  Whether we perform brain surgery, clean other people’s toilets, drive heavy machinery or run countries or run our own homes, we are always mothers first.

And the full-time demands do not stop when they can wipe their own bottoms or even drive themselves to school.  In some ways they intensify.  I laugh when neighbors with small children cruise by our house tugging their youngsters along and sigh when they spy my husband and I reading the newspaper or having a glass of wine as if we are leaving under a lucky star because we have teenagers.  Ha !  Little kids / little problems…. you know how that saying ends.   You know how it hurts.  And how the kids’ program keeps running in the background on your personal hard drive.

“the weather in NC makes me miss Alabama”

sea grass at the wild beach           “the weather in NC makes me miss Alabama”    This is a text I received Saturday morning.  A deep text – at least in the lexicon of the 17-year-old boy.  My 17-year-old boy, whose texts are usually short, direct and pockmarked by a reluctance  to reveal too much.    Here, though, in eight words – he spills volumes of our shared family history.   Because I miss Alabama too.

We live in an emerald city, trapped happily between a very large lake and an even larger body of salt water.  Geographically, we are about as far from Alabama as one can get while remaining in the continental United States.  Politically and temperamentally, we live even farther away.  But we love Alabama.  Twenty-odd years ago my in-laws retired to the granulated sugar beaches of Gulf Shores from their urbane life just outside New York City.  And for a time every summer, we have sunk into Alabama’s arms.  The air choked with lazy heat.  Thunderstorms building angrily over the gulf.  The rise and fall of the tides from Mobile Bay, filling and draining the Boggy Branch.  Red clay soil.  Straight dirt lanes lined with grand live oaks.  The swish-swish-swish the straw of the sea grass makes in the late afternoon.  Salt water as warm as a summer bath.  The hurricane cycles: destruction, renewal, destruction. An occasional alligator.  Fire ants.  Sweet tea.  Flip flops.  Beach towels that never quite dry on the line.  The mullet net.  Crabbbing.  Billy’s Seafood.  The Floribama.   The Galilean service Sunday mornings, sifting the sugar between our toes as we fling our voices out across the Gulf.  Our annual food rituals: Granny’s table set with favorite family dishes  and cooled with key lime pie.  Ribs + reds.   Po’ boys @ Behind the pines, Hazels all you can eat breakfast for Dad.  Throwed rolls, sometimes.  Lulu Buffet’s place (yes, THAT Buffett).  Fried alligator.  Deep fried sushi.  The quiet of the boathouse and a book.  Loopin’ Louie.  The club all to ourselves.

These are summers past now, at least for our family.  Last month, Mom and Dad shuttered Alabama and the lives we shared there  to open up a new life up north, back in the heartland where they were born.  “We wanted to make the decision before someone had to make it for us,” Mom wrote before she unplugged her computer for the trip ahead.  A reasonable and healthy intention. For them.  But we were selfishly disappointed.  My husband was bitter even.

But when the text, “The weather in NC makes me miss Alabama,” pinged my iphone the other morning, I realized that the swish-swish-swish song of the Alabama coast continues to play clearly, even here in the air of  an emerald city about a million miles away.

Live is Messy So You’d Better Man Up Now # 2

To teach is to touch a life forever

Image via Wikipedia

This entry falls into the category of “Things My Children Teach Me,” which is usually an odd scramble of good, bad, ugly, poignant, amusing and “I-could-have-gone-the-rest-of-my-life-without-knowing-that-and-been-far-better-off”.   Now that I am a deacon of Advanced Parenting, however, sometimes the things my children and their friends teach me are just plain gold.  Learning to “Man Up Now” is one of them.    

Last night I floated off my yoga mat to my i phone where I found this txt from my 16 year old: “I got a speeding ticket.”   This is a high school junior with a crowded life, a good attitude and a Toyota Land Cruiser that is nearly as old as he is.   He hasn’t had his license six months yet.  The immediate mother reaction: thanks be to the gods of all faiths that he is safe and so is everyone else.   Followed quickly by: WHAT THE HELL? Why was he speeding?  Was he late?  Reckless?  Or worse just plain cocky?  Should we take away the car? Ground him?  And off course he had to pay for it! I’d paid his first parking ticket but this was way different.  I fumed.     I was nearly 30, dating my husband and in graduate school before I got my first speeding ticket.  And my husband – who is often late, reckless and cocky – was even older!   I wanted to text my son all of this  immediately IN ALL CAPS  but imagined any new driver who would speed down the freeway in a 2 ton truck  would also  text while driving.  

Thirty minutes later my son walked into the kitchen and silently handed me the green ticket and $ 175.00 in bills still crisp from an ATM.  “I was doing 80 in a 60 zone.  I knew as soon as I saw him pull out I was guilty and caught.   I was respectful to the officer.  Here is the fine.”   He paused, “I am mad at myself, but I think I needed the lesson.  I am going to shower.”   He left the room, with our admiration in his now very empty wallet.