Big Birthday #21: You Asked for It (Notes for a New Mom)

JOSH AND CINDY IN MUIR WOODS 50pNOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 29, 2007.

That’s me with my older son, Josh, in Muir Woods outside San Francisco  — pretty many years ago.  I don’t know if you can tell but I’m pregnant with his brother.  Happy to join the virtual shower although despite my adoration of and respect for both Liz and Catherine, I’m from the generation that put their babies to sleep on their stomachs and so may sound a little old-fashioned*.

1. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right no matter whose advice it is.

2. Trust yourself.

3. Remember that everybody makes mistakes and anyway a child is not a product, she is a person. You’ve heard that kids are resilient. They are. Do your best with love and if you don’t dwell on your mistakes neither will they.

4. You can’t turn a child into someone. You can only help them become the best somebody they already are.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no. Parents who don’t set limits and help their kids learn self-discipline are selfish. It’s easier but it’s not right.

6. No experience is wasted on a child. Maybe they’re too young to remember, but if it happened, it had an impact. So share as much of what you love as you can – music, museums, trips to Timbuktu or Target — poetry, cooking, washing the car.

7. No child ever went to college in diapers.

8. Listen to experienced people you respect, preschool teachers, friends, even, God forbid, your mother.  Experience really is a great teacher.  Then, though, think it through and then do what you think is right.

9. Everything is not equally important. Pick your fights and win them. 10. Leave time to just be. Lessons are great but quiet time is where imagination and a sense of self emerges.

10. LISTEN to your kids. They are smart and interesting and wise and if you respect them you have a far better chance of having them respect you.

11. Did I say trust yourself?

With love, admiration and the joy that comes from knowing all you wonderful, poetic and caring, committed and in one case, very new mothers on the occasion of this lovely virtual baby shower.

*This post was part of a “baby shower” if pieces by friends of this about-to-be new BlogHer mom.

Big Birthday Memory #18: Want a Feminist Son? Tips From a Veteran

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. This one appeared on BlogHer on January 19, 2011

Running Boys

“So Dan,” says I, “What would you think if the woman you wanted to marry decided to keep her name?”

“Well mom,” says he, “I don’t think I’d want to marry a woman who didn’t want to keep her name.”

He was around ten then (he’s 30 now), in the car with us, listening to his dad tease me, as he has for years, that he “wouldn’t have let me” have his name if I did want it.  Not a serious discussion of male oppression exactly, but humor teaches lessons too.

Someone asked me how we raised feminist sons.  I don’t have a checklist.  And if I were to respond seriously, I’d start with something really corny: teach them to respect people – all people.  The elevator man.  The bus driver.  Their best friend’s mom.  The guy at the candy counter.  Their friends.  Their parents’ friends. Their baby sitter.  They were Manhattan kids, but they were raised to think of the feelings of every person they met.  Of course, that meant all women, too.  That was an advantage.

Oh, and we respected the two of them right back.

In the families they knew, most of the moms worked as hard as the dads.  Since moms at home were an exception, they were used to two-income families.  The daughters of these moms, the girls they went to school with, wouldn’t put up with much nonsense, either.  That also helped.

We preferred offering choices over fiats.  Most boys go through a Playboy phase.  Call it curiosity.  When the magazines began to stack up behind the old-fashioned radiator in our bathroom, we didn’t seize them.  We talked about what it must have been like for the women in the pictures and how their parents might feel.  I may have said (of course I said) that it offended me, but if they wanted to keep buying Playboy, they’d have to pay for it from their allowance and keep them all put away.   Eventually the fever broke and the magazines disappeared.

Boys Hug

I also changed the endings of a lot of stories I read to them when they were really little.   No princess was given by her father to the guy who solved the riddle or won the quest in our versions. (I also had to change stories like Mr. Poppers Penguins because of terrible racial stereotypes, by the way)  We read Harriet the Spy and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great as well as Encyclopedia Brown and Superfudge.

