Today, I've been trying to remember the most important things from my childhood. Childhood was different 30 years ago. There was no email and our mothers and fathers weren't on the computer every time we wanted them to read us a book or take us to the playground.
That's not to say that we were without technology...as I was musing on my childhood, I came inside to Fisk University's smooth jazz station on my radio and a piano tune that instantly reminded me of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. That show and Sesame Street factor largely in my early childhood, and perhaps they taught me to be kind and neighborly and to count and read (as the latter appears to be doing for my daughter!)
Since H-Bear got sick last fall, we've had to give up a lot of the little "extras" I could provide and so enjoyed with my elder child. No more playdates most every day, no frequent trips to the zoo, and lately, no super-snuggly cuddling with books (this makes her stop breathing for some reason -- oh my!)
H-Bear's illness has caused me to question the meaning of life in really significant ways, but today, I'm thinking of the basic bits of childhood I don't want her to miss, because to lose these would really affect her "quality of life" (a term that's thrown around sometimes when you have a kid dependent on a ventilator). Thus, I'm trying to recollect what I remember most about childhood in its sweet rosy, innocent goodness.
A Happy Home...our home was always a place you wanted to come home to. It was never fancy, but we had what we needed -- good food, a cozy place to sleep. My parents let us decorate and organize our rooms however we liked, and it taught me early how to be a homemaker, I guess, but it also guaranteed me a safe place to return to no matter what happened in the outside world. I had a place of my own, filled with my things, to process my life and learn who I was. I miss those introspective days!
Going to Church...I was sort of surprised that this was so vivid in my memory, but I guess there was so much loveliness about it, despite any flaws I might not have noticed or remembered. I hear kids thrive on routine, and going to church every Sunday was something we could depend upon. The adults who freely gave of their time to teach our Sunday School and Children's Church taught us about the value of service-living within a community. The church itself was grand with gorgeous stained glass windows, maroon velvet pew cushions, and a gigantic pipe organ behind the choir loft. I think it's important that the grandest place I experienced as a child in an average small town was the place where we worshiped God.
My Brother...I am four years older than my brother, so I really don't remember life without him. He was a very active and creative little boy, which meant that he could be a pest sometimes, but he was a constant companion, and he loved my company. On family vacations and during the years when we lived out in the country, I had a built-in playmate, and I enjoyed his He-Man and G.I. Joe toys, though I was never much interested in his sports. As we grew older, he remained a comfortable presence in my life, and when I moved to New York, I loved to have him visit. I can still be myself, and I always learn more about myself, when I am with him. He lives in another state now, and I miss him every day. I hope and strive that my children feel the same way about each other in 30 years.
Being in the Yard...Mind you, I did not say "being outside," because that was always sort of a vague concept to me. The parameters of our outdoor time were pretty fixed, from our small neighborhood, to family and friends' yards, to the municipal park. Specifically, I loved to be in my own yard, where it was equally safe to play in the front or back. The neighboring kids of all ages were always welcome and instant playmates there, but I treasured being alone, to sing and dance around or just stare at the sky. There was a freedom and potential not to be found indoors, and there was a safety and surety of being in our very own yard.
Going to School...Though I laud and sometimes envy my friends who do, I have never wanted to homeschool my kids, and perhaps part of the reason is that school factors so prominently and happily in my memories of childhood. I was a good student, so I had a better experience than many, but there was something wonderful about attending the three schools in my small town district in succession, where I knew all the teachers and most of the students. Bad memories are confined to run-ins with classmates and never to school itself. Times have changed, but M-Cat goes to a great local elementary school, and I've seen him transform brilliantly into his unique, independent self away from home. I worry about testing pressures and limited outdoor time and room for creativity, but so far, I've seen the opposite fruit in his life, and it reminds me dearly of my own beloved school experience, of how many opportunities I had to try new things and accomplish my goals at school.
Perhaps these are simple things. I'm not teaching my children a foreign language as might benefit them. They will not go into Kindergarten knowing how to read. I've tried to grow food in our yard with only limited reward, and our craft projects have mostly turned to Play-doh and Crayola. Lately, I'm not able to participate often with the MOMS Club I started to foster community for myself and my children, and we don't see as much of our extended family as I had hoped when we relocated from New York City.
