Archive for January, 2008

Helicopter Mom
January 25, 2008

The intellect of man is forced to choose

Perfection of the life, or of the work.

         W. B. Yeats, 1933

This past week, Joel went on a fishing trip to Costa Rica (all expenses paid, yeah!), and I had the luxury of just doing as I pleased, when it suited me, with nobody to answer to but myself! This is good for about two days, but honestly, after that, it does get lonesome around here (despite the four-footed creatures that follow me around all day). 

I did have a fun night out with my “church lady” girlfriends, and I’ve been helping my mother in law daily, as she was unable to drive for a week. I’ve also been catching up on work that I’ve been neglecting, so it’s not like I’ve been holed up feeling sorry for myself, or anything like that.  

So my exciting Saturday night consisted of doing a sneak load of wash (my rule has always been that Monday is wash day, and to heck with it if you need something washed on a different day!). But I had an excellent excuse: today while riding my bike, I encountered a very slobbery Golden Retriever running loose, who drooled all over my exercise outerwear and left muddy paw prints, to boot! (he was obviously not a well trained dog, although he sure was friendly!). Since I need that outerwear daily, I needed to wash it. But since it was just me, who cared if I did it on the wrong day? 

I also caught up on my magazine reading with the February issue of Good Housekeeping. I think I’ve been taking this magazine since I was in college… so 30+ years? It IS a good magazine with lots of interesting articles, recipes, etc. The fact that I’m not tired of it after 30 years is a good sign.  

However, this month, there was an article that disturbed me greatly. It was their “blogger” feature, in which the mom in question admitted to taking over her child’s assigned Valentine craft project. She was supposed to “help” with it, but she basically pushed her daughter aside in order to make it perfect. To quote this woman, “That’s when I knew there was no way I was going to hand over the job of decorating this box to a 4 year old…. I wanted my child to triumph.” Oh dear!  

Back when our daughter was in pre-school, there was a pumpkin-decorating contest at Halloween. I let her do it all, giving her the supplies to embellish the squatty gourd that she had selected. It was obvious that a 4 year old had decorated that pumpkin, and I took her photo of her smiling proudly over this very amusing creation. But it was her creation! And it warmed my heart that her teachers recognized it for what it was and gave her an award. I learned afterwards that some other mothers had just BOUGHT pumpkins that had already been painted and decorated. I’m glad I didn’t know that before (I was a newbie to the competitive private school ‘rules’, and I never abided by them, thankfully!). 

I watched this phenomenon over and over again during all our years there, whether it was a Science Fair or a class art project. There was actually one mother who pushed her daughter aside to “finish” painting her quilt square (for the 2nd grade quilt that was to be auctioned at the annual fundraiser). She wanted HER daughter’s square to be PERFECT!  

I learned years afterwards that this perfect daughter had been caught shoplifting and had also had some later issues with inappropriate sexual behavior and illegal drugs. I can’t help but think that perhaps her feelings of imperfection were because of a mother who demanded perfection, and were perhaps the catalyst for her later actions?    

My own daughter had a really mean mom who made her do everything herself. I remember saying to her, “I’ve already been in the 4th grade (or 7th or 10th) before, and now it’s your turn.” For some reason, we never had a problem struggling with homework issues, maybe because she knew I wasn’t ever going to bail her out?  

Once I had our plumber working on a lengthy job, in the middle of which I had to run go pick Shannon up. When we returned, Mike was sitting at our breakfast table, calculating the bill. Shannon walked in, plopped down on the love seat, opened her backpack and began to work on her assignments.  

Mike looked at her, and said, “I can’t believe it!” I said, “what?” He asked, “She just does her homework on her own?” Apparently, his sons would only do their homework when forced to. Was I just lucky, or was it something I did? I don’t know the answer to that question. 

But I do know that my daughter, who is now very far away at college, has always had to fend for herself and has turned out to be very capable at whatever it is that challenges her. It makes me proud that she turned out not needing her mother to fix everything.  

And I will advise all you other moms who may have read that blog in the GH magazine. DON’T DO THAT. Raise your kids up to be proud of THEIR own accomplishments. Not their mother’s vicarious ones.  

