The PhD: (opening the fridge) Aw! What the-- Who left this in here?!
(Because trolling my teens is my new favorite pastime.)
The PhD: (opening the fridge) Aw! What the-- Who left this in here?!
(Because trolling my teens is my new favorite pastime.)
On Saturday I woke very early, stumbled into the kitchen and put the coffee on. But instead of getting back under the covers with my favoite mug and the morning paper (as is my habit), I washed my face, slipped on some sweats, and chauffeured Thirteen to the other side of town so that she could gather with her classmates and sisterfriends to prepare to march.
I grumbled all the way up the freeway.
Don't get me wrong. I was way proud of her, but it was just so darn early.
Today, this popped up and I'm reminded that this is simply what we do. My mom never dropped me off at a protest march, mind you-- but the typing and the field trips and the cakes and crisp sheets? That was all her.
The new year is up and running. Time for the new school semester, time to take down the hem on my little guy's pants (growing like a weed), time to say goodbye to candy canes and those little hot dogs from Trader Joe's that we only eat during the holidays, and to my recent discovery and dismay, time to clean the top of the refrigerator.
Let me be honest, though. For me, it is not time for New Year's resolutions.
I don't do New Year's resolutions. I can fall short day to day without an albeit well-intentioned promise to myself hanging over my head. I accept at 12:01 am each January 1 that it's just not gonna happen. So, just eat the Peanut M&Ms right now.
Make no mistake, though. This doesn't mean that I don't have goals for myself and for my family. Especially now that I share my home with two-- count 'em-- two teenagers (The PhD was freshly minted a week ago), the new year is a good time to consider creating a Family Mission Statement.
BusinessDirectory.com defines a mission statement as a written declaration of an organization's core purpose and focus that normally remains unchanged over time. In short, an organization's mission statement reflects its values. Likewise, a family's mission statement will reflect the family's values.
In the past, I have been part of teams tasked with creating a mission statement for schools. I have also been prompted in various professional workshops to create a personal mission statement for myself. No doubt, the principles of creating a mission statement in those settings can easily translate into creating a mission statement for a family.
If your family would like to give it a try, but you don't know how to start, here are a few suggestions.
First, turn off your gadgets, pop some popcorn, make some hot cocoa, get everyone together, and start talking.
Begin by translating the business-speak into family-speak.
An organization = the family.
Core purpose = the central reason for which something exists. In other words, identify what motivates you as a family.
Focus = the center of interest or activity, or your family's priorities.
Next, here are a few questions to guide your discussion and to help identify your core purpose and focus. Add any other questions that you believe get to the best of who you are.
What do you like best about our family?
What do we like best about our home?
What do we like best about each other?
What are our shared priorities as a family? (You can usually identify your priorities by pinpointing how you spend your time and money.)
What would we like to change or improve?
What are our shared aspirations as a family?
By now, you're beginning to articulate what your family's core values are. You've known it all along, but now you're really zeroing in on what makes your family unique.
Ideally, you should be able to articulate your mission in one well-crafted sentence. It doesn't have to be too formal; no words like whereas or henceforth unless that's how you usually talk. In other words, use the everyday language of your family. Make it as serious, or as sentimental, or as whimsical as you like. Write it in verse, or create a work of art that incorporates key terms (what words kept popping up in your discussion?) that symbolize your family's mission. The bottom line: how you present your mission statement should authentically reflect who you are as a family.
If your having trouble beginning, give these sentence starters a try:
Our family's mission is to...
In our home, we...
In our family, we...
Our family is...
This is a living document. Don't write it up then, shove it into the desk drawer. Instead, keep the collaboration going by making a visual presentation. Get creative with a framed poster, a creative bulletin board or a vision board; incorporate your favorite family photos; paint it on the wall inside your front door so that it's the first thing everyone sees. Even a prominent place on the fridge with decorative magnets will do.
MMWW would love to see what you've created together. Share your Family Mission Statements in the comments section below.
Several years ago, I was in my early 40s, newly divorced, laid off from my teaching job, and feeling aimless. Some of you might be able to relate. I looked for the silver lining, viewed that time as a hiatus, a chance to slow down, to enjoy my kids, and to travel. (We visited family in Mississippi and Sacramento. That's travel, right?) Then, when I got back to the real world, it was time to get focused.
