Thursday, May 29, 2008

Here we go again

So it seems like my identity crisis is on a slow simmer just beneath the surface of my everyday life. 

There are days when I feel so happy to just be the me I am right now; the mother and wife, chief cook and bottle washer. This is the me who looks with satisfaction at the gleam of freshly steam-cleaned floors, smells the turkey lasagna baking, and smiles at the laughter of her raucous children. This is the me who wakes to the whimpering of a hungry baby at 3am and happily, if groggily, nurses him in the quiet of deep night; the me whose heart still skips a beat when that chubby little hand reaches up and touches my face.

Sounds like I'm little Suzy Homemaker, right? I am pretty good at it, most of the time. There's another me, though, lurking where the dust bunnies hide behind the furniture. She comes out and makes me question what I do. Words pop up, words like accomplishment, career, intellect, ambition, contribution

And worse .... 


Recently I made contact with several friends from my old life, the life I had before I met and married and moved halfway across the world. They are women I went to university with, who now have careers like the one I might have had myself. It's sort of tough to hear about. It makes me wonder if I missed my opportunity. I always thought I would be successful, professionally speaking. 

I'm not a good "professional mom". I don't go to all the PTA meetings, or get on committees. I'm not able to volunteer in the classroom or chaperone field trips (babies and toddlers tend to disrupt the class), although I do my best to provide the supplies the teacher needs. Maybe I'll get better at it as my younger children reach school age. 

But I like to think I'm good at the more important stuff. In my eight and a half years of parenting, my "am-I-doing-this-right" barometer has always been bedtime. If the kids go to bed happy I know I've been successful that day.

And when I'm deep in my identity angst, I think about my grandmother. My Nana was a woman who was married for 51 years, raised three children and worked at a department store. She was a storybook grandmother: one who cooked amazing meals; picked perfect gifts; wrote letters and cards in her beautiful handwriting; and loved wholeheartedly her 18 grandchildren. She was always, always there for me. She didn't have a high-powered career, she wasn't rich or famous,  but when she died her family was around her. There were scores of people at her memorial service, friends and family whose lives she made better. And we still use her recipes and tell the stories that keep her alive in our hearts. 

That's a legacy I think I could live with.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two Amazing Women

It occurred to me this morning that I complain a lot. Okay, this morning isn't the first time it's occurred to me, but lately I've been thinking that perhaps I should complain less and be more thankful for what I have. Which is a lot. 

We've had some discussions at home about the state of the economy, macro and micro, and how fortunate we are to be relatively insulated from the worst of the downturn. And, at night when I do my late rounds -- listening to breathing and kissing little foreheads -- before turning off the light and sleeping next to a man who would do anything for me, I know few have it as good as I do.

I have two friends in particular who remind me of this. They are both in the trenches, so to speak. One is a newly single mother of 2 small children: a bright, beautiful, educated, professional woman, starting her life over on her own. 
The other is currently deployed on the ground in Iraq: a smart, funny, tough (yet girly in the right ways) Naval Officer, who left behind a husband and young daughter in the service of her country. 

If you ask me, these women are heroes. They are the ones who show the rest of us how to face adversity and kick its ass. They are strength and grace personified, and I am glad, and humbled, to know them. 

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I come from a land Dow Nunda

My identity crisis continues. This afternoon, as a small scale social experiment, I decided to speak in my native dialect. I wanted to see how the kids would react and it didn't go all that well. The girls got pretty upset actually (although admittedly Little Miss the Younger had been nigh inconsolable since being prematurely roused from her nap).

They kept saying stop it, mama, stop it, don't talk like that. I told them that was how I used to talk all the time, that's how people sound where I come from. Like The Wiggles. I mean, seriously, they don't have a problem with the way Greg, Murray, Anthony and Jeff talk!

Their distress at me messing what's familiar to them was totally understandable but what made me wistful was that I had to really concentrate on the accent. I had to "put it on"; it didn't come naturally to me at all. I honestly don't know what I sound like any more. I know I'm not the only one who scoffs at Madonna's British accent but maybe she's like me and doesn't really hear it.

My slippery slope started after I changed my name. My married name has an "R" in it, and every time I would spell it out, the spellee would hear and write it as an "I".  To avoid confusion I started heavily emphasizing and Americanizing the R. Now I do it without thinking, probably in most words. When our oldest was little I taught him the alphabet song with the ending "X, Y, Zed". Now all of them say "Zee", myself included (you have no idea how hard that is for me to admit). 