Also, back then when it was new, we listened to Free to Be, You and Me  until the tape wore out.  When we did come across unpleasant images of women on TV or at a movie, we talked about them.Those movie moments were also “teachable moments.”  As any parent knows, those scenes can enable a dialogue that might otherwise be impossible, whether it’s about smoking and drugs, bullies, sex, or the partnership between women and men. They’re always popping up; not just in entertainment but also on the street, with family and friends, and in easy conversations.  We made the most of those, too.

I’ve sort of written things down here as I thought of them and now as I reread this, I realize how much I’ve focused on image and media.  I guess that’s because those sorts of opportunities were overt and therefore highly productive tools.

The modeling that went on at home was also critical of course.  We were nowhere near as exemplary as couples are now in their parenting and household equity.  It was the 70’s and 80s.  Even so, we were very aware of the issues we needed to pass on and both worked to do it. (For a more contemporary look , try The Feminist Breeder, who, in a consciously egalitarian marriage, describes her own thoughts on raising feminist boys.  or Penguin Unearthed as she offers her own perspective.)

Our boys, from when they were little, learned to cook, iron (that was our babysitter, not us), do their laundry and clean the kitchen.  They made their beds (mostly) and helped out at our parties.   Each has always had close friends who were girls, and later, women.  They still do.

Boys on Boat

As I conclude though,  I return too to the concept of respect.  If you are steeped in a respect for all people – not as a political habit but a deep, personal value, it’s a lot tougher to use your maleness to seize control of a household, a family or a workplace.

Finally, beyond all the values and logistical and modeling issues lies a fundamental fact.  A child who is well-loved and respected is far more likely to accept the values we choose to pass on, and that underlies everything else.

 

Big Birthday Memory #2: Home and Heartache

Home in DC
Home in DC

NOTE:  As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May.  Today – from December 4, 2006.

Yeah, we’re home – and as usual it’s like walking into an electric fan. We landed, unpacked, did laundry, slept (until 3AM) then Rick went back to the airport for a fund-raising trip to California. I’m working on several major projects and wanting to organize for when the boys come home for the holidays. Grocery lists and activity planning in addition to many hours of business obligations.

Lots on my mind. Today a friend told me about the last conversation she had with her father and I was ambushed by a deluge of memories. It’s tough to come to terms with the loss of a parent. Both of mine have been gone for years and there isn’t a day I don’t think of them — and, often, wish I could ask them something – or tell them something — or just feel their love again. I haven’t felt this way in a long time and it surprised me. I just wasn’t expecting the intensity.

I once sent my dad the lyrics to a Judy Collins song about her father. It’s a wonderful evocation of the love between fathers and daughters and the bitter-sweet realization that one’s life will exceed that of a beloved parent. It’s what they’d wish for us but it’s complicated. Anyway there wasn’t a moment of my life when I doubted the love for and faith in me felt by both my parents.

There were also circumstances in my life that led me, in my memory at least, to be less attentive than I wanted to be. I think it will haunt me forever- times when finances or my own parental responsibilities kept me from visits; times when I let my dad tell me not to come because he didn’t want us to “see him like this.” — all those things we all wish we’d done differently. I am beginning to think that this is a real issue for me and one I’ve got to get some clarity about.

This is the second time in the space of the 90 days or so I’ve had this blog that my dad has come up and he’s been gone since 1991. Somehow though I’m more at peace with the loss of him. I can summon memories that make me smile and I know that he had a profound and lovely effect on my sons, which adds to my own fond remembrances of him.

My mother, who died in 1998, haunts me though. I know things in her life frustrated her – and that she would have liked to do more in the world outside the house. My husband told both her and me that I was guilty that my arrival had pulled her out of a promising career but she insisted that that was HER choice and I should get over it. That she loved raising the three of us. I don’t doubt that she loved raising her daughters but I also think she needed more than she was able to get in life as a suburban mom. I don’t know – all I know is that I feel a need to be particularly helpful to elderly women on the street, or the bus, or the synagogue steps. As if I can do for her by doing for them. Agh. I don’t know. I’m going to bed to see if I can beat the last of the jet lag. This is too sad.

