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The Meaning of Motherhood

May 13, 2012

I wonder…

What does it mean to be a mother?

Webster’s defines the word “mother” in several ways: a female parent; to give birth to; to care for or protect like a mother. Simple and vague, when we all know that mothers are so much more.

There are seven wonderful, unique women in my life who taught me the art of  mothering and, more pertinent to my life now, how to be a grandmother, as well as how to be a woman.

Some of these women are no longer here on earth, but they are still living in me. For all of them, every day should be Mother’s Day.

From my mother, among a multitude of things, I learned the importance of faith, family, and unconditional love, and how to make life an enjoyable adventure.

Mom had plans for a career as a Navy nurse when she met my father and they fell in love. Putting that dream aside, she became a loving wife, stay-at-home mother of three, and worked part-time  while pursuing two master’s degrees and a doctorate, eventually retiring after a fulfilling career as a college administrator. Mom taught me by example that it is entirely possible to put your children first while they are young and then have a successful career when they are teenagers or grown. Faith carried her through the darkest time of our lives, the tragic death of one of my younger brothers. With grace and courage, she showed us how to carry on when your heart is broken. An avid traveler, she has circled the globe with my father and passed that adventurous spirit of discovery on to me.

Grandma M. was once a gentle, sweet, loving mother and grandmother who never uttered an unkind word. I say once because for the last ten years of her life she was a shell of herself, a victim of Alzheimer’s. She taught me the meaning of the word unselfish.

Grandma M. raised five of her six children on a meager income after surviving two husbands, and never failed to place the needs of her children or grandchildren above her own. In fact, I often wonder if she ever did anything for her own pleasure. If asked that, she would probably have said she received pleasure from caring for us. It was sad to watch her deteriorate at the point in her life when she should finally have been doing something for herself. I try to model her gentleness and patience when I spend time with my own granddaughter.

Grandma C. taught me the meaning of strength and how to be myself and be proud of it. Some years ago I realized I acquired my outgoing and outspoken traits from her. (Most of the time, that’s a good thing to claim.) She loved sports, gardening, needlework, and traveling (all like me). She could strike up a conversation with anyone – we share that, too.

An excellent seamstress, she ran her own drapery business in her basement while raising her children. Later in life, her needle created cherished quilts, Christmas ornaments and other craft items which decorate my home. When faced with cancer, she battled it like a general and conquered it, even though both her husband and daughter lost their life to the disease. I hope I’ve acquired her strength for whatever battles lie ahead for me.

I adopted Grandmother W. as part of my family when she warmly welcomed me into hers several months before my marriage. Through family experiences earlier in her life, she taught me the meaning of loyalty and self-reliance. (And how to make a delicious pot of chicken and dumplings!)

Widowed at an early age, she sent her three young sons (one of them my father-in-law) to live with relatives while she attended LPN school. With all of them under the same roof again, she then worked full-time and took in borders to provide for her family. Barely five feet tall, she was healthy and fiercely independent all her life, worked well into her 80s, drove until her 90s, and was still living in her home until shortly before she passed away. She was unfailingly loyal to her husband’s memory and their family. She fussed over her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren whenever we visited and amazed us with her keen knowledge of current events and technology, such as computers. Up until the time she passed away, she had more energy than people I know half her age. She is my role model for how to grow old.

I haven’t seen my godmother in probably 45 years, but she is very much a part of my life. She has taught me the meaning of thoughtfulness. Throughout my life we have corresponded by mail (as in snail mail) several times a year. She remembers all the special days in my life (birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas) and an inspirational plaque (instructing me to live each day to the fullest) she gave me when I turned 16 hangs on my office wall and has guided my actions for nearly 40 years.

Then there’s my mother-in-law, who is actually my step-mother-in-law. We share a love of decorating and bargain shopping. She has taught me the value of kindness and that mothers and daughter-in-laws can be friends.

Finally, there’s the newest mother in my life, my daughter-in-law. She is absolutely one of the sweetest people I have ever met and a wonderful mother (and wife), too. In many ways, she reminds me of Grandma M. and they would’ve gotten along very well, had they ever met. She, too, has taught me that the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship can be one of love, respect and friendship.

These are the mothers who have taught me the meaning of motherhood, who shaped my life. The mothers who, by example and with love, have molded me into the mother and grandmother I am today. I am so proud, and so blessed, to claim them as mine.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Would I play until the whistle blows?

March 27, 2012

“Life doesn’t go the way you planned it. That’s why you should always play until the whistle blows.”       Addison Marshall

What do you do when life doesn’t go the way you planned it?

