Sunday, May 13, 2012

Three's Company: The Mom Version

While not all of us are fortunate enough to have both our parents in our lives for as long as we'd like, many of us benefit from pretty awesome parents, one or the other, for a good chunk of time.
I'm sure you've heard how I feel about my mom, but you may not know that there have been other 'moms' in my life who have had an incredible influence on who I am as a person. These are just a few

Mima was a gorgeous woman, petite and powerful. She kept a clean and well-decorated home, fussed over everyone, loved intensely, dressed impeccably, smelled like face powder and cooked homestyle food like a gourmet chef before it was mundane to do so. She was refined and she was a gracious hostess. But here's the thing many people missed about her. Her hands. Her hands were tiny and probably when she was young, very delicate. The years had made them red and rough. She was this elegant lady with taste in classical music and fine chocolates with these hands of the woman who was dismissed arrogantly in English-speaking grocery stores and who washed floors on her hands and knees at the church.

I couldn't tell you everything she taught me, but this one thing has defined me: a woman is not all one thing, and she is never just what she appears to be.

Karen, also a beauty, with a porcelain face and a curvy figure, was in many ways everything my mom and Mima were not. Karen kept a beautiful home but different - it was comfortable and well furnished but it was being lived in and you knew it. She never panicked over a few crumbs on the counter, never scowled if you didn't put your shoes at the door just so, let you wipe the milk from your face with the back of your hand.  Her home had pets galore, a huge poodle aptly named Sugar, talking birds, fish, you name it. And she made the gold standard of BLT sandwiches - serious witchcraft in that thing - honestly. Karen never seemed to take anything seriously. So if you weren't there to notice, you may have missed how smart she was and how craftily she managed all the people (and pets) she cared for. She kept her mother and grandmother close, lived for many years in the same building as her sister, and had plenty of maternal care to spare on a scrawny little kid from down the street. She was this floating party of a woman but at her center she was serious and focused and intentional.

I couldn't possibly put into a line all the things this woman taught me, but I'll say this has made a difference: Being a mother is serious business and the very best of them laugh all the way through.

And Eileen. Eileen wasn't one of my surrogate moms. She's the mom of my daughter's closest friend. Eileen's this wispy, freckly lady with a shock of silky, dark hair and an imperviously young face. She walks faster than the average cyclist on a downhill run, drives like a NASCAR racer in a minivan and can't suffer a long meeting without complaint. But she'll take days upon days to painstakingly craft together long strands of individually selected beads for a birthday necklace. She'll guide your kid through the weeks-long process of making a miniature room out of popsicle sticks and felt scraps. She's a dessert maker (love that about her!), a closet pundit, an amazing party planner and a real, true and decent friend.  So she's great at the mom thing, but did I tell you that Eileen is at the top of her game in her field? She's a sought-after expert and draws people from all over the country, all over the world even, to her events. She's worked for governments and privately funded institutes and everywhere you go with her she's a gal people want to talk to.

So here's what I get, in spades, from Eileen: you can be a mom and have your own interests and your own successes and it doesn't make you any less of a mom. 

I once had my indignant, then 4 year-old, daughter tell me that if I wanted to be a better mom I ought to try to be more like Eileen. At the time I was completely crushed, but the more I've thought on it, the more I suspect she's exactly right. I'm trying. I'm also throwing a little Karen in there and a good dose of Mima and my Mom and a few other women. 

In the end, I can only be me as a mother. But I'm so glad to have had these women in my life to show me how to find the best mother in me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

It's The Teachers, Stupid

There's a lot of bluster in our daily news about the economy (it is that, too) and politics (it shouldn't be that) and money (it's definitely not that). That's all good and well - we need to talk about those things and get them sorted out. But, in my view, we may be missing a key part of the conversation. Never one to be left out of a conversation, I've got some thoughts. It's not about any of that - the solution to our problems, that is. It's about the teachers. So here's my ode, along with a special thanks to a certain someone who got the wrong end of my big mouth.

Thanks for teaching my children how to read. I don't have the vocabulary to express what importance I place on that skill, and that you gifted it to my children, along with hundreds of others over the course of your careers, is a blessing I'm sure can only be repaid to you in the next life, where the Gifter is a much greater one than I. That you did so while nurturing, humoring, inspiring is beyond the pale.

Thanks for carrying my children, with all their talents and challenges, through the process of learning with those talents and challenges, not despite them. That you took the time to actually know each one of my children, that you learned them so you could teach them to learn, is a talent so few professionals have and it gave them each so much self-confidence and pride in their work.

You did something I was desperately trying to do but couldn't; you made my children love learning. My children were eager to go to your classes, excited about the next thing - whatever it was. You made them not only read with comprehension, you made them readers! There's nothing better, in my book. (heh heh, readers - book - I'm a riot!)