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The January Blues
January 19, 2008

Times go by turns, and chances change by course,

From foul to fair, from better hap to worse.

-Robert Southwell (1595) 

In my previous entry, I mentioned my mother in law; she is a birding expert, and when I shared my close encounter with the hawk with her, she explained to me what ‘mantling’ means.  

The two of us have spent quite a bit of time together these past ten days. It was a sudden shock to all of us to learn that she needed her pacemaker replaced IMMEDIATELY, and we all scrambled our calendars to carve out the time to help her. Because of prior commitments on Joel’s part, I was elected to get up at the crack of dawn one morning to go pick her up and get her over to Methodist Hospital by 6:00 a.m.  

My husband will tell you that I am “Miss Punctuality” (do they give an award for that at the Miss America pageant?). I HATE to be late, so I always give myself plenty of time, in case of heavy traffic or whatever other situation may arise (maybe a train crossing?). “Oma” is like that, too, and because the two of us are that way, we got to the hospital and checked her in at 5:45! We were the first ones to get there for this procedure; I was hopeful that would give us some brownie points and get us in and out earlier, but it didn’t work out that way.  

Her scheduled surgery was at 8:30 a.m. But they didn’t even come to get her until after 10:00 a.m., and because the procedure was more complicated than they had bargained for, she ended up having to spend the night. She was directed to remain flat on her back for 12 hours, which meant she needed someone to help her eat, etc. After that, bed rest was prescribed, and no driving for two weeks.  

But let’s rewind back to the morning. As I mentioned, we arrived at 5:45 a.m. I think I had had maybe a total of 3 hours of sleep the night before, so I was rather bleary. Once they checked her in, took all her vitals and hooked her up to the various IV’s, the two of us waited for over three hours.  

I know I wasn’t exactly the world’s BEST conversationalist during this period, but we reminisced about all sorts of things; I was trying to think of anything to keep her mind off of what was to come. In retrospect, it was a wonderful opportunity to bond with her, and I was so glad that I was able to be there for her. One of the things we talked about was my hawk story, and that’s when I learned about mantling!  

Joel came just as soon as he could (after a morning hearing), and his brother came that evening to be with her, as well. His wife, MK, our sister in law, has been experiencing some troubling symptoms lately, and he needed to be with her as she was going through a battery of testing herself. I told them both to not worry about Oma; I’d take care of her to let them focus on MK. 

And so I helped Oma with her dinner; I drove her home the next day, and ever since then, I’ve been running errands for her, taking her here and there, etc. I’m blessed that we enjoy each other’s company, and because we don’t see each other as often as we should, it’s been nice to have these regular visits. She is now doing great, and even went on a field trip today with our church’s seniors’ group to tour the George Bush Library at College Station. I think she really enjoyed getting out of her condo!  

My thoughts hearken back to last January when both my mother and my father were in the hospital at different times, plus our Bailey dog, as well! I am beginning to wonder what it is about this month… But if in fact the trend is for January to be the month to be in the hospital, I am grateful that everyone seems to be taking turns. This lets me focus on whoever is most needy without neglecting anyone. 

Once Oma is back behind the wheel and buzzing about next week, I’ll turn my gaze upon MK as she moves forward with her new and unwanted diagnosis, the dreaded MS. At this point, she is in the valley, but my hope is that with the best care, she will rise back up and visit the mountaintop again! 

One at a time, please, God. And day-by-day, I am grateful for my good health!   

Birds Do It
January 12, 2008

A Walk on the Wild Side

-Nelson Algren (1956) 

Last night, the shrill call of a screech owl gave our Bailey the willies. He is my little wuss dog, who can be awfully brave if there is a window or a gate between him and whatever it is that he is challenging. But if he’s face to face with something different or loud, he’s a real stick-tight! At the eerie sound of that tiny owl, he drew close to me and looked out from behind my knees as if to say, “What was THAT?” 

