Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, May!

Many happy returns of the day to our tallest, hippest - and youngest! - blogger.

Happy birthday, May!

Monday, June 13, 2011


Millie writes:

Tomorrow I will have been a mother for a quarter-century.

The last 25 years have been the most wonderful adventure of my life. Being a parent makes my heart soar – the piercing joy of my relationships with those six people more than compensates for the moments of sheer terror.

2011, the year our oldest child turns 25, is the year I will turn 50. I've been a mom for half my life. Next fall our youngest children will begin their senior year of high school, so I'm also entering my last year of having kids in K-12.

I have always expected to hate this moment – and who knows, it may still happen when the Littles start college in Fall 2012 – but now that it's almost here, it seems perfectly natural. Maybe that's because now I have experienced how cool it is to have adult children – they're still the same people I've always been crazy about, but once they move out their table manners and laundry are no longer my responsibility! I think a bigger part of it, though, is that now that I'm almost there, I remember what I'd lost sight of in the midst of the diapers and the PTA meetings and the choir rehearsals:

I'm still a person.

Over the last 25 years, as the kids have become more independent, so have I. I'm not going to have an empty nest for years yet, but I no longer spend the majority of my time dealing with other people's bodily processes. If my life is a movie, it's become a lot less Mary Poppins and a lot more Animal House.

I hope to move mindfully into this new stage of my life. It would be all too easy to fill up the days with Facebook and Redbox and entertainment-grade shopping, instead of doing the writing, traveling, gardening and relaxing that I've daydreamed about so often over the last two and a half decades. Sometime during the next 25 years I may get the opportunity to finish a thought uninterrupted, and I don't want to miss the chance.

All six kids have accomplished astonishing things, and I can't wait to see what they do with the next 25 years.

Or, for that matter, what I do!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hair Today

Millie writes:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

Well, maybe so; but it's different for women.

As long as I can remember, the advent of nice weather has kicked my inner Hunter/Gatherer into a search for the same two things: a new blouse and a shorter haircut.

The coveted blouse differs year-to-year; some seasons the ideal top is yellow gauze, some years it's a lace-trimmed tank or a peasant blouse. I find what I'm looking for about 10% of the time. The perfect haircut is even more elusive.

In the first excited flush of, “I think I'll look at this year's new short cuts!” I am always exuberantly drawn to pixie cuts, asymmetrical bobs and carefully casual spikes and curls. I used to actually get these cuts, and though they were extremely ill-suited to my features I would feel edgy and with-it until the cut started to grow out.

Then came the neck-cowlicks, the heartbreak and the agonizing two-year wait until the whole mess grew out and I could start the process over again.

Now I'm married to a man whose mother was apparently frightened by Cher while she was pregnant with him, because the only type of hairstyle that Lance can abide is long, smooth and straight. In the car, he will rant for 45 blocks about some random chick at a crosswalk with a big frizzy 'do, or a spiral perm, or (the horror! The horror!) a really short man-cut.

Thus, there is a certain amount of friction between us in the spring. He is, after all, the one besides myself whom I am trying to impress, so I glean down the hair-hunt to the top 5 photos and then ask him what he thinks. The froth flies from his growling teeth as he tells me. I growl back, on the defensive, something about how, “in the olden days, when someone wanted a haircut she would choose what she thought looked nice.”

Usually at this point somebody else will wander in with a bloody wound or a bad report card and the follicular crisis will be averted. I might get a mid-length A-line bob (shorter in the back than the front, no bangs, straightstraightstraight) – a compromise that doesn't really excite either of us – but it's far more likely I'll just give a wistful little sigh over what might have been and keep on growin' my hair out.

Now, the fact of the matter is that I have a very round face and a splendid assortment of chins, so very short hair makes me look less like Halle Berry and more like a scrub brush balanced on a beach ball. Longer hair is far more flattering on people with features like mine. I know this. The whole exercise, including the blouse, is much less about how I want to look than about how I want to feel.

Spring is a time of renewal! Things are blooming, growing, being reborn! In the spring it seems possible that maybe this is the year I'll be That Girl! The girl with the cute pink-polished toenails winking up from her sandals (they'd have to be orthopedic sandals), wearing a strappy little sundress (do they make sundresses with long sleeves and turtlenecks?), tripping down the street swinging a sassy straw tote bag (I don't trust purses that don't zip, and besides, all the crap I carry around would rip the bottom out of a straw bag in sixty seconds flat). The Girl, in short, who's confident and stylish and READY FOR ADVENTURE!