I attended a career workshop designed for adrift attorneys. I'm an attorney-- adrift ever since I passed the bar. Anyway, one of the assignments was to draft a mission statement for my life and work. Mine was very eloquent; I labored over each word. I wanted to find just the right ones. And, our instructor said it should be just one sentence. But, she screwed up-- she didn't give us a word limit. So in 100 some odd words, here is what I came up with.
My Mission in life is to find a deeper spiritual understanding of my true purpose, to find balance in work and family, to send my children into--
Oh, heck! Blah, blah, blah. Something about empowerment, fellowship, happiness. Blah, blah. One hundred-ish words.
Fast forward about eight years. As another birthday rolls around, I am (obviously and gratefully) older, still divorced, and somewhat employed. I've experienced loss and joy, and more loss and more joy. I'm mostly okay with the silver in my hair and all of those other things that come with being crazy close to 50. My kids are good. I'm good. It's all good.
Today, my mission statement has been refined to its essence. It is:
If it doesn't feed my soul or my children... I ain't doin' it.
I'm just sayin'.
The PhD: Was the Burgermeister Meisterburger real?
Me: No, sweetie.
The PhD: Damn.
"Mo-om! Ixnay on the antasay," Thirteen said between clenched teeth.
I looked at The PhD who was looking up at me with what I thought was dread.
I repeated, "What would you like to see under the tree if you can't get an Xbox One?"
"Why?" he said, "Santa will bring it."
Thirteen spoke with her eyes. They said, "Are you really going to tell him there's no Santa Claus right now?"
"I thought he knew," I answered out loud. "Don't you know Santa is me?"
He shook his head. He was so disappointed in me. "I knew it. You've been lying to me the whole time."
I shrugged. "Oops! In any event, text me what you want for Christmas."
As I headed off to bed, I threw over my shoulder, "The Easter Bunny isn't real, either."
"Oh, I knew that," he said, keyboarding away at his video game. As if to say, I'm not that clueless.
* * *
I really thought he knew, ya'll.
From the disparate origin stories of the classic television special "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," to "The Santa Clause," and from "Arthur Christmas" to "The Polar Express," then throw in the improbability (even in a 12 year old's mind) of an old guy making it around the world in one night delivering gifts from a sleigh... well, I thought he knew.
He's a smart kid. His favorite classes are math and science. He likes order and logic, and things that can be neatly explained. While he gets really into his anime cartoons and Minecraft, he's not much for nonsense. He likes nuts and bolts, and really dislikes surprises and excess. He prefers the straight skinny.
Hence, I suppose, his utter disappointment in me. I know all of this about him and still didn't tell him the truth from the very beginning.
So, Christmas will be interesting this year. What of our traditional popcorn, hot chocolate, and screening of The Polar Express? To be honest, the wonder and awe of the climactic scene when The Big Guy rises up in the air and takes off in his sleigh, leaving twinkles and stardust in his wake, has ebbed over the years. The movie ends and it seems I'm the only one wishing they'll always hear the bell. What of the morning oohs and aahs and the annual proclamation of this being the best Christmas ever?
I'm old enough to know how this growing up thing happens while the tendency of youth is to not miss anything until it's long gone. And, already long gone are the days when they used to fuss over who got to sit next to me on movie night. I spent many hours not in the most comfortable spot in order to accommodate them both. One on each side. I eventually figured that if I spread out a blanket and pillows on the floor, I could also place one of their tiny tables within arm's length. There, I could put my wine glass. That way, I could weather Sleeping Beauty or Cars for the umpteenth time.
Now, they tend to chit-chat, tease, and laugh during the movie. They bring their little teenage we-were-laughing-about-this-into-the-night-when-we-were-supposed-to-be-asleep inside jokes to movie night and I'm the third wheel. I often don't get the jokes, but that's okay because I get to hear them laugh and to see them enjoy each other's company. If you're lucky, your siblings are your first friends.
I'm keenly aware that we won't have many more Christmases like this. Just the three of us. I love our little family-- just the three of us. Soon, they will be out doing their thing, as is right and just. I will be on my own, too-- in a little condo within walking distance of the beach (my dream scenario)-- but otherwise, traditionless. Maybe I'll get together with similarly situated parents who have also sent their broods out into the world. We'll sit around talking and drinking wine, all very grown up. Nobody to shoo away from too many cookies, or chocolates, or candy canes. No one trying to use their x-ray vision on the packages under the tree. No one to tell to get out of grown folks' conversations.
