Finding inspiration in 46 years

IMG_5719Today my parents are celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary. WOW! This milestone is pretty incredible. Since getting married, they have moved completely from the East Coast to the West Coast with a 40 year “layover” in Arizona. They’ve gotten their advanced degrees, and started and retired from their careers with pretty significant accomplishments and accolades to boot. They’ve made countless friends, traveled a good portion of the world, and raised a pretty awesome lady (if I do say so myself!).

Today, for their wedding anniversary, I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to them. After all, a good portion of finding the “me” in mommy, comes from how they raised me. And a good portion of the “mom” in mommy comes from how they raised me, too. So, instead of a Hallmark card or a bottle of champagne at dinner, they get this blog post (is that the equivalent of those “someone I know went to some random tourist destination and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? Man, I hope not!).

IMG_5435As the only child of two educator parents, I grew up in a household that valued kindness, social justice, education, and above all, love. We were a small but mighty unit of three (except for one special year when we had an exchange student from Brazil who made us a happy family of four. Hi sis!). My parents taught me independence at an early age which allowed me to forge my own path and to become my own person from from the get-go. One of their favorite stories to tell is about the first time they put me on a plane alone to visit my grandparents in Southern California. At the age of five, my parents took me to the gate, told me the flight was the same length of time as an episode of Sesame Street (which, to my disappointment I soon figured out did not mean that the airplane would actually show an episode of Sesame Street), and handed me off to the flight attendant to board the plane. I said goodbye and didn’t look back as I walked down the jetway and onto the airplane. “You didn’t look back,” they’ve told me time and again. And, I’ve always just laughed it off and held that moment as a point of pride. Until this week.

FullSizeRender 2This week was my five year’s first week of summer day camp (another important part of my childhood). The first day, she gripped my hand tightly as the counselors introduced themselves and started a game for the kids to get to know each other. As she got more comfortable, I loosened our grip, first by standing next to her while we played, then sitting to the side while she played without me, and then giving her one last kiss as I walked away. And so, the second day I anticipated a similar progressive exit. But to my surprise, we got to the door of the camp building and she abruptly turned around, gave me a kiss and said “Mommy, I can go in by myself. I don’t need you to walk me.” Sure enough, she walked down the hall without turning back. And then I understood. I knew why that moment had been such an important milestone for my parents. They’d put me on a plane and sent me away for a week to stay with my grandparents; my experience with my own daughter was for 3 hours and was less than a mile from my house. But still, I finally understood. That independence that we so deeply try to instill in our children is a wonderful blessing, but man does it pull at your heart.

As with most parenting decisions, there are always unintended (or maybe unexpected) consequences. Teaching me independence at a young age resulted in me leaving home at eighteen. Like many others, I went off to college in another state. But when I left we all knew I wasn’t coming back. Of course, I returned for school breaks, extended holiday weekends and family vacations in adulthood. But really, when I moved out to California after I graduated high school, I had no intention of moving back to my hometown of Phoenix. That was it – bye bye desert. And that’s how it was for fifteen years – me going back to Phoenix with my family or my parents coming to visit us here in Northern California. We made the most of our visits, but we all knew that those condensed weekends were jam packed with activity and emotion because there was just never enough time. So, when my parents retired from their long careers in education and moved last year to a new home just a few minutes down the road from us, that created an entirely new and special reality. Suddenly everything had come full circle. I’d left home all those years ago without looking back (just like before that first flight) and created a new home and new life for myself. They’d continued building their lives, careers and community in Arizona. And now, here we are, together again. The weight of their move is not lost on me and I count my lucky stars every day that it was possible.

