May: Play is Serious Business

Pebbles-Flintstone4
Happiness

Just as we’re starting to think about school getting out for the summer, we come to the month of May, which is the time for getting serious about play.

a) Find more fun. I’m already working on this. After many years of putting off vacations and other things “until I have the spare cash,” I’ve finally given in and decided that I can’t wait. I need to take those trips; I need to go to those events; I need to do those things that I want – NOW – because life is not guaranteed as recent events have shown all too poignantly. I need to do all the wonderful things I talk about with my husband and son because someday one of us might not be around to partake. I want my son to have wonderful memories of a crazy, hectic upbringing with lots of smiles; I don’t want his memories to be of us always waiting until the perfect moment for fun.

With that in mind, I started this year with Legoland:

IMG_1883

And the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World:

IMG_1957

My cool little dude proclaimed it to be “the best vacation I’ve ever had!”

IMG_1884

Last weekend we drove to New York City for a couple of days. Although we couldn’t get out to Liberty Island to see Lady Liberty, or Ellis Island since all are closed due to damage sustained during Hurricane Sandy last October, we made a stop in Battery Park and he was able to see the Statue of Liberty from a distance.  I was able to get some really great photos of my reluctant photo subject.

IMG_2341

So, even when Ernie Hemingway blanches at cost and says we should just go to New Hampshire, I will push ahead and get the best bargains on travel that I can. After all, college students travel on a shoestring, so why can’t we? Besides, I’d rather travel the world with my little boy than eat out at fancy restaurants, drive fancy cars (although both Ernie and I do love the mom-mobile), wear fancy clothes, or have all the material possessions in the world. It’s the experiences I can give my family that will really matter in the end, the ones that my little boy will remember the most when he’s all grown and has a family of his own, the ones we all will remember long after the sun has set and we’re alone with our thoughts.

b) Take time to be silly. This is my favorite task as I can just continue being me without feeling any guilt whatsoever. I can have as many dance parties with my little guy as I want. I can sing along with him at the top of my lungs while he butchers the lyrics to his favorite songs. I can paint his toenails and put his hair in a top-of-the-head ponytail (Pebbles Flintstone style) while we’re hanging out on a rainy day. I can play silly games with him and laugh.

My little man loves, Loves, LOVES to sing. His very favorite thing to do during long car rides is plug into my iPad with headphones and perform his very own version of karaoke. I laugh so hard the tears run down my face. All the while I’m singing along with him. He told me yesterday that he was going to be a professional singer. You’ve got to love those childhood dreams.

c) Go off the path. Here’s where I have the most trouble. If I am really honest with myself, I tend to play it safe. Until I left the practice of law for good, I never left a job without having one already lined up. Except for walking out of my first marriage, whenever I’ve ended a relationship, I’ve always had a friend to lean on who turned to something more. For most of my adult life, I’ve been worried about other people’s opinions, what other people think when they see me. Since my first marriage, I’ve always treaded lightly in relationships, afraid of stepping too far over the line, pushing my partner too far (my first marriage, its dissolution, and the ramifications thereof are topics for another day, another post – or several hundred posts).

Although I wanted to go to New York City for college (Barnard College), I let my mother’s apprehensions and opinions dictate instead of simply claiming my life as my own and figuring out how to get into and pay for Barnard on my own. I wish I had really known then what I know now: that while she may have been angry at me and scared that I would meet with harm in NYC, she would have still loved me and making that break might have given her more reason to respect me as an adult. Despite having wanted to live in NYC or San Francisco or London since I was old enough to conceptualize it, and having had the opportunity to relocate to all of those places at least once each during my professional career, I’ve never moved more than 10 or 12 miles outside of Boston. In fact – and this won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t know the Boston area well – until Ernie Hemingway and I bought our house four years ago, I had never lived outside the 128-belt, including college and graduate school. Now I’m at the first exit past the Weston tolls on the Mass Pike. Woo hoo!

