Monday, May 30, 2011


Several people have called me a good mom.  Flattering?  Yes.  But I have to admit that I haven't felt that way lately; I never feel that way in May when I am all-consumed in the end of the school year responsibilities of being an 8th grade teacher, and at the same time unable to focus in on the end of the school year responsibilities of being a mother.  I'm always the room parent for one of the boys, but I can only plan the activities and not participate in them.  Add to the mix my annual, pre-summer,  self-applied pressure of finding extra income, and I see myself as a caffeine-driven, ten-project at once, organizational freak making it through each day on four hours of nightly sleep.  It's at times like these when my only goal for each day is checking off the to-do list, and praying that no one gets sick in the meantime because illness does NOT fit into the schedule.

But any other time of the year, I try to be good at motherhood.  I love being a mom, but then again, who wouldn't, when she has two of the best sons one could ask for.  I like to think that my boys are avid readers because of the example set by my husband and me.  I don't remember teaching them how to read, but they were both doing so in preschool.  Of course I read to them, but they started reading to me at a very young age, and I reveled in that fact.  However, I also dismissed issues that turned out to be long-term obstacles.

My oldest never enjoyed Legos or Lincoln Logs.  We had them, but he had no interest, so we put them aside and delved into Thomas the Tank Engine world.  No biggie.  Well, I remember going to my first parent-teacher conference (this time as the "parent").  Friends and relatives wanted to know how it went, praising my son's brilliance at vocabulary and voracious reading ability and sports analysis (he loved, and still does, checking out the box scores in the newspaper and forming opinions and predictions for every team in every league in every sport).  What I didn't expect was the veteran preschool teacher telling me that my child was quite delayed with fine and gross motor skills.  WHAT?  Yes, I knew he hated coloring and didn't hold the crayon correctly, but quite delayed motor skills?  Yes, I knew he had difficulty with the specially made child scissors, but he doesn't have the ability to rip paper?  Why would I ever have reason to notice he couldn't rip paper?  When he slapped a bouncy ball, and it walloped him on the forehead, we thought it was cute; we chuckled.  We didn't realize he didn't have the control necessary to "dribble."  So eventually, we sought out occupational therapy, and I researched all the activities I needed to monitor at home.  We became quite crafty at Christmas time, but no matter how enthusiastic I was about all of our projects, he dreaded everything we did.  I wanted to make our at-home therapy fun and exciting, but he was smart.  He knew why we were doing these things, and he struggled, but he improved.  When insurance ran out, and the therapist took maternity leave, I was on my own.  Some people say I was a good mom for taking charge of my son's motor skill problems, but I saw it as making up for being the bad mom who didn't notice the issue in the first place.
(FYI... my son still dislikes art, but fortunately for us, he is in a school with a wonderful art teacher who recognizes his inabilities and has never stomped his spirit.  I am grateful to her for guiding my son and giving him art appreciation.  I hate the fact that so many schools are dismantling their art programs due to a lack of funds.  Our story is the best example as to why these programs are so very important, so please support the arts!  In addition, my son, at age eleven, is doing quite well academically.  I chalk this up to his continual obsession with reading.  He is an honor roll kid, and I hope he will always take education as seriously as he does today.  He is active in all sports and acknowledges he may not be the best player in every sport, but he is truly a good athlete because he puts so much dedication into practicing and improving.  I admire him so much for this.  And last but not least, it is probably no surprise that as a fifth grader, he got his own byline as a sports reporter in the school newspaper.  And did I mention that he has a heart of gold?  What a great kid!)

So, seventeen months after my first delivery, we were blessed with a second son.  Of course, by the time he was in preschool, he was using building blocks and putting together puzzles and experimenting with stickers and paints, because this mom doesn't make the same mistake twice!  No siree, my boy would grow in dexterity with superb hand-eye coordination and no sign of delay in motor skills.  Well, as much as this is all true, it didn't seem to matter to me that he didn't talk much.  After all, who could get a word in edgewise with a babbling, older brother who was always stealing the spotlight with monologues a mile long? He was just my shy one, right?  There were plenty of kids with lisps and making the "w" sound for r's and l's.  By kindergarten, the teacher told me to keep an eye on his speech, but he just might outgrow the impediments.  Impediment?  By first grade, speech therapy was recommended.  This was when it dawned on me that I needed to seek help.  However, the reality was that my son was very bright, and from what other moms in my town said, he would be the last to receive speech services because his speech was not impeding his school work.  I'll do it on my own.  I purchased speech therapy workbooks and a handheld mirror for the "therapy" activities, and when strides were being made with the l's, I was a proud mamma.  Well, take it from me, an untrained mother can NOT be a substitute for a licensed speech therapist.  How do people place their tongues correctly when saying "rrr?"; furthermore, if I can't figure it out with my own mouth, how could I teach my son?  By second grade, the teacher expressed concern that my son was not participating enough in class, and when he did, she'd have to ask him to repeat himself.  This was turning into a self-esteem issue, and I was feeling guilty for having let this go so long.  After waiting to hear about my application for services, I felt as if the process was going to let us down.  So, finally, at the end of second grade, my son was evaluated by a private speech therapist.  Insurance covered some, but not much, of the therapy.  We could only afford two sessions per month, and that's what we've been doing for two years now.
(F.Y.I... Slowly but surely my son is improving in speech, and there's a complete difference in the way he approaches new people and new situations.  He is great with l's, near perfect with "th," when concentrating he has the "rr" down pat at the beginning and middle of words, and he's well on his way to conquering the ending "r."  I wish we could have done more sooner, but I'm grateful once again for all of the caring faculty at our school for guiding me in the right decision.  Like his older brother, my son loves sports, plays them all well, and is still an avid reader, getting engrossed in a new series practically every week.  Unlike his older brother, my son has found another interest - comic books.  He actually participated in a child focus group to discuss Marvel heroes, and he was a shining star in that group, offering some insightful suggestions and comments, all the while articulating his words.  How amazing he is!)

