The Other Mother’s Day

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Mother’s Day is a feel-good holiday celebrated with Sunday brunch, breakfast-in-bed, greeting cards, gifts, hugs, and visits.

While the media brings us warm stories of maternal love and devotion, we should remember those who face this day with longing, sadness, or ambivalence.

Mothers who have lost a child.

Women who have suffered multiple miscarriages.

Women unable to get pregnant.

Those who gave up a baby for adoption.

Those who never met their mother.

Those who lost their mother too early.

Those whose mother no longer recognizes them.

Those estranged from their mother.

Those with a mother in prison.

If you know someone in the above categories, reach out on Mother’s Day. Show sensitivity.  I think of my nieces and nephew, young adults, who have missed their mom for the past 4 and a half years.

If your mother is alive, count yourself lucky—no matter the state of your relationship.

You still have the chance to make peace, make amends, practice forgiveness, ask questions, or simply say, “I love you.”

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The way we understand and relate to our mothers will be different at twenty-five than at forty-five and at fifty-five. Becoming a mother made me understand my own better and appreciate her sacrifices, which I’d taken for granted in my youth.

As the eldest of six children, I was the designated babysitter during my teen years. I dreaded Saturday nights when I was on call to make dinner, care for a fussy baby or deal with a sibling who refused to go to bed. I thought it was so unfair that my mother left me in charge of my five siblings when I wanted to go out with friends. In my adolescent self-centeredness, I couldn’t fathom why she needed to go out every week.

Where was she going? On a date with my father—her beloved.

Years later, I’d remember this when trying to find a trustworthy babysitter to care for my own kids so I could enjoy a Saturday night date.

Today I’m grateful for the close relationship with my three children and hope it will continue to flourish into their adulthood.  I cherish the Mother’s Day gifts they’ve given over the years, especially the handmade ones with written expressions.

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I think the greatest gift we can give our mothers (and fathers) is gratitude and appreciation.

Sift through any resentment and look for what your mom gave you, no matter how small.

Then let her know.

          *  *  *

Here’s mine.

Mom, thank you for…

Instilling in me a sense of adventure and romance.

Encouraging my talents.

Nourishing my imagination.

Fantastic childhood birthdays parties.

The gift of a musical home.

The gift of words—the family stories, children’s books, and poetry.

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be –

I had a Mother who read to me.

                 ~Strikland Gillilan

What are you grateful for?

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Turning Darkness to Light

 

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“One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life, I think, is to have a happy childhood.”  ~ Agatha Christie

“Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it.”  ~Maurice Sendak

What first comes to mind when you hear the word “childhood”?

I’m guessing you might answer: innocence, joy, play, fun, laughter, silliness, or wonder.

What about the word “depression”?

Childhood depression should be an oxymoron. But it is a reality for too many children and the parents who love them.

One of the special characteristics of children is that, unlike grownups, they don’t stay mad or sad very long. But some children are born with a brain chemistry, genetic makeup, or nature that make it difficult to experience the lightness and joy of childhood, no matter how loving and stable their home.

“We naturally want and expect children to be happy,” my writer friend Irene says, “and when they’re not, we try to do something about it. We buy them a new toy, do a fun activity, talk, give hugs. But sometimes we can’t fix the unhappiness, and this feels awful.”

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Irene knows a lot about childhood depression. Her only son, now a young adult, showed symptoms of rage, frustration, sadness, and suicidal thinking by age eight. 

When other parents complained about their children’s everyday woes— not being picked for the travel team, not getting the lead in a play, having a squabble with a friend, being too shy—Irene was struggling to keep her child from despair. “I couldn’t relate to these parents. I felt alienated,” she said. “My son and I lived in a bubble of silence outside the norm.”  Irene’s parenting world revolved around psychiatrists, therapy appointments, hospitalizations, and various medications. She fought to protect her son in public school where he was often mistreated and misunderstood. “While some teachers were invested in him, others lost patience.”  Irene advocated tirelessly on her son’s behalf to keep him safe. “There were times,” she told me tearfully, “when I honestly didn’t know if I was going to lose him.” 

I met Irene a year and a half ago at a local meet-up of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator).  She’s a petite powerhouse who radiates energy and warmth. We immediately connected.  As we got to know one and other, we shared, not only our writing goals but our personal journeys of struggle and growth. Listening to Irene’s story, I marveled at her ability to exude such a love for life.

Irene has turned her painful experience into a passion project to help others. She wants to shed light on childhood depression, to open the uncomfortable discussion, and to let other parents and children know they are not alone. 


