I Remember Mama

I Remember Mama

I Remember Mama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Item 1:  Whether or not you’re a mom, no doubt, you’re somebody’s child, which is why I’m hoping you’ll check out a post I submitted this week to the Huffington Post. I call it,

The Best Mom, Probably

Why? Because my son, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t want to go out on a limb and call me the best mom in a text he sent me to wish me a happy Mother’s Day. No doubt, he was afraid I might get an inflated ego over it.

Of course, little did he know, telling me I was “probably” the best mom was enough to drive me crazy and I set out to discover what exactly he meant. I first wrote the post when I started blogging, but it’s perfect for Mother’s Day, so, please read it–and comment!

My son, during a trip to Venezuela, with Tia Olga, who passed away earlier this year.

Item 2:  This time of year, it’s easy for me to get all teary-eyed and start waxing poetic. This is because I lost my mother 18 years ago this month. Plus, I’m a romantic at heart and, as such, I’m prone to getting sentimental at the drop of a hat.

For years, my mother and I had a Mother’s Day tradition of watching I Remember Mama, one of our favorite films. (FYI: Turner Classic Movies usually carries it around this time.) It’s sappy as all heck but don’t you dare make fun of it because to me, it’s such a tear jerker. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. It’s got everything–pathos, humor, suffering, a cat that dies then comes back to life, a crazy uncle who yells a lot, and a mysterious boarder who’s into reading. Add to that, a hard-working, ready-to-sacrifice-all-for-her-family kind of mother. It’s classic!

I Remember Mama, made in 1948, stars Irene Dunne as the matriarch of a Norwegian family, living in San Francisco, circa 1910. It is narrated by Katrin, the eldest daughter and an aspiring writer (Trivia: She’s played by Barbara Bel Geddes–Miss Ellie from the original Dallas series!). Here’s how Katrin introduces her mother–and the reason I start blubbering as soon as I see the opening credits:

“For as long as I could remember, the small cottage on Castro Street had been home. The familiar background was there; Mama, Papa, my only brother, Nels. There was my sister Christine, closest to me in age, yet ever secret and withdrawn — and the littlest sister, Dagmar.

“There, too came the Aunts, Mama’s four sisters. Aunt Jenny, who was the oldest and the bossiest; Aunt Sigrid; Aunt Marta; and our maiden Aunt, Trina. The Aunts’ old bachelor uncle, my Great-uncle Chris — the ‘black Norwegian’ — came with his great impatience, his shouting and stamping. And brought mystery and excitement to our humdrum days.

“But most of all, I remember Mama.”

Item 3: My mother had five sisters and one brother. Now, only one sister, Tia Livia, remains. Tia Olga, the second to youngest, died earlier this year. She was kind and gentle and deeply spiritual. She was the only one who never married nor had children. In her final years, living in Venezuela with no income of her own, it was the nieces and nephews who took care of her, making sure she had all she needed. I sent her what I could, including chocolates from the states and the latest issues of Reader’s Digest, one of her favorite magazines that she enjoyed reading in English. I loved her so much and miss her dearly.

Item 4: One of my favorite bloggers is Deborah Batterman. She writes honestly and with humor, and has a knack for making me laugh. In a recent post on her blog, The Things She Things About, Deborah wrote about her mother and how she once phoned Deborah, when Deborah was living in New York City, from their home in New Jersey, and left the following message on the answering machine:

“Close your window, there’s something coming from Jersey.”

Reading that made me fall over in a heap of giggles. What was coming from Jersey? Sounded dangerous and wicked! Well, you’ll have to read Deborah’s blog to find out more.

Deborah has also written a collection of essays titled, Because My Name is Mother.  Laced with humor, tenderness, and a bit of nostalgia, you’ll find these stories quite enjoyable, and, best of all, they’re now available for Kindle for only $0.99! A bargain, if you ask me, and makes for a great Mother’s Day gift for just about anyone!

Back to Item 1: It’s the not knowing why my son said I was “probably” the best mom that gets me and, frankly, I can’t stop thinking about it. In any case, though I might “probably” be the best mom, one thing’s certain: I know I’m the luckiest mom, for I have two great kids.  Kids that I never took to the tanning salon, nor left naked in the car while I ran errands. So, Josh and Sarah, if you’re reading this, you’re welcome. I didn’t torture you and that, if you ask me, ought to deserve more than a “probably.”