My boys are fun and inquisitive and bring out the best in me.  If I'm a good mom, it has everything to do with the fact that they are simply good kids.  I love you guys!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thinking about Mom

With Mother's Day coming up, I've been reflecting on one of my special gifts: my mom.   So here's a little personal narrative that, hopefully, captures my appreciation for a wonderful lady.

     "You did WHAT?"
     "I told your mom she should stay with us for a week or so after the baby's born.  I thought you'd be happy.  She'll be such a big help," my husband replied sheepishly.
     I was despondent, ninth-month emotional, on the verge of hysteria.
     "How could you do that?  Without asking me?  She'll drive me crazy.  I'll start talking in that tone again!"

     That "tone" is something of which I've never been proud.  A prime example of that "tone" comes back to me every once in a while.  It was the end of my senior year of college.  The phone rang, and I knew her ring, but I figured I should probably pick it up anyway, so she wouldn't keep calling and calling until I answered.  My mom was the type to call back ten times and leave ten messages until I'd return her call.  So I picked it up with a roll of the eyes and a look of disgust.  Snotty?  Yes, I knew I was being snotty, but that didn't stop me.
     "Yes, Mother."
     I never addressed my mom as "Mother" unless I was peeved about being disturbed.  I wasn't doing anything in particular.  I wasn't engrossed in any activity or book or show or school work.  It was simply a bad time.  It was ALWAYS a bad time.
     "Hi sweetie.  What's the matter?"
     "Am I catching you at a bad time again?"
     "Actually, yes, you are."
     "Well, you don't have to be so snippy, Geralyn."
     "I'm not trying to be snippy, Mother.  I'm busy."
     "Well then, I'll let you go and tell you what I wanted to say at another time."
     Another roll of the eyes, and I switched the phone to the other ear.
     "Please don't put a guilt trip me on me."
     "Your father and I were thinking about making a down payment on a car for you for graduation, and I was just wondering if you were free this weekend to go car shopping."
     Silence.  Guilt.  And that was a prime example of Mom putting me in my place.  If I could go back in time and slap my face for every time I used that "tone" with my mom, I would do it.  And it took years of effort to change those habits, to remind myself over and over again of how blessed I was to have this woman as my mom, and if her desire to be my friend and talk to me was the worst quality she had, my God, who was I to complain!

     And so, my husband invited Mom to stay with us.  It was a vulnerable time.  I hated it when I didn't feel in control, and I was definitely NOT in control of my life at that point.  What if she's smothering?  What if she starts offering unsolicited advice?  What if she inadvertently criticizes what I do?  What if...  I sobbed.  I cried for hours.  I wasn't a mean and cruel person, but I dreaded that "tone" coming back and feeling mean and cruel. 
     "Should I tell her not to come?" my husband asked.
     "NO!"  Now that would be mean and cruel.

     So, on a cool and clear October day, my husband and I, with our new baby boy, came home from the hospital.  Our humble bungalow was decorated with a large, cut-out stork and teddy bears; cards and packages of congratulations had already arrived.  I was filled with pure happiness and joy.  Being a parent was an amazing experience from the first moment I held this little angel in my arms.  And when Grandma/Mom arrived with her rolling suitcase and teary-eyed gaze... well, the opposite of my fears occurred.  It was unexpected, but I finally connected, and while connecting I started to remember.
      I remembered sitting in the shopping cart when we went grocery shopping, and I remembered my favorite jello-cake with whipped cream on birthdays, and I remembered her brushing my hair into perfect pigtails, and I remembered the cool washcloths she put on my head when I had a fever, and I remembered her singing "Oh, Johnny" in the a show at our church, and I remembered her tolerating the pains of being a lunchroom lady, and I remembered her presence at my cheerleading performances, and I remembered her humming while seasoning her Italian pasta sauce, and I remembered her at my side in a hospital room when my appendix was taken out, and I remembered her encouraging me to write, simply by reading everything I put down on paper.
     Yes, a strange but beautiful experience took place - my first week of motherhood was also the first time I wholeheartedly appreciated being a daughter.  My mom was, indeed, a great help with the baby; they bonded, and that was important.  But just as important, we bonded - Mom and me.  As mother/daughter, as parents, as friends.  And I cried the day my dad came to pick her up and take her home.  They didn't live far away, a 30-45 minute bus ride if my dad was too busy to drive her (she doesn't have a license), but I cried anyway.

     It's not surprising that Mom was one of the only two readers for my first manuscript.  She is always interested in hearing about my ideas, even if it's a bad time, but I guess that's just what moms do.  For the most part, we've talked daily ever since that week together, and going to the Dells each summer always includes Grandma... I may still roll my eyes once in a while (I'll keep working on it), but seriously, I feel like the luckiest daughter in the world!  Happy Mother's Day, Mom! 

(The ironic part of this essay is the fact that Mom called three times while writing it, and I answered every time, smiling while thinking of what I was writing and who was calling... and I have to say that I truly love my mother.)

*      *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Here are some links to other "mom" related stories/essays written by members of the Chicago Writers Association:

By Mary T. Wagner
author of Running With Stilettos:  Living a Balanced Life in Dangerous Shoes
(sitting at my son's hospital bed)
(taking a weekend trip with my grown daughters, each of us survivors in our own way)
(motherhood measured in foil-wrapped treats)
(my daughter gets cancer and I go pre-surgery shopping)
(watching my young daughter pack things to bring back to college) 

By Libby Hellman
author of Set the Night on Fire
(Click on "Mother's Day -- Bah, Humbug")

By Lisa Sachs