Being a Grandmother, a Mother, a Daughter, and Sad

 

These two are both dads now.
These two are both dads now.

Once a year I pay special honor to my parents.  In a  service on Yom Kippur called Yizkor, I say a prayer to their memory and pledge to do something to remember them:  to donate charity for their sake.

This year, even more than usual, I wept as I prayed, and afterward. I have three grandsons now, one of whom shares my father’s name, and my parents don’t know it.  They aren’t here to enjoy these lovely boys, or to help me handle the issues that emerge when one’s children have children.

Our boys and their wives are stunning parents (and wonderful to us) and our grandsons are, of course, perfect; that’s not the issue.  It is, rather, that I know now some of what they must have felt and I would be so grateful if I could tell them what I have learned about their own grace as grandparents, and ask them for advice on the moments that grab the heart, or maybe even, as in every family, for a moment, break it.

WHO EVER THOUGHT RAISING SONS WOULD BE SO GREAT!

Running_kids

NOTE: This is another 2008 virtual baby shower post – to Julie Westerbeck Marsh when her first son appeared.

OK so I grew up with sisters.  And I went to a women’s college.  And most of my life I’ve worked in offices with more women than men (amazing, no?)  So, when I was pregnant I was terrified at the idea of having boys.  They were so strange — so noisy — I just had no idea what was coming.  Except that what was coming was Josh. And then Dan.  And it turned out that — hang on sisters — boys are a blast, great company, luuuhhhv their moms and — boys are easier!  I know this because I’ve watched my friends raising daughters and the tensions are fierce.  Girls and their mothers — boys and their dads.  Not easy.

But let’s get back to basics.  Little boys run around a lot and make noise.  They jump off things.  They ride the dog around and fall off and hit their heads and need stitches.  They, later, seem to be trying to kill each other much of the time.  And before I go any further – let me tell you that there’s an old shrink saying that therapists never believe that babies are born with personalities until they have their second child.  This is also true with many women regarding gender differences – it hits you once they show up.  My kids are feminists and very good to the women in their lives as far as I can tell – but they are men and they were boys and that is not like being a girl.  Nope.

I have great memories from when they were little – stomping around singing Free to Be and Da Doo Ron Ron Ron and The Garden Song and Abiyoyo, skiing down black diamond slopes and going to Yankee Stadium to see Billy Joel and Carnegie Hall to see Pete Seeger and Madison Square Garden to see Sesame Street on Ice and being dragged to an infinite number of Police Academy and other disgusting movies.

And I lived in alien space much of the time.  Some of our hit toys (ie things I would NEVER have had in my house if there were not these strange male creatures inhabiting the premises — and pre-video game age of course):
One of those Radio Shack electronics build-your-own thingy kits that make bells ring and bulbs light up if you hook them up correctly.
Legos
Anything aviationary
Anything Star Wars
Anything GI Joe
Voltron
Weird wrestling stuff (boy did I fight that one!)
Folk music (that’s my fault though)
Baseball cards  (and proudly, I did NOT throw them out)
Stuffed animals
Ernie

No  Mary Poppins books (I tried) but I did get to read all The Great Brain and Ralph S Mouse and Timothy Goes to School and a gazillion baseball player bios.

There’s serious stuff to having sons, of course.  We have to be sure, no matter how much we love hanging around with them, that they get enough alone time with their dads or some other male figure.  And wave bravely as they off together on a Sunday (also your day off after all) without you.  We have to accept and celebrate the guy stuff.

Just like girls, but differently, we have to let them know we think they can take care of themselves – enable independence at each landmark, if we think they can handle it, even when we really want to help.  It’s so easy, with a boy, to want to remain more connected than is useful for them as they grow.  At certain points they may pull back for a while, when they need to untangle.  We have to let them and respect the struggle

With regard to respect for women – I am deeply impressed with my sons’ perspectives.  I hope that being honest and respecting their developing attitudes, helped.  I never threw a Playboy out of our house but I made it very clear how I felt about them in the (brief) period they were around.  Anything like that, of which I (or my husband) disapproved, had to come out of their allowance.  They had to put their money on the line – and I think that helped more than locking it all out of the house and pretending they weren’t interested.  It also helped us understand where their heads were.  Although that is easier for boys because they are, honestly, more straightforward.

