Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mother's Day recap

I wrote this post the day after Mother's Day. But such is life--I had
no time to even post it until now. I made a promise to myself to blog more... and I've already broken that promise (this month is crazy, yo). Anyway, I'll post this here now, for the memories of that weekend. Happy belated Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!


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Mother’s Day tea at Bean-girl’s school, Friday afternoon.


Bean-girl was waiting for me in front of her classroom. When she saw me enter the school building, she fairly flew down the hall to me, eyes bright. She carried a corsage in her hand. A flower of brightly dyed cloth (later, I realized that it was a tie-dyed coffee filter --blue and purple, my favorite colors). She tried to wrap the pipe cleaner stem about my wrist, then gave up and let me do it on my own. Proudly she led me to the gymnasium, where a mass of first-graders stood waiting patiently on bleachers for the show to start. The walls of the gym were covered with hand-drawn pictures of the children’s’ mothers, each picture decorated with an award: “World’s Best ------- .” At least half of the pictures were decorated with a “World’s Best Cook” award. I turned my head, searching for my own portrait. The room buzzed. I looked curiously around me at the other mothers, many of whom were greeting each other as close friends. All of us had found the time to make it here at 2:45 on a Friday afternoon, many of us undoubtedly leaving work or leaving younger children home with a sitter. I will admit that my first reaction upon receiving the invitation from Bean-girl’s teacher was annoyance. That’s mean, I thought, reading the letter which admonished me (or so it seemed) to please come to the first-grade class tea because “the children have been working very hard on this. If you can’t make it, please have someone special come in your place.” And what of the working women who can’t come? was my first thought. And what of those working women who don’t have relatives in the area—no retired grandmothers to take their place? How are those children supposed to feel, singing to no special person in the crowd and serving tea to no one?

But I was there. One of the great perks of my job is its flexibility. So I could make it, as well as the other lucky women around me.

The children launched into their Mother’s Day concert. A series of songs honoring mothers. I pride myself on being unsentimental. My husband and I both affect cynicism. But by the second song, I found myself melting. A mother is like a flower, the children sang. A mother is like sunshine, and Bean-girl and her classmates crossed their arms over their hearts in the sign for love.

She got me right there.

And afterward, she and her classmates served us iced tea, lemonade, strawberries, cookies and Hershey’s kisses. There were only enough seats for the mothers, none for the children. So most of the kids ended up on their mothers’ laps, eating off their mothers’ plates. Bean-girl did not sit, but stood attentively and formally at my side, asking if I had enough food (and then helping herself to half of it). Bean-girl has my heart, but the boy in the formal dress shirt next to us also stole a bit of it (there’s hardly anything more adorable than a little first-grade boy in a dress shirt and tie).

But one of the best parts of the day? Bean-girl got me my portrait, and my award was not for being best cook, or gardener, or best crafty-mom. I had an award proclaiming me “World’s Best Reader.” And I was very pleased.
Because I’m not a great cook (that would be my husband). I hate baking. I hate gardening. I can’t sew and I’m terrible at crafts. I’m impatient and not good at playing on the floor with the kids, and I don’t like board games. But I love to read. And I love reading with my children. I will always love reading to and with the both of them.

Thank you, Bean-girl.

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And then a baby shower in Chicago

There was more to the weekend, much more. I feel like Bean-girl when she exclaimed over all the things she would have to write about in her school journal on Monday. We drove to Chicago for my sister’s baby shower—her first baby. Saturday morning my hugely pregnant sister took me speed shopping for the perfect suit jacket and skirt (needed for later this month). Then off to her house to prepare for the shower. My mother took over the kitchen (and took over the party from the official host). There was the usual family squabbling. My mother burned the pad thai and blamed the stove. I cooked batch after batch of spring rolls. There was yelling over cucumber slices and raw eggs. The house filled up, people ate and ate, children seemed to multiply, three kids had toilet training accidents (including one of mine).

My sister stood next to a business colleague, discussing motherhood and work. She absently rubbed her round belly. Her friend was talking about a “night nurse” that she employed. I had never heard this term before. Apparently, a night nurse is a person who comes to your home and gets up with the baby when it cries at night so that the parents can get some rest. Two of my sister’s friends employ night nurses. They also have nannies.

Life is different among the business executives of Chicago.

“My husband still travels 100%,” my sister’s friend said. “I cut back on travel when I had my kids, but I still go out of town 3-4 times a month.”

Academic scientists like to bitch about how hard we work. About how hard it is to balance work and family. But truly—many others have it worse. (although the high-flying execs do get paid more).

A father with a month-old daughter cradled her head tenderly. He had the dazed, shell-shocked expression of new parents. “As you can tell, we’re still learning,” he commented.

“Will you come stay with me after the baby is born?” my sister asked me. “We don’t even know how to bathe a baby! One of my friends said it took them an hour the first time they tried! I don’t even know what to do!”

Nobody does, at first. You learn.

The house was filled with parents in various states of learning. High-powered dual career couples. Lower-key families with a part-time working spouse. A full-time stay-at-home father and his wife. My sister and her husband have a wide range of friends, and various occupations and lifestyles were represented.

My sister has worried aloud about combining motherhood and career since the day she was engaged. Actually, I think she’s been worrying about it long before. Her husband is also nervous. He wants to be a good father. He’s actually talked about quitting his own job to stay home with their child.

I do worry about her. It’s not easy. And I don’t just mean about the work/family issue—it’s not easy period. A new child is sleeplessness and stress and an inevitable toll on the marriage. That wrinkled little baby will stretch you and strain you and change you in ways you cannot imagine.
But she will also bring you love and expand your heart in a way you cannot now understand.

I look at my sister in her pretty patterned dress, round and glowing and beautiful. I worry, but her husband is a good man, solid all the way through. She is worried about what lies ahead for them, but I know she’ll learn and be okay.

She’ll muddle through, just as the rest of us are doing.

Happy late Mother’s Day to you all.