You know – the girl (in the new blouse) who can rock short hair and look gamine and cute instead of inflatable and mannish . . .

Maybe I'll just dye it red.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Sandwich Generation

Mollie writes:

Yep, that's us, fellow boomers - the sandwich generation. My husband, aged 61, and myself, age 58, are members of a new social phenomena. Our parents married in the 40's, had kids in the 50's and 60's, and serious gracious thanks to God, are living or have lived into their old age longer than any of us predicted.

My father was the first to pass, he died at at almost 80 (79 teetering on 80). He had battled a number of health issues, mainly heart disease and diabetes, and had undergone multiple heart 'procedures' which both lengthened his life and took its own toll.

I was not of much help. I DID spend every morning on the phone with him, beginning several months before he died. We visited frequently, but we were living on Kidney Island and were also dealing with other issues - including kids in college, the military, and our remaining parents' health issues.

Tends to keep a person strained.

Within two years of my father's death, my mother passed after dealing with Parkinson's Disease. Her death was also prolonged, and although I couldn't move in with her to tend to her (remember I have MS and some days can barely potty myself). I did call her on the phone ALMOST daily, visited her frequently and did the occasional housekeeping chore (laundry, anyone?). But my two sisters were her primary caretakers during her dying process.

This did not happen in a vacuum. Our oldest was being regularly deployed to the Middle East, and our youngest had graduated from college and was looking for work. Balancing this with aging parents who need help with everyday matters is hard at best, and even more difficult while dealing with a degenerative disease.

After my mom passed, my husband's parents, who had been in good health until the early 2000's, began to decline rapidly. John's mother was also dealing with Parkinson's disease and his father, in his 90's by then, was simply (?) dealing with a body that was tiring out. When we lived in the Portland Metropolitan area, we were able to travel to Seaside to attend to their more trivial needs (gutter cleaning, gardening, etc). But once my husband retired, and with me dealing with MS, we moved to a more temperate climate. Peter was still frequently deployed and Roger was getting married and we had parent/children issues once again.

My father-in-law died when he was 93, in late 2009. Roger was a newly-wed, Peter was in the Middle East, I was dealing with liver problems related to interferon use, shingles (ocular and very painful), kidney stones (even more painful) and MS. John was dealing with his "Factor V Leiden" a genetic mutation that causes his blood to clot, ultimately tossing embolisms. He will take blood thinners for this the rest of his life, but his blood work at this time was through the ceiling.

This wasn't an easy time for any of us. Our only happy event was having Roger and Joy marry. Thanks to this, I continued to believe that there is a God in heaven and that He really didn't hate me.

After John's dad passed, John's family had to make tough decisions about how to care for their mother. Ultimately, they found a very good residence for her. It's an alternative to Assisted Living, and while expensive, couldn't be better.

Now, don't jump off the bridge just yet. I have it on good authority (meaning all my +60 year old friends) that this is actually the norm. There is a brief time in your lives where you are relatively care free - and that's your young adulthood - before the kids. But once we had children, our lives became the most wonderful roller-coaster - and still is.

As of today, Peter is newly home from his latest deployment. Roger and Joy are on the verge of their second anniversary - and John and I are still in love with Joy, almost as much as Roger. My garden is weedy, my toenails need clipping, I need my uni-brow waxed and there's dishes souring in the sink. My husband's mother is in a good place, where she is safe and comfortable.

Maybe this time isn't so bad at all . . .

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

Millie writes:

Well, here where we live – in the Pacific Northwest – the sun is still more of a rumor. However, the fact remains that our kids have one more week of school to endure before achieving the holiest of the scholastic Holy Grails:

summer vacation!

The mere words conjure up visions of sandy beaches, umbrella-ed drinks and lazy days spent poolside. Never mind the fact that the reality is far more likely to be mosquito bites, TV headaches and boredom; the idea of summer vacation is almost as good as summer vacation itself.

When our kids were preschool/grade school aged I would make a summer calendar with a tiny adventure penciled in for each day. This sounds like a huge undertaking for someone with small children until you realize that most days the only extra work was looking at the calendar. “Picnic on the lawn” means “you're making lunch ANYWAY, stick the sandwiches in a baggie and take them outside!” There are a lot of things that are fun to do that don't require much work on your part (“painting” the driveway with brushes and water, a teddy-bear tea party on the patio) – for some reason, the fact that they are written on a calendar makes them officially adventurous.

Now that our people are older they generally make their own plans, though we do have an “adventure theme” for the summer. Last year it was Bachelor Camp; another year we made it our goal to find every fountain in the city.