But, Readers, I’ll let you decide. Read my story in the Huffington Post, and then be sure to let me know what you think!

So, Happy Mother’s Day!

Now, how about you? What do your kids do to show you their love?

When It Comes to Parenting

Item 1:  Did you hear the one about the woman who left her 12-year-old daughter naked in the car? Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?

Well, it isn’t.

Turns out the mother is a substitute teacher, and left her daughter naked because she didn’t want her daughter to run off and rummage for food in trash cans, while she was teaching in a nearby elementary school. Which is exactly how the girl was found: eating out of trash containers, and trying to modestly cover herself with a car floor mat. (You can read all about it here: “12-year-old found naked, rumaging through trash in Temecula“)

Hmm. I wonder what the mother was planning to teach that day? Hopefully, nothing to do with effective parenting skills.

One of the few photos I have of my mother and daughter.

Item 2: Speaking of which, there’s a new book on parenting out that says the French know how to raise healthy, well-rounded and, most important of all, kids who behave well in public. The book is called, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman.

Apparently, Druckerman is a journalist, so I’m going to assume she did her research before coming to this conclusion. I don’t doubt that the French know how to raise their kids. I’m sure the Spaniards and Italians are also apt at it. And, it’s unlikely that this book will be as controversial or as divisive as Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which is known in some circles as “extreme” parenting. Though, if you think about it, the substitute teacher mom was also practicing “extreme” parenting, of sorts. (But, let’s just hope substitute teacher mom doesn’t decide to throw her towel in the ring, too, and write a parenting book of her own.)

Item 3: Without having read either book, I’m going to go out on a ledge here and say, that neither the French nor the Chinese have cornered the market on proper child-rearing skills.  On the other hand, my mother may well have. 😉 And since she’s no longer around to tell you herself, I will share with you some of the skills I learned from her.

  1. Resist the urge to make your child the focus and the center of your life. It’s simply not healthy for you or for your child to be on a pedestal. You’re not doing them any favors, except raising them to have the expectation of entitlement and that they will be treated in the same fashion by everyone they meet. If you ask me, that’s setting them up for disappointment.
  2. Enjoy your children for what they are. Curious, creative beings. Treat them as the individual your child is. Listen to them, and be firm when needed.  Try to be courteous, in the same manner as you want them to treat you. With respect.
  3. Set limits. In other words, make sure they know that “No” means no. There’s a time and place for negotiation but there can also be a fine line between negotiating and letting your child take advantage of you.  Contrary to popular belief, being strict doesn’t mean you don’t love your child. For proof on how well it can work, I suggest reading Shenk it Up, a blog by Nate Shenk, a young, blogger pal of mine. In his post, Without Parents, I’d Probably be Smoking Crack, Nate writes with humor and love about his rather strict parents. Here’s a sample: “For me, I grew up with a set of rule-enforcing parents who loved their children so much that they would have given their own lives for the sake of mine, or my siblings. I was never without either rules, or love.”  Pretty cool, I’d say.
  4. Teach etiquette. P’s & Q’s are a start. But also convey to them the value of civility in every aspect of their life. Teach them, too, the importance of offering appreciation by writing the tried and true, Thank You Note.
  5. Give them rituals and a schedule: Like bedtime reading, Saturday morning visits to the library, family meals, etc. Kids look forward to such rituals, and like knowing what to expect. It’s when they don’t know that they start falling apart and having melt-down’s.
  6. Leave guilt at the door. Yes, I know you feel guilty because you work full time and you’re often the last parent to pick up your child from daycare or school. Been there, done that. But it’s no reason to cave and give them what they want when they want it. You’re not doing them any favors by letting guilt manage your parenting skills, which brings me to my next point.
  7. Do not tolerate insolent or unruly behavior: At the first sign of an attitude, I used to ask my kids to go to their room and return when they were ready to behave and speak respectfully, which meant using words, not wails. In fact, whining was not tolerated in my house, period. You want to teach them the kind of behavior they’re going to need in the real world. Besides, I’d rather listen to them vent and scream for a while while they’re in their rooms, rather than have throngs of strangers witness them have a tizzy fit while out in public. Something they never did.
  8. Play with your kids. Make time to get down on the floor with them and play what they want to play. Play in the car while you’re driving (assuming you know where you’re going and it isn’t distracting). I used to pretend I was the car radio, singing my heart out and announcing the news, as my mother pretended to keep switching the channels to different stations. Sounds corny, but I loved it.  Pretend games are always fun and encourage creativity.
  9. When they’re old enough, around 18 months or so, make sure they learn to put away their toys when playtime is over. Do not let them leave a mess just because it’s easier, and you don’t want a scene. By doing it for them, you’re not helping them at all. Teaching responsibility is always a good thing.
  10. Lastly, try to avoid talking about your kids all the time. Yes, we know you think your child is the best. We all feel that way about our kids. But, unless you’re talking to the other parent or a grandparent, keep the discussion brief about how cute your child is. My mother made it a habit to never talk about me in public, not even to my teachers during the parent-teacher conference and, for that, I’m grateful. After all, no one needed to hear about all the darnedest things I was saying.