Addison Marshall could ask himself that question every day, but he’s too busy living life and working towards his future to dwell upon the unexpected turn his life has taken.

That’s a lesson we can all learn from this former student of mine.

I first met Addison, now a handsome, muscular, towering high school senior, when he was a gangly (and a tad shorter than my five feet, two inches stature) new student in the creative problem solving class I taught for seventh graders. Cute, somewhat shy, and with an engaging smile, Addison is one of those students teachers love to have in their classroom – respectful, kind, and responsible. He is the kind of student who appreciates his teachers and isn’t embarrassed to give them a hug when he encounters them in the years that follow. He’s the kind of student who will forever leave an impression upon you.

We share a love for football – me as a fan of the college game (Go Gators!), he a fan of the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos. He loved playing junior high football, and, as is typical for young football players, dreamed of playing in high school, college and professionally. We are both huge fans and admirers of Tim Tebow. (Upon learning of Tebow’s trade to the New York Jets last week, Addison said to me, “Well, I guess I’m a Jets fan now.” Me, too.)

He’s the kind of student you expect to make an impact on the world. Boy, has he, and on a much bigger scale than I ever anticipated.

Last week I attended a ceremony for Addison, the recipient of the 2012 High School Rudy Award, presented by PARADE MagazineInspireum and Kids in the Game, to the nation’s most inspirational high school football player. This excellent article from the Houston Chronicle shows why Addison is so deserving of this award.

Addison with Jenn Brown of ESPN.

A national selection committee that included Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, ESPN’s Jenn Brown (the hostess of the ceremony) and Leigh Ann Tuohy, whose book inspired the movie The Blind Side, along with fan votes, chose Addison from more than a thousand nominees. His story, the unexpected turn his life has taken, and his courage obviously touched their hearts, as it has mine and everyone who knows him.

I often wonder…

How does he do it? How can someone so young be so strong, so poised, so inspiring?

If faced with the same obstacles, the same rough road that Addison’s life has taken him down, would I play until the whistle blows?

What if?

March 21, 2012

Imagine for a moment you are travelling down the path of life and you reach a fork in the road. You wonder which one to choose, which fork will lead you to the destination you seek.

If you turn left, you will continue on leading an ordinary, healthy life. You’ll probably hit a few bumps and potholes here and there, maybe even have a flat tire, but no major accidents, nothing that will keep you from reaching your destination.

If you follow the right fork, you will move on down the road at a smooth pace for a little while, then. without warning, you encounter some major road blocks.

Unfortunately, you had no choice. Life sent you down the right fork.

First, a hurricane uproots your family so you have to move to a new state, town and junior high school. You weather that detour fairly well and after making new friends, you start to feel like you belong in the new place.

Then, less than two years later,  you have sore ribs after spring football practice. When the soreness doesn’t go away, you receive stunning news: you have Leukemia. You’re barely a teenager but you vow to fight the puzzling disease valiantly, and in the process become an inspiration to everyone who knows you, and to people who have never met you.

One year later you think you’ve won the battle and you’re ready to get back on the road of the life you were supposed to lead. Most important, you can finally play football.

Then, a few weeks later, you learn your body has tricked you…and relapsed. Facing a gruelling two-year regimen of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, you strap on your helmet and vow to fight again. Instead of giving up, you are determined to beat the opponent for good this time.

The battles are long and tough and painful. Your parents are outwardly stoic, your mother can even inject humor in her weekly updates about your treatments and condition. Meanwhile, deep inside, their hearts ache for their precious little boy.

But along with the bad, some good things happen, too. Some really cool things, for a teenage boy.

You travel to Colorado and meet two of your idols: Denver Broncos football players Champ Bailey and Tim Tebow. In other places and venues you meet celebrities and important people. Newspapers publish stories about you. You attend professional sporting events with influential people and sit in their skybox seats.

You mentor and inspire children with cancer at the hospital where you have to spend much more time than you would like. Your family and friends rally around to provide support and encouragement, and try really hard to treat you as if nothing has changed. Your football coach nominates you for a national award, and you win!

However, it’s a bittersweet moment. Everyone is so excited for you. Proud of you. Your picture and biography is in a national magazine. You’re a hero, a role model, and an inspiration. Yet you continue to persevere through a painful and frightening (although you don’t acknowledge it) ordeal. The hardships you’ve faced qualified you for the award.

