Saturday, December 15, 2012

Good times on a dark day

It's well past midnight and I really should be asleep, but I didn't know how I could let a day like today pass without writing down some thoughts.  I know tomorrow I'll be paying for this late night vigil when the kiddos, as usual, wake up well before dawn.

Even before the horrific tragedy of this morning, before the lives of 20 school children were taken by a gunman, I had been thinking about my time as a stay-at-home mom.  I've wondered if I'm doing enough to maximize these precious few years when I have them solely in my care.

So many times I struggle to be present and to stay engaged with my children.  I love the feeling of "getting things done" and it doesn't help that my mind is usually racing a few hours ahead at full speed.  This often leaves me distracted or too much on a mission of one kind or another as I pass the day- be it cleaning, or doing our finances, or grocery shopping, or whatever seems a priority for the day.

But when I try to really get down and play with the kids, it often erupts into bickering among the children or frustration that mom doesn't know how Hot Wheels tracks are to be built to meet a five year-old's approval.  And then when it's time for playing princesses with the three year-old, I get them dressed all wrong.  And the book pages aren't turning fast enough when it's reading time with the 18 month-old.  And how could have I gotten out the crayons when he really wanted watercolors?  And then diaper changes turn into a game of "kick mom's face," immediately followed by a game of "catch me if you can" as she runs around baring her naked little bum cheeks.

All of the sudden, toilet scrubbing and mopping floors seem so much more appealing.  At least I'm good at doing those things.  Why is it that the one thing I've chosen to do full-time feels like the one thing I'm the worst at?

I understand how so many stay-at-home moms, including myself at times, develop Facebook, or Pinterest, or blogging addictions.  It's an escape from the sometimes cruel and unforgiving reality that we face on the home front battling unrelenting little tyrants.

I've firmly come to believe that an absent mother in the home, is worse than a mother outside the home.  And yet far too often, I'm that absent mother.

Tonight as we tried to pass the time with Dennis being out of town, I suggested that we watch a Christmas movie together.  Of course they chose the one with the talking dogs, the cheesy singing, and the predictable lines- all the things that I detest in a movie.  I was tempted to settle them in with popcorn and drinks, and to keep checking things off my To-Do list.

And then I thought of what had happened earlier today in that Connecticut elementary school.  I looked over at Luke as he sat on the couch, with his gorgeous eyelashes, and thought to myself, "Good heavens, children his age were gunned down in cold blood today as they arrived at school with their tiny little backpacks and lunchboxes that their mothers had packed for them this morning."  I couldn't bring myself to imagine what it must have been like.  It was too horrific, even for thought.

I thought of Camden and the deep concern he had expressed for the families of the victims when we had discussed it earlier this evening. I realized that as of today, the world he lived in was now changed and fundamentally different than it was from when he woke up this morning.  A piece of his innocence had been stripped away.

So I sat down and endured the whole 96 minutes of excruciating cheesiness with them.  And who woulda thunk, I actually enjoyed myself as the shamelessly predictable story line unfolded itself and the magic crystals sparkled for Santa and his talking dog.

Then I decided it was time to educate my children on an essential piece of pop culture that will forever mark this decade, just as MC Hammer defined the early 90's:  Gangnam Style. More squealing, more laughing.

By the time the kids were settled in to sleep with their sleeping bags at the base of the Christmas tree, I thought to myself, "This was a good evening. I feel like I was a good mom tonight."  That thought only rarely crosses my mind if the kids are still awake past 8:30 at night.  My mantle of patience, as shoddy and thin as it may be, is usually gone, nowhere to be found, by 8:00pm.  But tonight was good and full of the Christmas magic that you hear sung about in the carols.

 My heart is sick tonight, but so full at the same time.  The world was fundamentally changed today and I pray that within myself, a deep and fundamental change has also taken place.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thoughts of my mamá

This morning awoke dreary and wintery and bitterly cold.  I'm listening to some upbeat Latin music in hopes of not letting the grayness of the day get my spirits down.  I can't help but think of my mother on days like today. When memories flash through my mind of my childhood, they are usually accompanied by a soundtrack of echoing music drifting from the kitchen where my mother cheerfully cooked and cleaned and worked.  

On my birthday this year my mom called and left a message on my answering machine wishing me a happy birthday saying, "This is our day to celebrate.  It's yours and it's mine.  Your first day into this world was a journey for both us."

As I thought about this, I thought of  the 9 months of pregnancy with her seventh child, with her six other children being under the age of nine.  Far from her home and family, and braving the oppressive Puerto Rican heat and humidity, I can only imagine what it must have been like.  Then came the 31 years after that of unrelenting service and love that she has given me.  Yes, my birthday is just as much her day as it is mine.  But oddly (and sadly) enough, I had never realized that before.

The older I get, the more I realize that every time I look in the mirror, I feel like I'm seeing my mother staring back at me in my reflection.  I remember my mom saying the same of her own resemblance to her mother but never comprehended what it would be like when the cycle repeated itself.

The other night I stayed up until almost midnight bustling around organizing and labeling to my little OCD heart's content.  I thought of my mother, remembering her bustling around in the same way, and how she taught me a love for organization and cleanliness.  I felt a tender closeness to her as I worked while everyone in the house slept.

As I prepared for bed, I removed my make-up and listened to my eyes squeak as I rubbed back and forth.  To date my eyes and my mother's eyes are the only ones I know of who squeak when they are rubbed late at night.

As I scrubbed potatoes in the sink on Saturday morning, I looked down at my hands and thought to myself, "When did my hands start looking so much like my mother's?" (minus the pearly finger nail polish)

I thought of the swimming suit I bought this summer.  It was black with white diagonal stripes across the v-shaped front.  It was almost identical to my mother's favorite swimming suit that I always remember her wearing.  I'm still not sure if it was the same swimming suit all those years or if she just had a habit of buying black suits with white stripes.

And then there are those things within myself that are less apparent to others, but with a crystal clear resemblance to my mother- like my love for social gatherings, but a need to withdraw into myself on a regular basis to have some alone time in my head. 

It's mornings like this that I think of the scripture in Malachi, "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers."  That turning of the hearts isn't always steady or predictable, but for me it especially comes on days when I need to reach back into the past to get me through today.

On Saturday I completed a photography mentorship with a local photographer. As we talked about branding, she said that a person's professional brand often comes from their own personal mantras.  As she asked what mine were, I told her of my love for photography that shows timelessness.  I've come to believe that time doesn't progress in a linear path.  So much of who we are is affected by where we came from and what we hope to become, rather than just the present.  Maybe time moves in more of an elliptical pattern, vascillating forwards and then sometimes reaching backwards, but always in motion.

As I bustled around cleaning and organizing the other night, and as I felt that surge of satisfaction, it felt as though time had dipped a few decades back as I relished one of the same things that I remember seeing my own mother find so much joy in.  And just like my birthday, the joy I felt was not only my own- it was hers and it was mine.