IMG_6423Living so far away from my parents for many years, I’d often felt jealous of my friends who had random movie nights with their moms or dinner out with their dads. But this last week, I saw my parents nearly every day. I took my dad to breakfast for a belated Father’s Day celebration. I spent a few days in my mom’s studio as she taught me to sew on her sewing machine. As a kid and even as a young adult, I never could have appreciated this time together. But now, I cherish it. I love that my dad can call us when he makes a dish for dinner that’s too spicy for them but knows we’ll like it, so he asks if he can bring it over. I love that my mom can take the time to teach me how to sew on a project that has taken months (even though it should have taken a few days) because we have the luxury of starting and stopping whenever we want to. I love that my kids can go to their grandparents’ house at 7am on a Sunday morning so my husband and I can get a little extra sleep. And I love that my kids are growing up with all of their grandparents (my parents and my mother-in-law) all only minutes away so they can be an active part of the kids’ lives and can attend sporting events, art shows, and special dinners out (and can watch the kids when we need to run errands or get in an occasional date night! Thanks everyone!).

My parents are two of the bravest, strongest, smartest, and most loving people I know and I am inspired by them as individuals and as a couple. When they sold our home in Phoenix, I was sad about the loss of those memories, but what we have gained is so much more. And their house here is just as special as was the house in Phoenix. This year more than ever I’ve learned that a house is just a house, but home is where the heart is and my parents have two of the biggest hearts of anyone I know.

Happy anniversary you two! We love you! Have a wonderful celebration!

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Finding triumphs in small victories

big smileMy older daughter is in an ultra competitive stage. She wants to be “first” at everything. First to brush her teeth, first to put her pajamas on, first to arrive anywhere (though, ironically, never first to eat her vegetables). For her, these “firsts” are her version of small victories and she celebrates each with zealous innocence.

I, too, have started celebrating small victories… maybe with less zealousness, and certainly with less innocence, but small victories all the same. This process of benchmarking steps of the journey came to light just before my first baby was born. A friend whose daughter is one year older than mine told me that while on maternity leave she set small goals for herself… take a shower, throw in a load of laundry, take a nap. On a normal day, or under normal circumstances, these goals would be mundane. But, as any new mom can attest, each of these tasks can be an insurmountable obstacle in delirious sleep-deprived days. Rather than seeing the entire day and all its ups and downs as a cumulative series of triumphs and tribulations, I chose then, and still choose now, to celebrate the small victories in life.

As I delve deeper into the blogging world, readers continue to ask me how I find the time to write my posts. As a wife, mom of two kids under four and full-time employee of a non-profit organization that is an hour commute each way, it’s no easy feat. But, I see my blog as an opportunity to set goals for myself. It began with the goal of starting a blog. (Check!) Then it was writing my first three posts. (Check!) Then getting 100 likes on the Finding Mom(me) Facebook Page. (Check! And thanks!) That same friend who told me about her goal-ridden maternity leave was so shocked that I had found the time to blog that she said she’d pay me $100 if I got to ten posts (this is post #11. So, check! And, B, pay up… just kidding!)

My biggest inspiration in celebrating small victories is a childhood friend whose husband experienced an unthinkable and inexplicable act of violence almost two years ago. Since that day, Abby and her husband T.C. have fought an uphill battle in every realm of life as they’ve experienced the effects of traumatic brain injury, including countless medical procedures, intensive speech therapies, and the heart-wrenching responsibilities of rebuilding the relationships in their family, not just between one another but also with their now three year-old son. As Abby documented their journey in a blog, first as a way to update friends and family about T.C.’s medical progress, then as a way for Abby to express her emotions, thoughts and experiences, and now as a resource for other families going through similar ordeals, I’ve seen her celebrate the seemingly smallest of victories as the biggest accomplishments, and rightfully so. In those first hours, days, and weeks, those moments of victory were proof of survival. As they’ve progressed, they’ve become proof of forward momentum. Abby’s ability to celebrate small victories kept her going in the darkest days, and she now shines a brilliant light of inspiration.

Not crying over spilled milk...

Not crying over spilled milk…

As I listen to my older daughter snore, and my younger one cough from the remnants of the toddler cooties she has been battling all week, I’m celebrating the triumphs that got me through today, and putting the tribulations of the day behind me. Parenthood is a series of small victories – an effective bedtime routine, an accomplished family outing, a successful negotiation with a toddler. Rather than sweating the small stuff, I celebrate it. A single day could be made up of multiple victories. Even with a few missteps, most days I net positive. And that’s pretty good.