She translated this desire into action by writing and illustrating a small book with a big message. Celia and the Little Boy is the story of two children trapped in the darkness, and what it took for them to find their way out.”  Illustrated with child-like pencil drawings, this timeless tale is for readers ages 8 to 98. img_69311.jpg

Last week, I attended Irene’s book launch at the Canton Public Library. Speaking to a room full of supporters, Irene shared the story’s journey from inspiration to draft to published book. Irene’s son, now an adult, fully approved of her sharing his story, which is also his mother’s story.  Irene read the Celia and the Little Boy aloud while the pages were projected on a large screen.  I could just feel the overwhelming emotion of the audience as Irene read the last, hopeful sentence. 

The next step in Irene’s passion project is to connect with parents, teachers, pediatricians, and therapists.  Irene wants to offer, not only hope but information on this devastating illness that impacts families and communities at both the personal and national level.

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We can all learn from people like Irene who, rather than allowing themselves to be pulled under, reach toward the light. They turn pain into healing and meaning. They become activists, mentors, volunteers, writers, and spokespersons driven by a sense of purpose. They use the lessons gleaned from their loss, grief, or struggle to help ease another’s burden.

Now I think I know how Irene maintains her inner joy. Like her book character, Celia, Irene feels the struggle, yet is still able to see the world as a “truly wondrous place”.  As she so eloquently writes in her dedication:  For all the children who dwell alone in the darkness and those who can see them.”

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For more information on Celia and the Little Boy Irenebuchine.com

 

 

Do you regret quitting ______?

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Do you regret quitting music lessons as a child? Do you wish your parents had pushed you to continue studying piano?  Do you regret dropping out of competitive swimming or gymnastics or skating or dance? 

What about your own children? When do you let them quit a sport or artistic pursuit? What if your child is very talented? 

In my unscientific survey, the answers run the gamut from insisting one’s child continue studying to a certain age or level, to leaving the decision completely up to her. Some parents told me they don’t even suggest lessons until their child asks for them. 

For certain activities like singing, acting, and painting, one can much more easily pick it up again an adult.  But for other pursuits, there is a window of possibility both physically and mentally.  The opportunity for training narrows.  At some point, the pre-professional student must decide where he is heading because of the increasing demands of pursuing his art or sport. There is only so much time.

If you have devoted years to supporting your child’s passion or talent and he suddenly decides to quit, your heart may twist in a knot.  Maybe you see yourself in him. Maybe he is (was) living your own unfulfilled dreams.  You might believe that he is foolishly passing up opportunities for accomplishments and accolades. You worry that he will regret his decision.

My son walked at 9 months and was catching a ball by his first birthday. His pediatrician noted “motor skills genius” on Sam’s chart. At age 9, just before he was to earn his first black belt in karate, Sam insisted on quitting. It wasn’t that he didn’t like karate anymore (he practiced at home all the time), he didn’t want to go to the classes. His father and I wondered if the additional requirement for the black belt (writing an essay and leading the class) was the culprit. Or, maybe it was the intimidating and stern sensei. (Heck, this man scared me.)  Sam could not articulate the real reason, if there was one, but he put up quite a big fight and refused to continue training at the dojo.

The sensei told us we were making a terrible mistake. Sam showed exceptional talent.  The rewards for his personal development down the line were too great to pass up. Parents shouldn’t make such an important decision on the whims of a fickle nine-year-old, he said.

We let Sam quit.

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Still, our son never stopped moving. In addition to studying piano and chess, Sam excelled in swimming and tennis. He played varsity basketball and fenced competitively.  Recently, he’s taken up martial arts again.  Sam, now 23, holds no regrets about our/his decision, though admits to wondering if it was the “right” one.

With my youngest daughter, Audrey, the decision to end her pre-professional ballet study at 16 was hard on both of us, but mostly me. Dance was (and still is) my passion.  It meant a lot that my daughter and I shared this.  Despite the sacrifices involved, I committed to supporting her training (which mostly involved driving and waiting.) I loved watching Audrey grow as a dancer. I miss those days.

Recently, I wrote about the experience for Grown and Flown, a wonderful website and blog on parenting young adults. After this publication, I’ve received a lot of comments from others parents in similar situations—soccer, horseback-riding, violin—who related to my angst.

Interestingly, another mom wrote to me describing the opposite situation. She and her husband were never fully on board with their daughter’s desire to pursue dance professionally. After graduating with a BFA in dance, their daughter is now trying to get her big break in NYC. The reader wrote:  “So.. I was never a dance mom. More a mom that allowed my child to steer her ship….hoping that I did the right thing and that her dream becomes a reality.” 

Her honest words put a new spin on this parenting dilemma.   

You can read my essay, The Last Ballet Lesson”, here.   I welcome your thoughts.