* * *
In With The New
Oh, they'll eventually send for me. I'll be invited to share the new traditions they create, but I so hope that they carry with them some of the old. Dozens of Aunt Lou's cookies for the people in our village, Its a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife for me; I'll pass down some of their favorite ornaments; friends and family over for an early Christmas Eve supper. (We usually have to drop subtle hints-- like holding their coats by the door-- to get them on their way in time for us to get on our pjs, pop the popcorn, make the cocoa, and warm up the DVD player. We don't mind, though, because that means we gave a good party.) I'm sure I'll be okay with whatever they have going on. Hopefully, there will be a few grandchildren in the mix. Right? No rush, though.
In the meantime, Santa, er, that would be me-- Santa's got to get a move on. What in the world would a boy want in place of an Xbox One? This is an odd age when toys are slowly going by the wayside, but childhood lingers just a little longer. (I remember being there; I was twelve the last time I asked for a doll. And, when I was grown and came home for Christmas, there was always something under the tree for me from Santa Claus.) Thirteen is easy; she emails, texts, and talks too much for me to miss what she would like to find under the tree. Her toys are shoes and lip gloss, maybe a gift card to Forever 21. My son, though, as much as I can peg him, is still a bit of a mystery to me.
I'll figure it out and do my best to make another best Christmas ever which, surprisingly, I've managed to do up until now without having to increase my effort. I won't change a thing: movie, hot cocoa, goodnight you two, sneak out into the living room after they've fallen asleep, and creatively arrange the presents under the tree. The tags will say, "From Santa."
Yes. The jig is up and Santa is a wrap, but Mom still has a little magic left.
More than half of the country voted for the mom.
On those rare occasions when conditions are just right-- the stars align, a supermoon appears, or I have both time and money at my disposal-- I sneak off to Kool Nails Spa & Hair. The little shop is tucked away in a corner of the mall next to JC Penney. I go there even though it's a bit out of the way and a bit of a misnomer (nobody there does hair) because, inevitably, I'll also want to do a loop through Target which anchors the other end of the mall. Three birds with one stone-- a bit of pampering, 1,000 steps added to my pedometer, and the happy surprise of finding a red tag on the vintage-looking coffee mug with my initial on it that I'd been admiring.
I've been going to that shop for years, but only for a pedicure. I can't tell you the last time I got a manicure.
Oh, wait. Yes I can. It was over fifteen years ago when I used a gift certificate my then husband gave to me for my birthday. I was seven or eight months pregnant and I decided to indulge in my first ever facial, then a manicure and pedicure before the baby arrived. I scheduled my visit about a week before my due date so that I might be both camera and stirrup ready when the big day came. Ahh, youth!
Anyway, Thirteen turned fifteen in July, so it's been over fifteen years. I had since convinced myself that a manicure was a waste of resources because my hands stayed too busy. They are working hands, after all, not well suited to concerns about chipping or breaking, or cuticle management. How many times in a given day are they plunged into hot water? Or pressed into service to treat mystery stains, to eliminate blackheads, or to style a head full of hair into a million twists? Back in the day, how many diapers and wipes and yucky and sticky things which called for the almost excessive washing of hands? Not to mention fastening and unfastening the buckles in car seats, strollers, high chairs, and the like. All of the cooking and cleaning at home plus the typing, filing, red ink, more excessive hand washing (because middle schoolers are walking petri dishes) and manipulating copy machine innards at work. Oh, and pumping my own gas which becomes a source of mild resentment every time I return from a visit with my family in New Jersey.
Yes, these are working hands.
Lately, though, I have found myself admiring the manicured nails of women I see around town as well as on television and in magazines. I like best those manicures where the nails are cut short and round and painted with rich, dark, and deep colors. I started wondering whether or not I can afford the luxury of polished nails.
Then, I got to thinking about my own mom. She was a secretary when we still referred to administrative assistants as secretaries and, after a full day at the office, she came home and put in another full day's work before sending us off to bed. There were a bunch of us, including a baby plus a dog and our home was always clean. The sink was never full of dishes, the laundry was promptly folded and put away, the meals home cooked, and the mama always well groomed. She smelled like coffee and fragranced powder. At least, that's how I remember it.