Deep down inside, I, and I’m sure many others, wish you hadn’t qualified. If life had taken you down the left path when you reached the fork, you would be an ordinary young man, looking forward to finishing high school, dreaming of a football scholarship, and perhaps winning other well-deserved awards. You would be healthy.

I wonder how you feel about this.

Some people who have faced adversity say if they had the chance to go back and change things, they wouldn’t. They’d take the difficult route and face the challenges and accept the awards and rewards again, because of what they’ve learned or gained from the experience.

I wonder if they just say that because, in reality, they don’t have a choice. Or do they really mean it?

I wonder…

What if the fork in the road described above was presented to you, and you actually had a choice…

Which one would you choose? Right or left.

I’d go left.

What’s Next?

March 16, 2012
I wonder…

Where this journey of mine is headed…

I’ve been doing some soul-searching the past week or so…reflecting on where I’ve been…and where I’m going…and where I want to be.

Perhaps it’s because I have a birthday coming up in three weeks. Not a “significant” one in terms of number, but the date is significant because it is mine.

Perhaps it’s because I’m reaching the end of my “to do” list of chores – redesigning, painting, remodeling, gardening and so on – which began when I quit work nine months ago.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve reached every goal I ever set for myself. I’ve been happily married for 34 years. We’ve raised two wonderful children. I’m an ecstatic and proud grandma. I’m a published journalist/writer. I’ve had two other successful careers that I walked away from when they no longer challenged or fulfilled me. I have traveled around the world. We are financially set for life, despite a topsy-turvy economy.

Most likely it’s because I remember one of my promises to myself and my husband when I decided to stay home: I would devote more time to writing and finally, finally, do something with the bags and stacks of folders scattered around our home office. They contain notes and outlines and brochures and photos and ideas I have for books, magazine articles, and other writing outlets. I’ve been accumulating this stuff for 30 years!

I don’t have to write about any of those things. I want to write them. So what’s stopping me?

Well, for one thing, not having a Deadline.

When I wrote for a newspaper I had daily deadlines for my feature and news stories and a weekly deadline for my column. The pressure and rush to finish on time was at times annoying. No matter how good an article was, I always thought it could be better if I just had a little more time to work on it (which can turn into an never-ending process – I don’t know about other writers but I love to edit and rewrite and edit and rewrite…). But, those deadlines taught me how to write quickly and concisely.

Another thing is Focus.

There are so many things I want to write about, so many avenues I want to explore, I’m having a difficult time figuring out where to start, where to wisely devote my time.

Part of the dilemma has to do with not having an Audience. Some writers seem content to keep their writing to themselves, maybe in a journal. I don’t know why, but I have a need to share my writing. To put it out there for other people to read.

So I guess that’s why I started this blog – to create an arbitrary deadline as an incentive to write; to focus my thoughts; and to find an audience. Then I drifted away and began to wonder why I bothered.

After a few gentle reprimands and a dose of encouragement from my writing friends, I realized they are right – this is where I need to be, just writing,  even if no one reads it or cares, for now. The rest will come when the time is right.

So, while I continue on this journey, I’ll see if I can discover a destination, writing or otherwise, so I can quit wondering:

What’s next?

What’s the Point?

March 12, 2012

I wonder…

Has anyone missed me? Wondered where I’ve been, why I haven’t posted here in four months?

I doubt it. No one has inquired, or even seemed to notice. Which to a certain extent, explains my absence.

As I mentioned in my first post on this blog, writing is as much a part of my essence as breathing and walking. The problem is figuring out what to do with those words.

For nine years I had a perfect outlet for my words when I was a newspaper feature writer and columnist. I walked away from that stimulating but underpaid position for a higher paying job in my degreed area, accounting. Then I eventually morphed into a junior high school business and technology teacher. Both jobs provided plenty of avenues to satisfy my need to write and create, so I was content for 15 years.

Now, no longer working outside the home, I feel adrift,  lost, in need of a way to express myself. I thought blogging was the answer. Now I’m not so sure.

Why? There are several reasons.

Even though the words swirl around in my brain, it takes time to put them into meaningful sentences and then edit and re-edit to get them just right. So far, I’ve been sitting here working on this post for over an hour. There are other things I could and should be doing: exercising, walking, reading, shopping, cleaning…

I’ve been told that a “good” blog post should be 300 words or less. Concise and to the point. After analyzing the blogs that appeal to me, I agree with that statement. But limiting my word count has always been a difficult task for me. My former editor routinely handed back my copy and said, “Too long. Cut some out.” At times, choosing what to cut was like cutting off my arm, I loved my words, all of them. I’m at 396 words right now, and still have many more to write.