However, if I remember correctly, my children actually are experiencing most of the things that I relished as a child, and many of the things that shaped me into the person I am today. Sometimes we get so distracted in all the "extras" we want to give our kids (every possible opportunity!) that we forget what we actually remember from our childhoods -- the constancy and comfort, or the lack thereof. I hope my children remember someday that they lived in communities that saw their potential and wanted the best for their lives, that they had a cozy home and yard to play and grow in, and most of all, that they were part of a family they could depend upon. These memories are not specific for me, but are infused into the very fabric of my being and inform the parts of myself that I like to remember.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
In recent years, the at-home Mommy uniform has shifted to yoga or running pants, following years of derision garnered by the classic sweatpants. When we head to Trader Joe’s or the neighborhood coffee shop, we might bring out the dress uniform – our boot-cut jeans and our “cool” t-shirts (featuring hip bands, eco-friendly messages, or local, uber-cool businesses). However, for a real day in the trenches, nothing but stretchy spandex in a flattering black or gray will do.
I claim this uniform 100%, but it caught my attention last week when I spied a close friend walking down the street with both sons in hand. Recently, since they started attending preschool three days a week, she’s been transformed, with shining long tresses and lovely, romantic skirts. However, last week was spring break; both kids were home from school. She came down the street in a t-shirt and yoga pants, with hair up in a banana clip. Back to the uniform.
Perhaps you remember weekends before children (you may still enjoy them), when you’d worked so hard and played so hard that you couldn’t wait to hang out in your pajamas or sweats all day, reading the paper or watching old movies on t.v., satisfied that you had spent the week and most of your energy doing REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS that kept you VERY BUSY. Certainly, you’d never don your Ann Taylor pencil skirt or pinstriped button-up on that weekend. Well, the parent-at-home feels even more tired every day, ceaselessly doing perhaps the most important thing they ever will, most often with no hope of quiet reading or t.v. time in sight!
There are certainly practical reasons for the uniform. Frequent trips to the monkey bars, down the spiral slide, to the painting table, on the floor next to the potty, or on the floor under the dining table; crawling through the grass; bending over the sandbox; and spending half the day cleaning and/or sweating necessitate clothing up to the task. They transition effortlessly from that blessed time at the Y working off baby fat to the hysterical youngsters in childcare provided in lieu of the standard post-workout shower. The stretch, comfort, versatility, and stain-hiding qualities of the black yoga pants can’t be beat. They also don’t scream, “You need to lose a little around the middle,” like your favorite jeans might…they just keep on GIVING.
There are also psychological reasons why yoga pants are acceptable in the modern at-home parent’s mind. Most of us are having kids later, after we’ve done other, diverse things in life. We’ve worked in corporate offices; spent years in concert halls, clubs, and bars finding mates; and traveled, camped, and explored. We’ve dressed up for church, weddings, funerals, and countless job interviews. We recognize that different clothes fit different occasions. We have dress clothes in our closet—clothes that would be destroyed in one day on this job. Because we have directed our lives away from our own self-gain for a season, we’ll trot out the dress clothes when appropriate, but most of the time, we reach for the workhorses in our parenting wardrobe.
I have beautiful mother who worked as a teacher most of her life, so she was around a lot when we were out of school. I distinctly remember some of her favorite dress up outfits, because they connoted special occasions and special fun; likewise, I remember her wearing lots of red (indicative of her jubilant personality, I think, in contrast to my favorites, blue and brown). But, mainly in my memories, my mother’s beauty radiates from the smile on her face, from how often she laughed and enjoyed being with us (and still does), from her golden hair and her long painter’s fingers, and from her kind light eyes. Her clothes never mattered much to us. If I recall them correctly, her swimsuits and cotton jersey shorts in the summer perfectly fit the bill.
Similarly, I hope my kids remember that I heeded many of their calls for impromptu trips to the playground; pounced and tickled them spontaneously; played in the living room floor with them, where their puzzles and trains and books were always welcome; initiated and helped with many different craft projects; worked hard to keep their home clean and welcoming (especially for my dust-mite allergic H-Bear); and tried in our yard to grow them beautiful flowers and their favorite vegetables (their beloved tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce!) In the production of these memories, the ones I pour every ounce of myself into every day, my uniform has served me quite well.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Sorry, blog...this is how our relationship is going to be. You are going to come last A LOT. After the husband with second-degree burns on his foot who can't go to work. After the extra kid at home for spring break. After the first kid with no Mother's Day Out either. After all the Easter preparations. After the special spring break trips and treats. Because, I am the Go-To Girl around here, and you must wait your turn when memories need be made.