I also remember that she was always in motion. Except for when she gave herself a manicure. Somehow, she found time when nothing needed doing and it was relatively quiet in the house. She would sit at the kitchen table with an emery board, an orange stick, cotton balls, nail polish, and a cup of coffee. She filed her nails and pushed back her cuticles, and with so much care, brushed on a ladylike color that I was told I couldn't wear until I was grown. Then, she would sit until the polish dried. She'd just sit. Do you hear me? Just. Sit. (Now as I look back on it, I am hoping that I didn't pester her while she was doing that. Just sitting.)
I can do that. I can sit.
But, I've departed from my mother's model. I tend towards colors very far away from the shades of pink, translucent to sheer, that my mom allowed me to wear until I was, indeed, grown. My favorites are Seal Brown, Chocoholic and, my latest acquisition, Dark Hue-mor. It's blue! Isn't that tre edgy of me? On Sunday evenings, whether the dishes are done, or not, but after I've ironed The PhD's pants and oxford shirt (Thirteen does her own ironing), and with more things left undone than done around our little apartment, I trim my nails down low, settle in with Poldark (if you don't know, you better ask somebody), Sally Hansen's Double Duty and my choice of color-- Dark Hue-mor for the foreseeable future-- and, I sit and polish my nails. Do you hear me? I. just. sit.
Every day, I find myself looking down at my nails and smiling. Sometimes, I hold my hands up to the sunlight to admire the true color under the sheen of the top coat. I am unapologetic about how it makes me feel-- brand new, sophisticated, and bold. I still type, wash my hands maybe too much, and fool with the toner at work. I still do all of those rough and tough things at home. My hands are still working hands, but I've come to think of my painted nails as a private rebellion. A little pushback against feeling old and workaday, manic Mondays and the irritation of hearing, "What's for dinner?" as soon as I walk in the door. Instead of grunting a response, I look down at my nails and see ne'er a chip or scratch. Then, you know what? It's all good.
In the kitchen this morning, The PhD at the table. All I see is bowl, spoon, droopy eyes, a drop of milk on the chin. I make a bit of small talk and he looks at me as if I'm from Mars.
Me: Why are you looking at me like that?
The PhD: I'm trying to figure out if this is a dream.
Me: No, you're not dreaming. You're awake. Unless you want to get all existential about it.
The PhD: Huh?
Me: Shakespeare said all the world's a stage and we're just players. We could just be going about playing our parts right now.
The PhD: [Blink. Blink.]
Me: Do you want me to stop talking?
The PhD: [Blink.]
He wipes the milk from his chin.
Last week, there was a story out of Prince George's County, Maryland in which a school bus driver saved all of her young charges from their burning bus. Get this: Even though she thought all of the children were accounted for, she bravely went back onto the bus to check every single seat. No child would be left on that bus. Not on her watch. Then, when interviewed by the press, she said, "I have people calling me a hero, and I say that I'm just a mom." Her name is Renita Smith.
You can see her story here http://www.cbsnews.com/live/video/school-bus-driver-saves-children-from-fire/
Just a mom.
How many mothers have uttered the phrase, "I'm just a mom?" If I had a nickel for every time I've said it, I would bet my last one that even Michelle Obama, the self-proclaimed Mom-in-Chief, two time Ivy League grad, career woman, wife, working mom, First Lady, and all around badass has said it at least once in her life. And we all know that she is more than just a mom.
Let me tell you about another woman who I'd bet my last nickel will one day catch herself saying, "I'm just a mom." We were classmates in college and she's a badass, too. She recently explained to us, her friends on social media, why she hadn't updated us on her fitness training. You see, she's one of the most dynamic women I know. She is a media executive living in New York, jets sets all over the country for her work and, as much as I can gather from her posts, also for pleasure. She has a lovely husband and a beautiful new baby, and she runs marathons. Let me repeat: she has a new baby and she runs marathons. Not just marathons, but also triathalons, iron woman competitions, and such. She keeps us all up to date on her training regimen-- running, biking, swimming-- and had promised to keep us up to date on how she is getting back on track after having the baby. (Which I was especially looking forward to because I work out vicariously through her and I'm starting to get a little soft in the middle.) Anyway, she recently posted an explanation as to why she had not posted any updates (although she had just run a marathon that day.) In short, she said, "I'm tired!"