Volume.  A quick look at the Freshly Pressed section of this blog host shows this: The best of 412,857 bloggers, 755,677 new posts, 1,178,798 comments, & 170,036,519 words posted today on WordPress.com. 

Overwhelming. And the numbers increase every minute. There are many good writers and bloggers out there, but I have to wonder, Who has the time to read all their work on a daily basis?

Topics. I have come to the conclusion that the best blogs are those that focus on a specific topic – i.e. food, gardening – something the reader can use or learn from. Or photos – something quick to view. Reading words takes time, so I am very choosy about who I “follow” and read.

And then I wonder, why am I working so hard on something that only a handful of people readWho is my audience?

My newspaper had a circulation of 10,000 plus. My blog has maybe 10 official followers and 152 Facebook followers (I have no idea how that happened), and a few passers-by who read a post here and there and “like” what I said.

And finally, why I am doing this for free? Why are bloggers willing to share their thoughts and ideas and recipes and photos – for nothing? It wasn’t much, but I received a little money for my effort when I put my thoughts and words out there for the world to see in a newspaper. Maybe I should try that route again.

Will I be back? I don’t know.

Even after writing 581 words, I can’t help but wonder…

What’s the point?

How Do You Get High?

November 20, 2011

I wonder…

What makes you high?

No, I don’t mean drugs. There are plenty of other ways to capture euphoria. I had just forgotten about them, until today.

A good friend asked me to join her for a charity bike ride out in the country this morning. She offered the choice of distance to me: 20, 35 or 62 miles. She wanted to do it and really wanted companionship and was even willing to do the 20 mile distance although I knew she’d prefer to go 35 miles. I considered the invitation for several days before committing.

There were no compelling reasons why I couldn’t do the ride. Except that it would disrupt my normal Sunday routine: wake up, eat a light breakfast, go to mass then read the newspaper for two hours. Spend the rest of the day doing minor household, yard and pool chores, watching football, cooking dinner, playing with my granddaughter.

And I wasn’t sure if I could actually ride a bike that far. I don’t think I’ve ever rode my bike 10 miles, much less 20. Or 35! But the more I thought about, I figured  it wouldn’t be that difficult. After all, I am in reasonably good shape. I work out at a gym at least three days a week. After gaining a few pounds in recent months, I started cycling at the gym again (attending a 5:45 am class, gasp!) and added some running to my several times a week walks. I go to a Zumba class once a week. And I frequently ride my bike around our neighborhood with my nearly 30 pound granddaughter sitting in a seat behind me.

I happen to be very fond of this friend and don’t get to spend nearly as much time with her as I’d like. So I stepped out of my box and said, why not? I committed to 20 miles and by this morning, I was actually excited about the pending ride.

The bike ride started at a high school near where we had both lived for over 20 years. We were excited when we saw the map of the three courses; we would be riding by familiar ranches, farms and houses and on highways and backroads we had driven past and over numerous times over the years.  This was going to be fun!

And we laughed a little about the fact that for this one morning, we were going to be two of “those bikers!” who we used to always complain about clogging up our roads on the weekend.

Off we went, still committed to only 20 miles, with the option of 35 depending on how I felt. After about 5 miles I told her, no problem, I could do 35. I felt great! Piece of cake. I was in better shape than I’d thought.

At the first rest stop, nine miles into the ride, we still felt good, so continued on, taking the “medium” route. No problem. Until we reached 14 miles, and headed into the wind. Yikes!

At mile 18 we rested again.

We rode next to each other for the most part, with the wind in our faces for several more long stretches during the race, but we were having such a good time chatting and catching up on life, we really didn’t mind. More experienced, serious riders passed us, drafting off each other, and probably thought we were nuts for not doing the same. We knew exactly where we were the whole time, but had no idea how many miles we had ridden, or how many more we had to go.

Finally, we reached a welcome sight and sign: Finish Line 1 Mile.

We finished the course with no special fanfare: no banners, time clock or cheers from onlookers. This was just a ride, not a race. But the euphoria I felt when we finished, well, I haven’t had that feeling for a very long time.

Not since my competitive team tennis days back in the 80s, when my partner and I would politely shake our opponents’ hands, then high-five each other and share a triumphant smile after a match or tournament win. Not since coaching my sons to a win in a close soccer game in the 90s. Not since the double zeroes, (2000s) when I began running 5K races then built up to several halves and then a full marathon. Not since my beloved Florida Gators won their last football and basketball championships.