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  My ballerina.

The Homestretch: On the Road to Homeschool Graduation

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Tomorrow officially begins my daughter’s senior year of homeschooling. When I say “officially”, I  mean that she begins classes and independent studies toward her high school diploma.  In truth, Audrey is always learning.  This summer she played the piano, read, watched classic films, took Spanish lessons, wrote a film script, and created a screenwriting program.

Friends have said to me, “Now you can see the light at the end of the tunnel !”

Yes, we are on the homestretch toward graduation, but as I think more about that expression I realize it doesn’t quite fit.  I wouldn’t describe our homeschooling years as a tunnel.  There was nothing dark or long about it.  It was a multi-year journey that took us to all kinds of interesting places.  Along the way, I sometimes had doubts that we were not on the right (or best) path, that something would be missed.  Gradually, I let go of these uncertainties. My daughter’s happiness and engagement in learning mattered most. 

Audrey and I both miss the early carefree days of this journey when we weren’t thinking about transcripts, standardized tests, and college admissions.  In the elementary years, Audrey had lots of time to play, explore, create, imagine, dance, and think. (Not to mention, sleep.) We took so many wonderful field trips to art and science museums, historical places, nature centers, plays, concerts, and dance performances. Audrey joined other homeschoolers at zoo school, MIT science workshops, wilderness training, drama class, community service and Jewish holiday activities.

She spent a lot of time outdoors.  

No homework, no grades.

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And the time flew by!  I really can’t believe we’ve already arrived at this place.

Now she’s finishing up her subject tests, visiting colleges, preparing her portfolio, and writing application essays.  She is passionate about her career plans. She knows what she wants to study in college. Keeping her goal in mind makes SAT prep more palatable.  As busy as she will be this senior year, there will still be time time for adventure and hanging out with friends.   

We kick off the year with a college biology class and then the annual Not-Back-To-School picnic.  

It’s all part of the journey.  I want to enjoy every moment.  

Yes, next June there will be light and joy mixed with sadness. One long journey ending—a new one beginning.

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Not Back To School: Unschooling

UnschoolingbusIt’s that time of year again– yellow buses, backpacks, lunch boxes, and first day of school jitters.

The back-to-school scene is a bit different in our household. My daughter begins her sophomore year of high school and her 9th year of homeschooling. No bus, no hall pass, no lunchroom, no recess, no homework.

She’ll be taking on a rigorous program of study tailored to her abilities and interests including ballet, music, screenwriting, and drama. 

Thanks to the many opportunities for homeschoolers in our area, my daughter has taken wilderness training, zoo school, MIT workshops, drama and art classes, and a host of field trips.

When we first began our homeschool journey. We grew to enjoy the flexibility and efficiency it offered. My daughter learned, explored, made friends, and honed her talents.

Since she began homeschooling, I managed to work part-time by teaching, consulting, and writing.

Homeschooling takes a lot of energy and time, but it also gives me a lot more time with my daughter. She is my youngest child and the only one not attending college. So, the time together is especially meaningful. Last year we took a field trip to Washington, D.C. which my daughter was responsible for planning.

When people hear that she is homeschooled, they often assume that I do all the teaching. Over the years, my daughter has had other teachers. She’s taken online courses, science and enrichment classes, joined study groups, and been involved in a school pilot program. Next year, she’s likely to take a community college course. Gradually, I’ve become more of a guide and coach to my daughter, as she directs most of her education.

And so, here we are today, on the college track, with full intention of a homeschool graduation in 2016.

As happy and well-adjusted as my daughter is, I still get bouts of parental angst (mostly 3:00 am).  Does she need a wider circle of friends? Is she getting a strong enough Jewish education? Will she know how to study for tests?  (She doesn’t take many.) Will she be fluent in Spanish? I even wonder if missing all that high school drama and the girl cliques will somehow put her at a disadvantage.

We all want the best for our children, so second-guessing our choices comes with the job description. Our desire to “get it right” sometimes makes us feel that others are getting it wrong. Read any article or news story on homeschooling and you’ll find commentators attacking this choice, claiming that it is inferior to public school, that children won’t be “socialized”, that we “shelter” our kids, on and on.

Never mind that they may have never even met a homeschooler before!

Underlying these negative comments and defensiveness (on both sides), may be our own insecurities. We want our choice to be the “right” choice.

I don’t question other parents’ school choice and I ask the same in return. I am fortunate to have a choice, and it’s what works best for our family right now.

Homeschooling is not for everyone. My choice not to send my daughter to traditional school does not say anything about your choice. I’m simply an advocate of learning,  whatever form it takes for your child to thrive.

Wishing you a successful and exciting school year!