Since I am the Traditions Queen, I'm sure it surprises no one that we've developed traditions for the end of the school year and the beginning of summer. On the last day of school (or the LAST last day of school, if you have kids in more than one school and they don't get out on the same day) we have ice cream, and I pass out 3x5 cards upon which are written the following prompts:

This summer, I want to learn:

This summer, I want to try:

We talk a lot about how people want to spend the next three months, and I post everyone's goals on the kitchen bulletin board as a reminder. Some of their past ideas:

To learn: knitting, trigonometry, how to shuffle cards, driving, how to make two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners

To try: starting a band, volunteering weekly, saving $30, traveling alone, rock climbing

Surprisingly, more of these things get done than don't. My kids are of an age to pretty much determine their own social lives, but I still make sure to schedule some weekly adventure like a geocaching trip or a backyard campfire. Last weekend our adult children were remarking that the thing they miss the most about being kids is getting a summer vacation.

I say it's not about whether you actually get the time off, it's all about the attitude!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

All Mamas Are Beautiful

Millie writes:

I was chatting with my friend Elizabeth Marie yesterday. She is a full-time poet and the mother of a sixteen-year-old girl, which I think is an ideal combination; each job provides material for the other. I've never met her in person, but in photos Elizabeth Marie is gorgeous: enormous laughing brown eyes, flowing silver hair, fine features, porcelain skin and a body that somehow manages to look delicate and strong at the same time.

If Elizabeth Marie heard me call her “beautiful,” though, she would correct me. She's sure she's fat, and sagging, and wrinkled. Well, so she may be, compared to her teenage self (though when she was a teenager she thought she was skinny, odd and goofy-looking). However, both the Mother and the Poet recognize this “I'm so ugly” trap for what it is: a way to poison the next generation of women. “One of the things I need to do for my daughter,” she writes, “is learn to love my changing body.”

Let's gloss for the moment over the fact that we will do for our daughters what we will not do for ourselves – that's a post in itself! - and think about the role we play in forming our daughters' self-images.

When your baby becomes conscious of his surroundings, you are the first thing he senses. You are your baby's introduction to femininity, to nurturing and to the face of love; in short, to beauty. A small child thinks his mother is the most beautiful woman in the world. What changes his mind? Not society; not his own increasingly sophisticated perceptions.

His MOTHER changes his mind.

Children are acutely aware from a very young age of their parents' physical and verbal cues. If a beautiful, perfect mother sighs whenever she looks in a mirror, or constantly talks about how much she hates her thighs or her double chin, her child is soaking up this information as eagerly as he does her explanation of why the sky is blue. Small kids learn how the world works by watching their parents, and so if Mom is constantly broadcasting “my boobs are too small and my ass is too big,” what do her kids learn? They learn that they were mistaken, as they so often are, and Mom isn't beautiful – she's ugly.

Then they begin to mature.

The boys shy away from cheerful, generous curvy girls and chase after girls who agonize over their weight to the point of anorexia, because that's the definition they've learned for “beauty.”

The girls, who've heard the meant-as-a-compliment “you look just like your Mama!” all their lives, look in the mirror and see you – your eyes, your chin(s), your body shape – looking back at them. Well, you've taught them that that's what Ugly looks like. YOU know she's the most beautiful thing to ever grace a high school dance floor, but the lesson she's learned is that Pretty has bigger boobs and a smaller ass. If you think you're ugly, and she looks like you, what else could she think?

If you haven't resolved your body issues by the time your children are born, then fake it until they move out. Don't ever let them hear you criticize your appearance – or your voice, or your intelligence, or whatever it is you criticize. Children, especially same-sex children, identify with their parents. They learn how to BE from watching you. Concentrate instead on your glossy hair or your long eyelashes. Let them hear that you're grateful for your great sense of balance or your strong arms. Talk about what a pretty color your eyes are (“just like yours!”) and how much you like to dance. Don't even think about your chin(s) or your boobs or your ass until you're 65 and the kids have moved out of the house. Then you can agonize about them all you like, if you still want to.

Live your life so that your daughter knows that a woman like you - which is what she is - is beautiful.

Live your life so that your son knows that women like you – the first woman he ever loved – are beautiful.

If you can't be beautiful for yourself, do it for them. You have to start someplace.

Joy and Sassy – you are both so beautiful, inside and out, that it hurts my heart.

I guess that means I must be, too.

* * *

Elizabeth Marie's blog is called “An Incomplete Guide to an Ordinary Life.” In addition to being beautiful, she's a genius. Go give her a read - tell her Millie sent you!