After loading my bike in the car and while riding home, I realized something important: I miss that euphoria.

(However, I am not thrilled about the sore muscles I will surely have in the morning.)

Working out at the gym feels good, but doesn’t give me that competitive spark of adrenalin. Writing, which I spend many hours a day doing, gives me pleasure but no endorphin rush, except for maybe a small, short-lived moment when someone reads and comments on something I’ve written. Riding my bike with my granddaughter is fun, but not exactly exhilarating. I have tennis courts in my neighborhood but playing for fun just isn’t the same as playing for a reason. And lingering injuries prevent me from running long distances anymore.

So, I wonder…

What activities (besides sex, let’s keep it clean) stir up your endorphins? Give you that euphoric rush of adrenalin? Make you smile when you’re finished, proud of your accomplishment? Makes you want to write?

How do you get high?

What will I do without All My Children?

September 26, 2011

I wonder…

What will I do without All My Children?

I hate to admit this but I have an addiction: I am addicted to All My Children, a daytime soap opera. Addiction might be a strong word for my attachment to this show, but that’s the best word I can find right now.

My addiction began in the ninth grade, nearly 40 years ago. I don’t know why or how I first started watching the show, maybe through my mom. But once I was hooked, I vividly remember coming home from school just after noon (due to overcrowding, my school had split sessions or half days) settling into my dad’s lounge chair with a Coke and a bag of potato chips, and watching from 1-2 pm Eastern each day.

I was fascinated with the lives and escapades and relationships and drama of Erica and Phillip and Phoebe and the Martins and all the other characters. I am drawn to the characters, their foibles and triumphs and illnesses and deaths and reincarnations and marriages and divorces and affairs and so on. So much so, that when I am home…I may not watch television all morning, but as soon as 12:00 Central time hits, I’m tuned in to the show. If I am out running errands, I find myself rushing to make it home in time to watch some, if not all, of the day’s episode.

Why? I can’t really say, except that a soap opera is like a never-ending book, and once you’re hooked, you have a hard time putting it down.

For 40 years, I could never quite shake the habit, er, addiction. When I went to college, I was amazed to learn that even guys were hooked on the show and had favorite characters, especially Jenny (portrayed by Kim Delaney). Her demise on the show was met with genuine sympathy and angst by my future husband’s roommates.

My viewing was interrupted for periods of time as I grew older, the result of longer school days, after-school and summer jobs, college classes, then starting a career. I didn’t have to go through withdrawal, though. Soap opera addicts like me soon learn that if you miss episodes, even for a long period of time, you can always get caught up on the plot lines and twists fairly quickly just by watching a new episode on a day off from work.  And it helped that our local newspaper printed a weekly soap opera update column for many years. I could also get more details plus behind-the-scenes news reading Soap Opera Digest and ABC Soaps while waiting in a grocery store line. Later, when I was a stay-at-home mom, I was able to watch uninterrupted for years. When I reentered the work force in the 90s, I taped episodes on my VCR (and a DVD-R in the next century) then would watch them late at night while exercising, after the rest of my family was in bed. For some reason I can’t explain, I always felt silly watching the show and answering questions about it around them.

Four years ago, when my DVD-R wouldn’t sync with our new, flat-screen TVs, I actually succeeded in kicking the habit…for a while. I would keep track a little bit in the summers when I was off from teaching, but didn’t feel compelled to watch it every day.

Then, this spring…the unthinkable happened…ABC announced that it was canceling All My Children and another soap opera in September of this year. I panicked! How could they do this? What would happen to all the characters? The actors? To me? What would I do without All My Children?

Suddenly, I was hooked again, full-time. All summer, I watched whenever I could…and fought the urge to rush home if I was out. Mostly, I wanted to see how the show would end. Happily? Conflicts resolved? Which favorite characters would come back for final encores? I sat in a Barnes and Noble one day for an hour and read the People Magazine – All My Children commemorative issue, and relished the trip back in time, remembering all the characters that I had grown up and old with, all the plots and twists and turns in our lives.

As the show unraveled to the end last week, I said a silent farewell to the characters who were familiar enough to be, strange as it sounds, my friends or family.

I wonder…

How did All My Children end? I missed the final show – I was on an airplane as it aired. But, surprisingly, I don’t mind. The show might continue on the internet, but I don’t plan to watch or even follow it anymore. I said my goodbyes. I’m ready to be cured.

Besides, I think I have a new addiction.

Stay tuned…