Of course none of what I write here applies to all boys.  Much of it may apply to plenty of girls.  But it was my experience and in a kind of stream of consciousness baby shower kind of way it’s what rose to the top.   The bottom line though, is that even though it’s scary if you’ve lived in a world of women, as I had, they are just wonderful.  Most of all, because I know Julie, from reading your blog for so long, you  would be a great mother to any child with whom you were blessed, this kid is in for a great life.   And where advice is concerned, I say take it only as far as your gifted mother gut takes you.  Where the two collide, trust yourself.  Girl, boy or android, that way your little one will always be in the right hands.

On the Arrival of a First Child

x Dan hospital picSix years ago I wrote this piece to honor the pending birth of a friend’s child.  It’s about the first days after the birth of a first child. Right now, each of my sons is expecting a child, so one more time, here’s the memory – with gratitude and love.

What an emotional shock it has been to write this.  I need to start with that; the feelings, years later, are still there. Since this baby shower is for one of my favorite bloggers, and friends, I’m grateful to be part of it.  Our task is to share those lovely early moments with our brand new children.  That’s why I’ve added this, which may be the most perfect photo I own, because it says just what we all know.

The connection of a mother and newborn is so complete that it’s almost
impossible – even with writers as remarkable as this community — to describe.
At least I can’t find words that say what I know this photo says.

This is actually my second son, very soon after he arrived.

He’s almost 33 now and more extraordinary than even I, proud mama, could have imagined
that cold November day in Roosevelt hospital in 1979.  He and his brother
both started off with beautiful souls though.  They are beautiful still.

When I think of those early days, it isn’t all the getting up at night (although it could be) and it isn’t that I had so much trouble nursing that I needed to supplement (although it could be) and it isn’t the absolutely perfect terror that I might do them harm that accompanied the first days of their lives (although it certainly, indubitably could be.)

Nope.  Here’s what I remember, and what I wish for the two of you and all you other moms and moms-in-waiting:  it’s a cold winter night, maybe after about a week as the new parent of son number 1.  It’s dark, but out the window you can see the boats going up and down the Hudson River (even though our windows leak so there’s ice on our windows, on the inside.)

You hear a cry and struggle out of bed, grab a robe, go retrieve this new little person from his crib, change him and move with him to the bentwood rocking chair (of course there’s a rocking chair) facing the window. And you hold him in your arms and you feed him.

The dark envelops you,  the dim skyline across the river in New Jersey is the only light you have, except for the tiny pinpoints of light on the tug boats and barges as they make their way.  And it’s silent.  Not a sound.  And, with this new life in your arms, you rock gently back and forth.  The gift of peace of those nights in the rocker was so intense that as I write this, I can feel it. If I let myself, I could cry.

I remember watching my mother with each infant – can still see her face as she responded to them,  thinking to myself then “Oh. This must be the way she was with me.  How beautiful.  How beautiful.”

And I remember this.  My parents came to us very soon after our first son was born, helped put the crib together, celebrated with us. Late one night, as I stood with our baby in my arms, my dad walked into the room. Looking at the two of us, in perfect peace, he said to me  “NOW do you understand?”  Of course I did.

On the Arrival of a First Child: Thirty-five Years Ago

Dan and Cindy

Two years ago I wrote this piece to honor the pending birth of a friend’s child.  It’s about the first days after the birth of a first child. Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of that birth – so, one more time, here’s the memory – with gratitude and love.

What an emotional shock it has been to write this.  I need to start with that; the feelings, years later, are still there.

What an emotional shock it has been to write this.  I need to start with that; the feelings, years later, are still there. Since this baby shower is for one of my favorite bloggers, and
friends, I’m grateful to be part of it.  Our task is to share those lovely early
moments with our brand new children.  That’s why I’ve added this – which
may be the most perfect photo I own because it says just what we all know.
The connection of a mother and newborn is so complete that it’s almost
impossible – even with writers as remarkable as this community — to describe.
At least I can’t find words that say what I know this photo says.