Finding the perfect Mother’s Day card

happy-mothers-dayI’ve walked into Walgreens three times over the last ten days to pick out a Mother’s Day card for my mom, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my multitude of friends who are celebrating their first Mother’s Day this year. And each time, I’ve walked out empty handed. Maybe it’s the overwhelming sea of red and pink envelopes, or the overcrowding of the other shoppers also seeking the perfect card reaching over and around each other to grab the next card (manners seem to go out the window when looking for a Mother’s Day card). Whatever it is, they haven’t been right.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read plenty of cards. I’ve read overly sappy cards. Poignant cards. Simple cards. Cards with so much text that I get bored half way through. Funny cards. Cards attempting to be funny. Blank cards (okay, I didn’t “read” those, smarty pants). And just for good measure, cards written in other languages. But still, none have been right.

mom with girls

Me and my mom with the girls, celebrating her birthday last month

Mother’s Day has become an overly commercialized attempt to show appreciation on a singular day to individuals who deserve appreciation daily. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting to sleep in and brunch is my favorite meal, but why do we need a single day to buy cards for $3.99 with messages we can (and should) be saying more frequently than once a year. No card fits the bill because motherhood is all those things rolled into one: sappy, poignant, simple, exhausting, funny, almost funny, wordless, and indecipherable.

As I’ve thought more about this, I’ve realized that mother’s day is an opportunity to celebrate the wonderful attributes that make up moms and motherhood overall. It’s an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. Who we are and who we want to be. Who teaches us and who inspires us.

My best teachers and greatest inspirations for being a mom are the moms around me – moms at the park and at the farmer’s market, my mama friends who comprise my “village,” my aunts, my sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law. We all have so much to teach, and all have plenty of room to learn. We are stronger together than alone, and on this day of “motherly celebration,” I hope that we can all celebrate the ties that bind us.

mom and me with oranges

Me with my mom, circa 1984

More than anything though, my inspiration in being the mother I’ve become is my own mom. I remember when I was a kid, my mom was so afraid of becoming her own mom (which, for the record, she has in many ways). And, even as a kid, all I’ve ever wanted to become was mine. Whether chasing rainbows in a rainstorm, or putting on elaborate birthday parties, or developing a beautiful relationship with her granddaughters, my mom has always been my biggest inspiration. She even inspired me to start this blog. So rather than sending her a card that is sappy, poignant, simple, boring, funny, almost funny, blank, or written in another language, I thought I’d feature her as my first blog post about inspiration. When I asked her to tell me about herself, how she finds the “me” in mommy, and what advice she has for other moms, here’s what she had to say:

I am a wife, Mom and Nana as well as an artist and life long learner. I love to travel, and have visited at least 22 countries. Reading is something that I truly enjoy, and since I have retired I have reacquainted myself with my sewing machine. I am physically active, I either swim, do yoga or Pilates daily. Since we sold our home and moved into a condo, I walk everywhere and love exploring an area I have lived in for 40 years.

As a young Mom, it was hard to find the “me” in Mommy. Many of my friends at the time were either single, or coupled without children. Finding the balance was hard. Having a loving husband/partner certainly made a huge difference. Over time I learned that I needed physical exercise to get the “me” time. I became a runner, and after seeing A Chorus Line I even took ballet. Ok, running was the better choice, and I stayed with it.

Lately I realized that I am “channeling” my own Mom. It has been said, my mother- myself; so Mom’s of daughters – think as or before you do. Children grow up so fast, enjoy it- finding the time for you may not come until much later. Grab what little time you can, but still make sure that you chase the rainbows or get those tickets for your child’s special events. Learn to chill, and remember it is a journey, the destination comes later in life when there is truly time for you and those amazing grandchildren who make it all worthwhile.

To all you mamas out there, Happy Mother’s Day. Here’s to finding a little “me” in mommy today, and every day.

PS: Mom, if you don’t like this post, sorry! I’ll send you a card next year.