Then, this morning as we returned home from our stroll, we heard another strange bird call; this one was a piercing, keening sound that came from a nearby tree. The dogs pricked up their ears as they looked around, and Bailey muttered under his breath (which he does in lieu of barking), sticking to me like velcro. Finally I spied the bird; it was an enormous red tailed hawk! And it had something in its talons… something black. Perhaps it was a starling or a grackle? You go, hawk!  

It held its wings out protectively, as if encircling its prey; yikes, maybe it wasn’t quite dead yet? (my mother-in-law said that when hawks do that, it’s called “mantling”) At this point, it noticed the dogs and me watching him (her?). It cocked its head to see us better, and then it called again with that piercing cry, and took off, dangling its prey beneath it.  

That magnificent great bird swooped down low towards us and then headed south down our driveway before finding another perch in a nearby tree. Following close on its trail was another hawk that came from behind and startled me with its proximity. While I didn’t exactly feel it fly by, it sure was close to my head! 

Was the first one a mother or a father hawk calling its fledgling? I like to think so. It gave me such a thrill to see them both. Once they were out of range, the dogs went back to their usual habit of exploring the front yard to see what else was new out there. I lingered, delighted with the gift of witnessing this particular episode in the hawk’s daily routine.  

While it wasn’t an extraordinary event for the hawk, it certainly was for me! After all, how often do I get to experience such a thing? I know I’ve said this before: it takes all of the senses to observe the natural world that surrounds us daily, so unplug and take the time to be vigilant so that you can discover the wild side in your own neighborhood!  

Gee, I wonder what I’ll see and hear tomorrow? I can’t wait to find out!

The Finish Line
January 5, 2008

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850 

In the wee hours of December 26, I finally went to bed. It had been a LONG day, filled with the busy tasks that come with hosting the clan for Christmas dinner. I was really tired, but it was a good tired. That night I dreamed that I had run a marathon, but that I had failed to do something important, so they couldn’t tell me my time. Although I’m not sure, maybe it meant that we had overlooked a few presents under the tree from various relatives to other ones that had to be delivered/sent post Christmas? I actually found one stuck in the tree as I was ‘undressing’ it, ten days afterwards!

Christmas Day had dawned, clear and cold. Red-breasted nuthatches were swarming in the back yard, swooping around the pond, getting drinks on the fly in a way that suggested synchronized drinking (no, wait, that’s what my churchlady friends and I do at girls’ night out!). One little bird swung wide and smacked into the big picture window, leaving a wet, feathery spot, but he shook it off and joined back in the fray. Their antics were charming to watch. 

It was a brilliant sunny day, cold enough for a fire, with brisk dog walks, a leisurely morning of stockings, the traditional sweet rolls and bacon and Christmas music. On the occasion of his twelfth Christmas, Shadow knew the stocking drill, and waited impatiently for his, all the while doing his walrus imitation (with his head wagging from side to side as he said, “ow ow ow!” or something to that effect). I think Bailey caught on; whatever Shadow does, he follows suit. Maybe he’ll remember next time? 

After all the stockings were turned inside out, we enjoyed a lull before it was time to clear out the morning debris and get geared up for the big evening feast. Oma came with all the ingredients for her special dressing, and we all pitched in. Shannon and Kat tried out her new Kitchen Aid Mixmaster to make the mashed potatoes (which came out great!). Thanks to a Greenberg Smoked Turkey, we didn’t have to do too much to prepare it, other than slice it up and put it on the platter! 

Using good linens, china, sterling and crystal makes for a special dinner, but also a massive clean up effort (that above mentioned marathon?). While I did a few loads of dishes Christmas night, I didn’t officially finish cleaning up until dusk on Dec. 26 when I took the table cloth and napkins out of the dryer, folded them up and put them away. I really didn’t mind the task, especially because there was no pressure to have it done by a certain time. The day AFTER Christmas is actually one of my top favorite days of the year!  

But best of all is the day that all the Christmas accoutrements are packed up and stored away until next year. That day is TODAY! Hooray for me, I am finished. Even my thank you notes are written! So now I can officially say goodbye to Christmas and 2007, and hello to a brand new year. I’ve got a nice clean desk calendar ready to fill with fun adventures, and I’m hopeful for continued blessings for my family. Blessings to you and yours, as well, in 2008!