The one thing I hold onto, the one place I put my foot down, is the way my kids address me. I refuse to be "Mommy". I will not be "Mom". This I have drilled into them and I won't answer if one of them slips up, which, happily, rarely happens. In fact, they frequently correct their grandmother, my mother-in-law, on my behalf, which I love. I had a tender, bittersweet Mothers Day moment with my son several years ago when he was in Kindergarten. Before he gave me the "mommy" inscribed treasures he had made in class, he pulled me aside and apologised in advance that they didn't say "Mumma", that he had been too embarrassed to do something different to all the other kids. It was a like a gentle slap in the face, reminding me there were forces greater than my influence that would be exerted on my children as they grew.

Not many people pick up on my foreignness any more. I no longer speak the dialect* of my native country. When I first moved to the US I planned to celebrate the days of national importance of my native land. Eleven years later that doesn't happen so much. I've been eligible for naturalisation here for a couple of years but the paperwork sits on my desk, filled out, yet unsent. I belong more here than there now; I am unfamiliar with life "back home", I have no current cultural references. Our last visit was almost six years ago and given the size of our family, and and rising fuel and fare costs, it's unlikely we'll get back any time soon.

So I drift along, rootless. I do, however, say tom-AH-to. Some things will never change.

*Dialect and accent are frequently confused. defines dialect as "a variety of a language that is distinguished from other varieties of the same language by features of phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, and by its use by a group of speakers who are set off from others geographically or socially". Accent usually describes the way people pronounce words of a language that is different from their mother tongue.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Out of the mouths...

 It's quiet time at our house and the little ones are napping in advance of this evenings adventure in Little League. I'm sitting here next to my elder daughter who is working on a Winnie the Pooh puzzle. She's being very, very quiet, which doesn't happen often, and then out of nowhere she asks me, is Piglet a pig? I tell her yes. Then she says, why doesn't he make a honking sound? why does he talk? I explain something about the nature of cartoon characters vs. real farm animals. She giggles, her tone is "ah, of course" and continues her puzzle in silence.

Then she says, what do bears do? I've moved on and am reading something, so it takes me a second or two to realise she's talking about Pooh. I say, you mean real bears? They do stuff in the woods, catch salmon to eat, that kind of thing. Yep, she says triumphantly, fish and honey, that's what they like. And red t-shirts with no pants.

Disney has a lot to answer for.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A mocha flavoured slap in the face

Yesterday I was all ready to take Maggie's advice and focus on the enjoyment of motherhood rather than the unavoidable drudgery it sometimes entails. The baby had taken a good nap and the girls were chomping at the bit to get out into the first sunshine we had seen in four or five days. 

They love to eat their snack outside sitting on a picnic blanket, so I got some crackers and cheese for them and made myself a treat. Several times a week, in need of a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, I'll make a caffeinated beverage. Lately, with the weather warming up, my drink of choice has been iced mocha. A shot of espresso, a squirt of chocolate syrup, and a big slug of skim milk poured over ice. If I'm really indulging, as I was yesterday, I'll top it off with a crown of whipped cream.  

As I got organised to head out into the backyard (shoes, hoodies, hats, juiceboxes ... really it can never be easy), Little Miss #1 was jumping, or climbing, or some combination of four year old kinesthetics, and she knocked. over. my. mocha.
Nobody breathed for a second or two and then she wailed, I'm sorry, mama, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. And then -- without waiting for me to reassure her that we don't cry over spilt milk, or mocha, or whatever, it was an accident honey, please don't be upset, I'm not mad at you -- I wanna go outside! 

And then I was mad. Oh, I was so angry I could barely see. I handed the girls their snacks and sent them, both wailing now, to eat in the dining room. The baby just sat in his highchair silently regarding my frustration. The pool, I mean ocean, of mocha dripped off the table, onto and off the chair, and into a large puddle on the tile, soaking into the rug. It had splashed onto the wall and the window sill and the baseboard heating vent. It took me 20 minutes to clean up. It would have taken 15 minutes but for the constant interruptions. Is it time to go outside yet? Are we going outside? Are you finished yet? Is it cleaned up? When are we going outside?

And then we went outside. And I focussed on enjoying motherhood, having paid the price of mocha flavoured drudgery.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I have a friend

This morning I was having a bit of a pity party, complaining to the Captain about how I have no friends, blah blah I'm lonely blah blah blah. This afternoon, as the spring sun lit up the house and my spirits, I realised how wrong I was to say that. I have a friend, a very good friend.

This friend is reliable and is always there for me. Maybe a little bit loud at times, but not as noisy as some. This friend picks up for me, helping around the house, and that's something you can't say about many friends. No matter what's going on, or how long it's been since we were last together, I can turn to this friend for what I need.  

My friend's name is Dyson. I love my friend.