And let's just cede that the kids certainly weren't going to get math appreciation from me at home. You took a subject that doesn't always have a lot of appeal for many students and you made it interesting, a puzzle, a challenge, a process of pathways to solutions. Those skills are translatable across every possible subject, and my children have drawn from your energy and excitement to dig in with enthusiasm and confidence. It's no small thing.

But it's not always enough to teach. Sometimes you have to let that go and just be a person. You have been hard, when needed, soft, when it mattered, and every shade in between. So the kids know you and adore you and they are more connected to their learning because of you. I'm so grateful.

Your ambition and interest is infectious.

My children learned so much from your classes because you talk to the children like they're real people. I always think children are more convinced when the teacher him or herself believes what they're saying and say it like they mean it - and you do.  Thank you.

While it's not always cool when mom likes it, it sure is cool when you do. What a pleasure it has been to hear stories of your in-class discussions. What a joy it has been to watch my children bloom in your literary gardens. What a treat, for me, to know you are the stewards of the words I love so much, so my children can love them too.

You take my beloved social sciences and make them real, plausible, current - even when the material is ancient! You bring your humanity into the classroom. You are thinkers and citizens of the world and it shows - there's no greater example for young children.

And I'm sure there's some piece of music which would more eloquently express my deep thanks to my children's fine arts teachers - some piece of art that calls out with joy and tears-in-your-eyes thrill at the thought of you and what you've given my children. I'm sure there is and I just don't know it, so my words will have to suffice, but they're woefully inadequate, because you are the color and music in the hearts of my babies - thank you thank you!

And here's one last note, since this has gone on alarmingly too long. I'm the only child of a single-parent mom. For reasons too ridiculous to enumerate here, if you're a man in the life of my children, I watch you like a hawk, and if you misstep I'm on you before immediately. The other day, I callously teased one of my children's teachers in front of others. I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that. Instead, you should know that you more than exceed the standard I have for a teacher - and that you do so wearing the vestige of a man makes you that much more phenomenal in my eyes. (That you are a conservative ideologue and a hunter only serves to prove that no one is perfect, but you're damn close.) My babies adore you because on top of your compassion, kindness, patience and attention you're just a load of fun. Learning should be fun. School should be a blast - exciting and interesting and sometimes silly. You make it that for them under some pretty challenging restraints and you impress me with the ease you bring to the task. Thank you, James. You're going to be a magician in a classroom, I just know it.

So I know these thanks are not much - not enough for sure - but please know that whatever your unions tell you, whatever the politicians and newsmakers tell you - none of that matters.  You are what it is about. You do matter. And I do, with a full heart, appreciate you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I'm Not Married to the Idea

We're getting a couch from a friend this week. We've been needing a replacement for the old couches we got from friends, so this is a nice treat. The couch we're getting is a sectional, but the configuration of our living room is such that I think we'll have to split it up. I'm not, however, married to the idea.

That's because in order to be 'married' once has to be convincingly, irrevocably (or nearly so) and before witnesses, joined with something or, more commonly, someone. I may change my mind about the couches. But I'm not going to change my mind about my husband. I'm married to him. I swore to my family and to God that I'd be married to him until death do us part and I intend to keep that promise. Now, if death parts us under suspicious circumstances... that's not in the vows.

I don't get why some folks don't want other folks to get married. If being married means 'together', why don't they want some folks to be together?

And if it doesn't mean together, united, joined -- holy cow --  I may have signed up for the wrong thing!

Also, how did the word get so holy in the case of gay and lesbian marriage, but no one protests when it's bandied about on the Food network when discussing plums and garlic ('Oooh, Eric, I just love the way he married the ingredients in this plum sauce - absolutely divine!')?

Which is it - sacred vow that only some genders get to use, and only then when using in the context of its application to another gender - and only then when applied to humans - and only then if sanctified according to a legislative document OR a way to bring together fresh and dry ingredients with a delicate cream sauce to the ecstatic delight of some nitwit on a food show?

I may be more evolved than the President on this, and I'm sure I part company with many of my brothers and sisters of dogmatic pursuit, but I just think if you want to get married, and you're an adult of sound mind, and so's the other person, and you're willing to take on in-laws, you should be RUN... er... you should be free to do so. I think this is especially true in the 'land of the free'. How sad that folks in our country, where freedom is so proudly sung, are voting against it.

Maybe those folks ought to have one of their freedoms taken from them in exchange for this vote, so they could see how it feels for a bit. I know it's absurd and would be the absolute ruin of democracy, but it might get the point across. I suppose there are other ways. We could try something else. It's not like I'm married to the idea.