Daring, that’s me. Not! But I need to learn to be daring because I don’t want my son to live as I have, safely and fearing rocking the boat. I want him not just to dream, but to pursue those dreams with a passion, and not contain them to a small geographic range because he’s afraid of upsetting me. I want him to pursue those dreams knowing that even as I’m sad because I don’t see him every day, I embrace his dreams right along with him. I want him to know that even when he upsets me, I still love him more than life, and I would give up anything and everything to preserve for him the opportunity to live out his dreams.

d) Start a collection. I have a collection. Many collections, actually. What I think I need to do is re-invigorate my existing collection of music boxes, and use up my collection of matchbooks. I need to organize my collection of tchotchkes, memorabilia, and photos so I can actually reminisce when I look through them instead of getting hives just thinking about them.

This goes hand in hand with my being a product junkie. I’m slowly using up all of my extraneous products, and finding the ones I really like along the way, and I’ve got to do something similar with my collections. I need to cull through and release the damaged pieces of my collections (or use them, in the case of  my matchbooks), trusting that the memories they bring will stay with me even without the physical reminder. Especially that snow globe with the little amoeba-like mold ball floating around in it.

** I originally posted this on May 6, but I’ve been told by a few people that the link leads nowhere, so I’m reposting.  Unfortunately, however, the original text seems to have vanished from my admin site, so I had to recreate via memory (which I willingly admit can be a bit spotty these days), so if anyone by chance read the original post and has it somewhere, I apologize for any differences and I would love to have the original if you are able to get it back.

Parenting Choices

infant-picture-1a

As I was drinking my morning coffee today, I came across an article about breastfeeding, specifically whether a woman can be a good mother if she chooses not to breastfeed.  Reading through it, I became thoroughly annoyed and decided to post an essay I wrote last year about my own experience with mothering and nursing.  The long and short of it is that every woman – no matter her background, education level, socioeconomic level, marital status, or anything else – has the right and should be encouraged to make her own decision as to what’s best for her and her child, without guilt, without fear.  What was right for me is not right for everyone, and I have no right to judge what any other woman does to keep her children fed and happy.

*********************

Yesterday I had fifteen minutes to spare while waiting to go pick up my little man at school.  It wasn’t quite enough time to do any of the myriad household chores that seem to pile up daily like so much waste after a natural disaster, so I decided to have a cup of tea and surf around the CNN website to catch up my news.

I quickly read through the world and local news items that caught my eye, making sure I was up to date on where the presidential race stands and the weather, then clicked on the entertainment tab.  I scrolled down to the bottom, where I often find the most interesting tidbits buried deep by the techies at CNN.  I clicked on a link about celebrity moms.

One of the photos showed Alannis Morrissette with her son.  Next to her photo was a snippet from her interview on Good Morning America back in May.  The essence of the caption is this:  she is a proponent of breastfeeding and plans on allowing her son to continue nursing until he has decided he is done and weans himself.

I am a major proponent of breastfeeding, as well.  I read the Time Magazine article in May about extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting, and at the time I sat down for a good long think about my own feelings on the subject.  It’s a deeply personal decision and while I might advocate it as a positive in developing a strong bond with your child, it is by no means the only method by which a mother can bond with a child, and for a whole variety of reasons, it’s simply not for everyone.  That being said, here’s what else I thought about.

My son is nearly 5.  I nursed until he was thirty-nine months old, including through recuperation from a lumpectomy.  I held him constantly until mobility grabbed hold, and I never let him cry.  Until almost age four, my son slept in bed with my husband and me.  Now, The Boy starts out the night solo in the room next to mine, but more nights than not, ends up back with my Ernie Hemingway and me by morning.  It has only been recently that my husband and I resumed any social life.  Until four months ago, my son had never spent the night away from me; in June, Ernie Hemingway and I went away for a weekend and The Boy spent two nights with my parents.  The only people who have ever watched The Boy are my parents, my sister, and very occasionally his older sisters.

Apparently, all that makes me an attachment parent.  Apparently, that makes my parenting style is about self-sacrifice and utter devotion to my child, devoid of any intention to raise a self-sufficient child.

But I don’t see it that way.