I welcomed her with open arms to #mommymadness.
I got to thinking, though, that in her no doubt excellent physical condition, she is primed for what I call The Swoop Effect. The Swoop for short.
At some point, every mother is called upon to explain some miraculous feat of strength, foresight, or perseverance and, like the hero bus driving mom, she will say, "I'm just a mom." And we will be moved to shout, "Hallelujah for just moms!"
That, my friends, is what I call The Swoop.
Here's another example: In the spring, both Thirteen and The PhD caught a sick day. They stayed home couch surfing and binge watching Netflix while I went to work. Towards the end of my work day, though, I began to get a series of texts from The PhD. His sister was sick and in pain and he didn't know what to do. He is not prone to drama so, naturally, I was worried. Feel her forehead, I said. Did she feel hot? Kinda. Ask her where it hurts and to rate her pain from one to ten. All over and seven. I said I would be home as soon as possible and started planning the route I'd take to the emergency room.
Swoop! In the door, hand to the forehead, no fever, heating pad and acetaminophen for the aches, chamomile tea with lemon and honey for the sore throat and anxiety, your favorite blanket for comfort.
"How did you that?!" said The PhD. "How did you know what to do?"
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say he was stunned and amazed.
I just looked at him and smiled, knowingly. But the truth is, not so long ago, I never would have believed that I would become adept at The Swoop. And, you should know, once you are adept at the mommy Swoop, you can translate those skills into all sorts of situations.
My sister is five years younger than I, but preceded me into motherhood by about eight years. When I first moved back East, she was already about three years into being a mom, and she and I and her two children shared an apartment. Somewhere along the way, I had to get my wisdom teeth out.
Swoop! I was tucked into bed, given my meds and left to sleep comfortably. Swoop! Back in my room, eat this soup, take some more medicine, wash your face. Okay. Swoop! Jen, do you need anything? I'm going to the store. Don't get up. Swoop! More soup, more meds, and a popsicle for a treat. For years in telling this story, I expressed my admiration for my little sister's compassionate nursing; she took such good care of me. Now, I know that it's just what moms do.
Around that same time, my mother drove from Mississippi to North Carolina, swooping in to be there for me during a biopsy. My sister swooped in, again, years later when I was separating from my husband and I needed a moment to myself; she kept Thirteen, who was still in diapers. My stepmother swooped in all the way from New Jersey to make sure the two babies and I were settled here in Los Angeles. I cried when I dropped her off at the airport-- the same way I cried when, after having swooped in for ten days or so to show me the ropes, my mother left me alone with my newborn baby for the first time. My girlfriends swooped in to make sure I could be at my father's bedside to say goodbye. And, along with aunties and cousins, and even colleagues, my friends-- all moms-- have swooped in at various times to help with child care, a hot meal, a couch for an impromptu nap, and even job referrals.
(By the way, dads are capable of something similar-- it's just not The Swoop! And, according to a story my stepmother once told me about a time my dad had to rescue me, instead of popsicles, the dad's version comes with a lot of cursing.)
I don't believe in coincidences. Here is a memory that showed up on my timeline on the same day that Ms. Renita saved her children from that burning bus. I don't remember what prompted me to write it that day a year ago, but here it is:
When women and girls get into the mix as teachers, nurturers, thinkers, leaders and change-makers-- whether at the house, in our communities, or in the larger conversations about culture and politics-- change happens. The change could be quiet, or in your face. Gentle or startling. Just know, sh#*s about to change!
There are moms that swoop in and make sure every child in her class has a snack, or a pencil, or a book of their very own to take home. There are moms that make sure children not their own have warm hats and mittens in the winter, or are never left alone at the bus stop. There are moms that swoop in to build businesses and plant community gardens. Moms who serve in uniform to keep us all that much safer. There are moms that work during the day, put their kids to bed, then study all night. There are moms that run marathons and heal sick children. Moms that create art and music and poetry and prose that enrich our lives. There are moms that lead movements. Moms that lead nations.
Moms that are simply there to tuck you in at night, under your favorite blanket, after the world has beaten you up a little.
There are moms so adept at the swoop that-- well, go ahead. Call her. She'll make everything alright.
And she'll tell you, "I'm just a mom."