Dear New Moms: Keep it simple

  If ever there was a time to in your life to simplify, this is it! You are embarking on a wonderful, sacred journey that could potentially bury you alive – in stuff, activities, chores and so much else. So much else.  As a mom with three grown kids, and plenty of hindsight, here are my simplifying tips to take or leave as you see fit:


#1 The stuff: 

* Every gadget known to man and mommy is on the market, and you simply do not need them all. Not even close. In addition, every toy, including the huge plastic ones that take over your living room are for sale. Your child does not need all of these. Fewer toys means using more imagination. Instead of accumulating too much stuff, just let them play with what’s there. Better yet, play with them once in a while. Not always, but sometimes.

#2 The activities:

*Consider all activities carefully; the amount of enjoyment has to outweigh the resources it consumes. I remember reading an article many years ago – I think it was called ‘chasing mommy’ or something like that. The author wrote about how her mom was constantly running around, from morning ‘til night. The busyness was well intended. Many of the activities were meant to benefit the child, such as leading her Girl Scout troop and volunteering at her school. But what the author really wanted was just to have her mother’s undivided attention at home for a little while each day. It’s often in the quiet moments, the unstructured time, the extra minutes lingered while saying goodnight that a child will speak what’s on her mind or in her heart. This time is precious, but there has to be room for it.

*Mommy and Me classes are clever ideas, and if you choose to attend one of these to be in the company of the other moms, then enjoy! But at least be conscious of the fact that you do not need to enroll in a class and pay money to roll your child across your belly, or clap in unison.

*Choose birthday and holiday celebrations, and other events carefully because often what you do once will be expected again and again. Do you want to bake 200 cookies every year or throw the party that leaves everyone overstimulated and cranky? Or allow weekly sleepovers for your tween or even allow the sleepover habit at all? More than likely, these choices are going to be yours to make, so wear your leadership hat mindfully and consistently. Do what brings all of you joy, and nothing more.

#3 The resources:

*When you’re deciding how many kids to have, consider your resources carefully. Children require time, energy, patience and money.  With each new child, those resources get divided again. If you and your partner don’t have plenty of all of these, at least make sure you have a huge amount of one of them.

*Speaking of money, you will often hear people say kids are so expensive and there is some truth to that. But it’s not always as expensive as some people make it out to be. Your baby doesn’t need the nursery set up from Ethan Allen. Nor does she need designer clothes, trips to Disney, or the most expensive college education available. Planning and saving is smart, but the most important resources your child will get from you are free.

#4 The work:

*Don’t waste your time or energy in debate over who has it harder, or better, working moms or stay-at -home moms. There’s just no right or wrong answer. Besides, some moms work part time. What category do we place them in? Everyone is doing what they feel is necessary or best in their given situation, which can change over the course of motherhood. I think the bottom line is, generally, a happy mom has the best chance at having happy kids. So make it your job to be happy. Keeping it simple where you can is bound to make that easier.

Wedding reflections

weddingMy daughter’s wedding- so much joy and family and love and friends in one place at one time has left me stunned. I want to do it again, but in slow motion. I want to see the people I barely saw, and eat the cake I barely ate and dance to the song I missed. But I’m grateful for all the moments I did have, and mostly for all of the moments the new couple had.

And miracles! The sun actually came out of the overcast sky during the Beatles Here comes the sun as the ceremony procession began.

During his vows, my new son-in-law touched upon his and my daughter’s starkly different childhoods, though they grew up just 65 miles apart (a topic that warrants its own post later).  What brings people together?

So much emotion, but my eyes were mostly dry, too happy to cry. Then much later, one of the groomsmen showed me a picture of his new baby and the tears came. The mere site of life, pure and new and precious, combined with the significance of the day, and I was overwhelmed. My tears did not deter him though, but rather he pulled up another photo and another. There is something relentless about the love of our babies.

Now summer is winding down. My other daughters are returning to college, the newlyweds are away on their honeymoon and I will return to my writing routine with a fuller heart, and freshness, something new but as ancient as the first breath of life.




College in a nutshell

The college search should be simplified. As a society, we have made such a fuss about it, such a monumental drama; a lengthy, stressful, anxiety inducing task.

It’s a lot of work to apply to college, I know. But we don’t have to make it even harder on ourselves or our kids by making it into more than it is. It’s a four year education. Four short years. And it’s not going to entirely mold junior into the person he is meant to be. If you zoned out for the first eighteen years of his life, writing a big check to a fancy college- or to any college- is not going to make up for this time.   And if your child has a certain temperament, let’s say a challenging one, that’s not going to miraculously change in these four years. And if she is a party animal, searching recklessly for happiness, college isn’t going to save her from that either. There will just be less supervision.  And if she’s already happy and good? Then she’s happy and good.