I was raised by a young mother who became a single mother.  She did the best she could do, exceedingly well, and came as close as possible to attachment parenting before it was defined.  Although she was not able to nurse me due to medication given her to cease lactation, she held me constantly and may have even slept with me, but in any event never left me to cry.  Until I was school age, I don’t believe she ever left me with anyone but family or close friends.

I am independent, self-sufficient, and accomplished.  I had a successful and lengthy professional career, and I voluntarily gave that up for my son, who is more important to me than any career ever could be.  I am raising my son the way my mother raised me:  we are bonded and he is confident that I am always there.  I encourage my son to explore the world and make the experience personal and intimate.

I did all this because it’s what felt right to me, not because I was subscribing to someone else’s definition of being a parent.  I nursed my child because it was the healthiest option for us.  I slept with him because after he was born he lost nearly 2 pounds and I needed to nurse constantly to get the weight back up, but I still needed sleep.  It was the best option for us.  I held The Boy, refusing to let him cry because I love him and can’t stand to see those little eyes filled with confusion and hurt when beloved mummy won’t hold and cuddle him.

If I am attachment parent, that’s fine with me.  I waited until I was almost forty to have a child.  I waited so that I afford – financially and emotionally – essentially to drop out of life and spend my time knowing and raising my child.  My son is the single most important contribution I will make to the future of this world, and why shouldn’t I devote all my energy to that endeavor?  Shouldn’t we all have the choice to do that for our children?  It has been a wonderful experience for us, and every parent should be able to say that without fear of judgment.

********************

I applaud Kristin Chase, Casey MullinsCasi Densomre-Koon and Catherine Connors for their willingness to stand up and defend their decisions, their lifestyle, and ultimately for a mother’s right to choose how to best nourish her children.  These women and so many unnamed others have given me the courage to take ownership of my situation, to stand up and proudly flex my parenting choice muscles.

Cream Rises to the Top

As probably everyone knows, the last week has been a humdinger, especially for those of us living in and around Boston. Since Monday, April 15, I have felt as though I was standing before a firing squad, and each successive shock was another bullet ripping through my security, my complacency, my certainty in the world. Finally, though, the bullets seem to have stopped, at least for the time being.

On Monday, there was the bombing of the Boston Marathon; Tuesday brought the poison-laced letters to politicians; Wednesday was the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in Texas; Thursday was the release of surveillance photos of the bombers; Friday brought the entire city of Boston and immediate surrounding area to a standstill as the authorities combed neighborhoods for the surviving bombing suspect. A child, two young women, and young police officer died in Boston. First responders and workers died, a town was devastated in Texas. It was all so horrible and surreal.

The stories were heart wrenching. The bravery and selflessness of the first responders – the police, the fire, the doctors, the nurses, the civilians – who rushed in heedless of their own safety. They saved lives, and in Texas gave their own to try saving others.

Reading the news coverage, I wondered at the contrast between the bomber brothers and the brave men and women who rushed in. I wondered at the contrast between the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, and the undeniable courage and grace of the men and women who died trying to save so many. I refuse to use the names of the animals who perpetrated these horrible crimes. I refuse to grant them even the small dignity of having individuality.  Their victims are the ones who deserve recognition – those who died in April 2013 and those who died on September 11, 2001.

That’s the mystery. How such amazing people can exist side by side in this world with such evil as the criminals mentioned above. I spend hours pondering the meaning of evil, the question of how any higher power, any god, any superior being, can allow such horrible things to happen. But it seems to me that whatever we may believe regarding religion, we all can agree that superior human beings exist on this earth. They are the policemen and women, the firemen and women, the men and women of the military. They are the people who stand in front of the rest of us willingly when the bullets fly, the fires rage, the bombs explode and the missiles fly. Many do so because they consider it an honor and a calling.

That’s the wonder. That even in the midst of such destruction and evil, the best of humanity shines through. As my mother has told my sister and me throughout our lives, “The cream always rises to the top.” She’s right. It may not be immediately evident, but eventually the cream of humanity will rise to the top and allow the rest of us to taste just a bit of their greatness.