People tell me I’m fortunate because I have two grown, fairly happy and responsible kids, who never gave me any real trouble–and who actually like me! No rebellion, no back talk. So maybe I am lucky. But I’d like to think that the way I raised them had something to do with it, too. And though my kids never really knew their grandmother, because she passed away when they were very young, I’d like to think I channeled the best of her, when I was raising them, and so they got to know a little of her, through me.

Well, these are just some of the basic skills my mother passed on to me. Soon, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned about getting through the teen years. Now, how about you? I’d love to hear about any effective child-rearing tips you may have.

Dear Daughter

Another birthday, already?  How many times have I told you to stop these foolish shenanigans? Do I need to get a lawyer to make you cease and desist from throwing it in my face—the fact that you’re getting older? Think of all the times I begged you to be my little girl again. I don’t think that was too much to ask. Unrealistic, maybe, but miracles have been known to happen.

So yes, I know, this weekend is your birthday.  How can I forget, what with all I went through? Nine months of back pain, swollen ankles, heartburn, and elevated blood pressure. I suffered it all, and what do I have to show for it?

There you are, happily romping in the snow with your friend.

A 20-year old who’s off gallivanting somewhere far from home. Ok, so you’re in college. Dean’s List, too.  But did I ask you to go 2,000 miles away? Ok, so I did encourage you, but that was in the excitement of the moment when you were first notified that you’d been accepted at your dream school. We hugged and did a joyful dance. And yes, I did say, “Go, send in your acceptance!” But the next thing I knew, there you were, packing your bags and saying, ”So long, Mom” without batting an eye.

Twenty years old. The years have skipped by in a blur. One minute I’m cradling you in my arms and the next, you’re four, dancing in a ballet recital. Then, you’re 8 and going on your first Girl Scout camping trip. You’re 13 and preparing for your Bat Mitzvah. And now here you are, a sophomore in college, leaving me with only one thought:

When it comes to daughters, I couldn’t have done better than you.

So, Birthday Girl, I want to thank you for sparing me the grief other mothers of teenage girls so often go through. For regularly texting to let me know how you’re doing in school. For calling me when your work shift ends late at night, so I can keep you company on your walk back to your dorm. For all the love you’ve given me throughout these years. For enjoying my company as much as I enjoy yours. For being the caring, thoughtful daughter you’ve turned out to be. I know what you mean to me, and what I mean to you.

You left me verklempt recently, when you commented for the first time on this blog. It was regarding a post I wrote titled, If I Could Do it All Again. In it, I said I would have hugged my children more often when they were young, when they still loved hugging back.  You responded in a way that left me speechless:

“You got one thing wrong though, Mom…I STILL love hugging you back. In fact, I wish I could fly home right now just to get one of those amazing hugs that only you can give me.”

Well, Spring Break is already on the horizon and I’ll be seeing you soon, ready to hug you once more. Until then, when I think of you, I’ll be remembering the Martina McBride song that poignantly touches on how you make me feel:

In my daughter’s eyes I am a hero
I am strong and wise and I know no fear
But the truth is plain to see
She was sent to rescue me
I see who I want to be
In my daughter’s eyes…”

Happy Birthday, B.B.!