The Gift of Motherhood

On this Mother’s Day I feel especially grateful for my family. My mother is still alive at age 92. Both of my daughters are now mothers themselves, and when they ask me what I want for Mother’s Day, I can’t think of anything I don’t already have. They have given me the best gift of all, my three granddaughters.

Looking back over the years, I know I had many failures as a mother. But I loved my daughters from the first moments I held them, and my love for them has just grown stronger over the years. I don’t know how they learned to be such incredible mothers themselves, but I am not giving myself any credit for preparing them for motherhood. They have trusted their instincts over and over, and those instincts have yet to fail them.

My youngest daughter was the first to have children. My granddaughters are now ages five and nine, and they are wonderful girls. My daughter is a stay-at-home mom who volunteers at numerous school activities, has offered her children opportunities to play sports, take dance, gymnastics, and swimming lessons, and learn to play an instrument. She has protected them, taught them, played with them, and kept them healthy. She cooks nutritious, organic meals, limits snacks and television time, encourages reading and activity, and loves them with all her heart. It hasn’t been easy. Her husband travels a lot, both in this country and out, and spends several evenings a week at dinner meetings. He works hard and is a great dad, but she has had to cope alone many times when his presence would have made things easier. Even though motherhood for her is often overwhelming, that is really because she takes it very seriously and puts everything she can into it. Her daughters are very lucky to have her as their mother.

My oldest daughter is new to motherhood. Single by choice after some very painful failed relationships, she has concentrated on her career. But in recent years, she has been talking about her need to have a child. I admire the work she has done to prepare herself for adoption. She took weekly classes, read numerous books, joined support groups, and hoped. Single mothers are often not the first choice for child placement. She knew this. She expected a wait of three or four years or maybe more. But the week she got her certification to adopt a child, she met the seven-year-old girl who would become her daughter. They were a perfect match. Maria and her siblings were taken from their parents, separated, and placed in foster care. They had been abused and neglected, children of drug-addicted parents. Maria was put in a separate foster home, later taken from that home and placed in a shelter for months, waiting for someone to love her. That person was my daughter.

Figuring out how to mother a seven-year-old without the previous six years of experience was not easy. I guess it’s like walking through a mine field, and when the child has a history of abuse, there is just no telling when an explosion might occur. However, despite Maria’s many nights of crying, despite frequent meltdowns over seemingly insignificant things, my daughter has loved Maria, held her, comforted her, talked to her, guided her, and provided her with opportunities she never had before. She now has access to food, she has had her first birthday party, her first real Christmas, her first Easter basket and Easter egg hunt, her first art and music experiences, her first swimming and gymnastics lessons, her first bicycle, her first dog. The list is endless. She has new clothes, shoes that fit, hair cut and styled in a salon, friends in school, and a new family who loves her unconditionally. She is not with her siblings but she has seen them. She will never be with her parents again, but she has a life like other children have now. Within a few days of meeting my daughter, she held her hand and called her “mommy,” a word I suspect was the most wonderful word my daughter has ever heard.

I am so proud of both of my daughters. They call me frequently just to share, although I sometimes probably offer too much advice. I was both at times a stay-at-home mom and a working mom. I know the challenges. Parenting in this crazy, often dangerous world today is not easy, but my daughters are succeeding at it in wonderful ways. I am so lucky to have been given the gifts of my daughters and my granddaughters. Even though they live far away and I don’t see them enough, I carry them always in my heart, and so today I celebrate motherhood for us all.

Autumn Visit to California: A Lesson in Today’s Frantic Parenting

The week we just spent in California was different from a week at home in New York in ways too numerous to mention completely.   The weather was definitely better since it apparently rained in New York every day we were gone.  When we walked out of the Burbank airport, heat hit us immediately, the bright sun and pure blue sky replacing the grayness of New York.

I love the beauty of California, but I knew we would be returning to cool autumn mornings and the brilliant oranges and reds of falling leaves.  Still we managed to experience a bit of fall during our visit in California.

While we were there, my daughter and her husband threw a birthday party for their oldest daughter who had just turned six.   Sixty-two guests came to the event at a local farm where there were hay rides, pony rides, corn mazes, and an animal feeding area with goats and sheep and other farm animals.  There were games and bouncy houses and the never-to-be-forgotten cow train.  Late September and early October in California has a lot in common with New York.

What is very different is the pace, a pace that is a challenge for retired grandparents whose days are more leisurely.  My daughter’s schedule is frenetic.  She has to drive her oldest daughter to school every day and pick her up.  Her two-year-old has music class one morning, Gymboree one morning, and a mommy and me class two mornings.  Her six-year-old has dance class once a week, karate twice a week, gymnastics once a week, a religious education class once a week, and soccer every Saturday.  Every day is a mad dash somewhere.

While I was rushing around with my daughter, I tried to remember how I managed with my own two daughters when they were the same age.  I know they had swimming lessons, dance classes, piano lessons, religious education classes, gymnastics, t-ball, Indian Princesses, and Brownies.  I obviously ran around just as much.  What I remember now that time has passed is not the fatigue and frantic need to get somewhere on time but the way the activities helped my daughters develop physical strength, coordination, discipline, and confidence.  I think the sacrifices I made to get my daughters to all these activities helped them become successful, mature adults.  The goal of parenting for any generation seems to be to offer to our children as many opportunities for success and fun as we can cram into each day.  It’s a lofty goal.  It was probably more fun for me to watch my granddaughters at these activities than it was for my daughter who was most likely thinking of errands she still needed to run and what she could make for dinner.  Still, watching my oldest granddaughter play soccer and excel at karate and watching the little one play with Play-Doh and paint at an easel for the first time lifted my heart and also made me sad that these moments are all too rare.   California is just too far from New York for many visits.

Parenting today seems so much more stressful than when my daughters were young.  I had my parents, grandparents, and sister nearby to help when I needed it.  My daughter has no family nearby.  She and her husband are on their own, and every day is exhausting for them.  Maybe grandparents become even more special when they are seldom seen, at least that is what I am telling myself.  I can still feel my youngest granddaughter hugging my arm as I sat next to her in the car and coming up behind me in the kitchen, wrapping her arms around my leg, and resting her head on me.  I can remember the way it felt to lie next to my oldest granddaughter and read to her every night, giving her a hug and kiss before bedtime.  I remember how she ran into the house the day we left and threw herself on her bed crying hysterically because we had to leave.

There may be miles and miles between California and New York, but there is very little distance between my heart and the hearts of my granddaughters.  Our visits may be far apart, but love knows no distance.  I love autumn in New York, but I was so grateful for the chance to experience the same season in California, even if there wasn’t an orange or red leaf anywhere to be seen.  And the best part of all was experiencing a California autumn with my grandchildren by my side.