I’ve questioned my beliefs and the universe a lot over the last week, but that’s the human condition, isn’t it? We learn by questioning, by thinking. There are no easy solutions to the problems in our world, no way to get around and really live without thinking “what if” and “why,” but it is only through asking those questions that we learn about ourselves, how to be better.

April is for Lightening Up

Unwilling to write yesterday for fear I would awaken to find whatever I created was an April Fool’s joke played by the universe, here I am today looking forward to my April goals as promulgated by my happiness muse, Gretchen Rubin.

a) Sing in the morning. I don’t know about singing, but I have started putting on music in the morning when I awaken. I’m afraid if I begin singing, something horrible will happen. Perhaps my husband will divorce me after hearing the horrid noise emanating from my throat, perhaps the skies will open, and the gods will smite me for daring to blemish the beauty of an early morning with something so foul, or my child will be horrified and seek to become emancipated at age five. I have a horrible singing voice and sound like nothing so much as a melee between a bunch of alley cats. My son told me at age three that he didn’t want me to sing to him any longer because I had a terrible voice.

I’ve also purchased an under-counter radio/cd player for my kitchen. In my mind, these types of appliances have long been the province of my grandparents; it seemed as though my nana had some type of machine under every inch of cabinet space in her mongrel kitchen that my grandfather built piece by piece. Regardless, I don’t want a radio taking up valuable counter space, so I caved. I haven’t yet installed it, so Ernie Hemingway hasn’t seen it. I’m hoping the reaction is not explosive, unless it’s along the lines of ‘what a fantastic idea!’

Regardless, the goal seems to be having more lightness and more music in my mornings, so whether I sing is irrelevant. The idea is to make this whole happiness project thing work for me, so I’m not being bullied into singing.

b) Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings. Although not as good as I could be, I’m told I’m actually pretty good at this. Having a young child is terrific practice. The person with whom I have the most trouble in this area is the person with whom it should be easiest. But I’ll keep trying.

c) Be a treasure house of happy memories. Holidays with my family remind me how fabulous we all are at remembering the good and putting aside the unpleasant. It’s not that we forget; it’s that we deliberately choose to put the negative aside in favor of the smiles, the laughter and the warm feelings. This is one of my favorite things about my family, and one of the things I most want to pass on to my child. Having a sense of history, a sense of your place in the world, is important, but having positive experiences to frame your sense of self is one of the most extraordinary gifts a parent can give a child.

d) Take time for projects. I recently cleaned out what we call “Mummy’s Closet” in my house. It’s a small area in the hallway that looks remarkably similar to the closet in which Harry Potter spent his nights while living with the Dursleys of Privet Drive, in which I keep gifts and books and crafting materials. Everything in it is my exclusive domain. I can hardly ever find the things I want in there, and I have found that I often “lose” Christmas and Hanukkah gifts I’ve bought early in the year, so I decided the contents needed to be culled and organized.

I made a pilgrimage to my spiritual home, The Container Store, and purchased several bins, which I separated into three categories: yarn, patterns, crochet hooks and knitting needles; jewelry making supplies; and fabric and sewing notions and patterns. I am hopeful that now I’ve seen all the wondrous colors and projects available to me, I will make time for them.  I’ve already made a couple of jewelry items and pulled out a sweater that I started working on before I began law school in 1993. When I asked my mother for help in figuring out where in the pattern I had stopped, we joked that although it’s been so long since I started the sweater that the style has likely gone out of fashion and come back in again.

My main project for April, however, is writing., or rather the devoting of daily time to my writing practice. I’ve got hundreds of starts – stories, essays, poems, just about anything – and I need to devote myself to finishing some things and making other nascent thoughts into reality. I could commit to getting up thirty minutes earlier each morning to write in peace, but I am far too committed to my sleep for that. I’d like to say I’ll take thirty minutes each night after putting my son to be, but I get so little time with Ernie Hemingway as it is that I will not sacrifice those hours each night before we both go to bed. Instead, I will make time during my day, giving up thirty minutes of mindless internet surfing or watching one television show on my DVR. Writing is a much better use of my time, and much more likely to help keep me sane than cruising around the ‘net or watching Emily Thorne get her “Revenge” on the Grayson family.