This is actually my second son, very soon after he arrived.
He’s 28 now and more extraordinary than even I, proud mama, could have imagined
that cold November day in Roosevelt hospital in 1979.  He and his brother
both started off with beautiful souls though.  They are beautiful still.

When I think of those early days, it isn’t all the getting up at
night (although it could be) and it isn’t that I had so much trouble nursing
that I needed to supplement (although it could be) and it isn’t the absolutely
perfect terror that I might do them harm that accompanied the first days of
their lives (although it certainly, indubitably could be.)

Nope.  Here’s what I remember, and what I wish for the two
of you and all you other moms and moms-in-waiting:  it’s a cold winter
night, maybe after about a week as the new parent of son number 1.  It’s
dark, but out the window you can see the boats going up and down the Hudson
River (even though our windows leak so there’s ice on our windows, on the
inside.)  You hear a cry and struggle out of bed, grab a robe, go retrieve
this new little person from his crib, change him and move with him to the
bentwood rocking chair (of course there’s a rocking chair) facing the window.
And you hold him in your arms and you feed him.  The dark envelops you,
the dim skyline across the river in New Jersey is the only light you have,
except for the tiny pinpoints of light on the tug boats and barges as they make
their way.  And it’s silent.  Not a sound.  And, with this new
life in your arms, you rock gently back and forth.  The gift of peace of
those nights in the rocker was so intense that as I write this, I can feel it.
If I let myself, I could cry.

I remember watching my mother with each infant – can still see
her face as she responded to them,  thinking to myself then “Oh.
This must be the way she was with me.  How beautiful.  How
beautiful.”

And I remember this.  My parents came to us very soon after
our first son was born, helped put the crib together, celebrated with us.
Late one night, as I stood with our baby in my arms, my dad walked into the
room. Looking at the two of us, in perfect peace, he said to me  “NOW
do you understand?”  Of course I did.

Sisters and Aunts and Daughters and Nieces and Holidays

Rockwell Thanksgiving Thanksgiving always makes me think of the people who are missing.
 By now that's almost an entire generation: my parents, aunts, uncles
and grandparents.  We all came together at our house.  As the oldest
cousin, I got to help in the kitchen and set the table. Sounds lame but
it felt very grownup.  Not that that lasted for long.  Over the years
we went from three to six to nine cousins, producing plays to perform
after dinner, playing Sardines and Murder, telling secrets and wreaking
civilized havoc.

My favorite memory, though, was time with the sisters: my mom and my aunts.
 One lived nearby but the other came with her family from Cleveland so
when they were all together they wanted to talk.  They'd sit in my
parents' room for ages; they let me hang around too.  In a way, all of
us gathered on the bed those afternoons, and later in the kitchen after
dinner, washing dishes, is women passing along stories and traditions, preserving the wisdom of
the tribe.

I had no idea then of the value of those times.  It
wasn't just being treated like "one of the girls," it was the sisterly
warmth, the laughter and sudden emotion, eye welling up, when one aunt
spoke of living so far from "home."    Now, probably 50 years later, I
can see her leaning against the wall, her sisters looking toward her
with understanding sympathy.  I can hear them talking about their
parents, my grandparents, one difficult, both disappointed with their
lives.  For a little while, the burden of worry lifted a bit as they
shared it.

They were part of what is literally another world;
hats and gloves, scars from the Depression, government service during
World War II, an abiding sense of appropriateness.   Like Betty Draper,
they left careers to stay "home with the kids."  Their lives were so
different from ours, constrained and regulated — lives that many
daughters went to work to insure against.  

What we forget is
that, even then, there was sisterhood.  Maybe it wasn't as powerful and
certainly it wasn't as organized, but for me it still modeled a
solidarity, loyalty and love of the company of women that I still
cherish.  And it's so exciting to see us all now, taking that example
along with the many farther afield, to enhance our larger community –
still a family of sisters – from one end of the Internet to – well – to
the whole wide world.

Cross-posted at BlogHer