So let’s stop making college into something it’s not. It’s not a stand in for parenting. It’s not a guarantee for success nor a ticket to happiness. It’s a campus, some classes, peers galore (is it really the best thing to lump them all together with very few adults for them to interact with? I wonder about this one, but whatever); it’s a great privilege, an opportunity, and a financial decision.

We start the process way too early, in my opinion. Talk about rushing things. Do kids really need to start touring campuses sophomore year? That’s age fifteen, or sixteen for some. They aren’t even driving yet, and it’s just two years after middle school. Middle school. Think braces and skinny jeans. Most kids don’t know what they want to do when they grow up at this point, because they are busy growing up. At least they were until they started to hear the anxious, overzealous roar of the adults chanting College. College. College. Let’s start obsessing now. Do you know how many times these kids could change their minds about what they want to study between age fifteen and eighteen? Do you know how clueless they may be about which college is best for them? And about exactly where and how much of your hard earned money should be spent? I think we should all just chill out until at least junior year. And even then, let’s stop acting like which college they go to is the most important decision of their lives. What they do while they are there, or what they do afterwards, may be crucial, but where they do it is probably not.

Because mostly, it’s about the food. Why does it seem hardly anyone takes the food into consideration when searching for a college? These kids are going to be eating there three times a day, minimum. Food is a big deal. It affects mood, health, weight, brain function. Heck, it affects happiness. I was thrilled to read that my daughters’ university was ranked second-best in the nation for their campus food. I love knowing they have high quality fare at their fingertips at every meal- locally grown fruits and vegetables, delicious and diverse meals prepared by top notch chefs.

Four years is not long, unless you are feeding yourself crap. Then it is many, many days, several times a day, down the road to sluggishness, moodiness and weight gain. Now this is life changing. Habits are life changing. Lifestyles are life changing. So please, let’s stop freaking out about where our kids are going to go to college. It’s making them anxious and ungrateful and hurried.   And it’s making us crazy. Take a deep breath, and if you’re going to go on a tour, start with the dining hall. Afterall, you are what you eat.


Motherhood and all that

Maternity Stock Photography

When I thought about writing something for Mother’s Day, my focus was scattered and unsure. It is like trying to write on the topic of love for Valentine’s Day. I mean it’s just so broad and all-encompassing and elicits too many ideas. Sure, I could write about my own motherhood experience (where do I start? where do I end?) and how proud I am of my nearly grown children. And what it has been like to raise three daughters, through their growing up years, having three sets of eyes watching me, learning what it means to be female and a grownup; the ways I succeeded and the ways I may have fallen short. I might like to take credit for who they are becoming, but I also know that some of this-maybe even a lot of it- really has very little to do with me.

Or I could write about the loss of my own mother after my parents’ volatile divorce when I was four, and the need for truth that this mystery evoked in me. Etched in my mind in outlines and colors, reddish hair, white skin. What would I call her? My mother or my imagination? But that story is already part of my memoir, so I will just say this about it: It has kept me off my suburban high horse, and left me knowing that where we lucky mothers paint our homes and pay our bills and hold our children close, we could possibly, easily, slip into pretending that this is how it is for all mothers, everywhere. But other mothers have other stories, sometimes tragically different from our own.

I really did not want to go on and on about any of this, so I thought I would share a link to Brain, Child magazine which has several excellent Mother’s Day posts.  I was particularly struck by Janelle Hanchette’s story, “This Mother’s Day, Celebrate Somebody Else”. After reading it, I wandered onto her blog and found another Mother’s Day post titled,I’ve Summarized Every Mother’s Day Post (in two sentences or less) So You Don’t Have to Read Them..”

So there you have it. Her language is very colorful, and certainly blunt and humorous but she has come to happiness in motherhood after some tragic years of alcoholism. Why wouldn’t she be colorful? Her suffering, and failure as a mother, eventually churns into strength and love and wisdom and surely has made her more interesting. What I found most valuable about her story is what I most want my daughters to grasp:  That if bad things ever happen to them, they will very likely come out better at the other end. Of course I wish them joyful, peaceful, and meaningful lives, preferably free from pain and loss and hardship. I want them to be happy. But what is happiness? This is what I think it is: knowing that you have an invisible strength even before you think you need it, and believing that growth and wisdom and all kinds of interesting things come from all the challenges that mothers don’t want their children to face.