Columns

Guilt-Free Mothers and Other Mythical Creatures

Flowers, cards, breakfast in bed. You know the drill.

If you’re a lucky mom, Mother’s Day comes with a fairly predictable playlist. But often, an unwelcome condiment comes along with the coffee lovingly poured into the World’s Best Mom mug – a heaping side of guilt.

Don’t believe me? Google the words mother and guilt and you’ll get more than 10 million hits. That’s not a side dish, that’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of remorseful regret.

No matter how many articles, books and blogs advocate guilt-free mothering, I don’t know any moms who don’t struggle with feeling bad about some aspect of their parenting. Much like unicorns with rainbow wings, guilt-free moms are mythical creatures.

The things we feel guilty about are myriad. We feel bad that we worked outside the home or bad that we stayed at home. We regret not having more children or terrible that we had too many. We agonize over every time we lost our tempers and shouted things that shame us, and worry over all the times we were too lax, too soft, too permissive.

Most of us have a mental checklist of our perceived failures, and all the sweet Mother’s Day cards in the world can’t make us untick even one of those boxes.

No matter how we came to motherhood, whether by birthing, adopting or step-parenting, each of us has an ideal mother in mind – that’s the goal we struggle to achieve. Sometimes the ideal is our own mothers and sometimes it’s anyone but them.

None of us really dreams of being June Cleaver. Once, I actually tried vacuuming while wearing a dress, apron, heels and pearls. It was every bit as silly as I imagined.

But the home June created? Now, that still seems magical. Spotless, warm, love-filled – a place where every childhood problem was happily resolved by the end of each episode. Who wouldn’t want that?

Even worse than trying to live up to mythical ideals is the way we constantly compare ourselves with each other. Oh, we swear we won’t. Vow we don’t. But we do, we certainly do.

We look at the Facebook photos of our friends’ brilliant, talented, successful offspring, and we weigh and measure our mothering skills against theirs. As if being a perfect mother would guarantee perfect children. As if any kind of perfection among humankind is attainable.

For some, the Mother’s Day tally of gifts and sentiments either verifies our value or proves our unworthiness – either temporarily assuages our guilt or fans the flames of self-recrimination.

And this year, what I most wanted for Mother’s Day created a week’s worth of angst for me. You see, I wanted something different. Something I was sure other moms would judge me for. Something I felt guilty even mentioning.

Ala Greta Garbo, I wanted to be alone.

I felt incredibly selfish even mentioning it to Derek. I mean, what kind of mother doesn’t want to spend the day surrounded by her children? Plus, we usually have both of our moms over for dinner. What kind of daughter messes with tradition?

A tired one, perhaps?

It’s been an especially busy season in our household. Kids coming and going, juggling jobs and community commitments, maintaining friendships and important connections. As someone who needs a certain amount of solitude to recharge, I was drowning in a sea of obligations of my own making.

Thankfully, I married a man who knows me well. When I dithered and dallied over Mother’s Day plans, he encouraged me to give myself a break. So I did.

We took our moms out to brunch on Saturday. And on Mother’s Day I didn’t leave the house. I relished a solitary breakfast in bed, while reading the newspaper. Then I enjoyed long phone conversations with two of my sons and briefer conversations with the other two. Then I turned my phone off.

I didn’t get out of bed until noon. Stayed in my sweats sans makeup all day and binge-watched the new “Anne of Green Gables” on Netflix.

It was heavenly.

The flowers, cards and gifts from Derek and the boys were sweet, but the best gift was the one I gave myself – a feast of solitude minus the side of guilt.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

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War Bonds

Because author podcasts about potatoes are HUGELY popular

My two younger sons joined me for another episode of Life, Love and Raising Sons (Not Necessarily in That Order).

We covered what’s new (Sam got his first job and Zach’s moving to Nashville), but mainly we talked potatoes. Specifically, why was there a potato in the silverware drawer and whose responsibility is it to remove it?

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The Great Potato  Debate

As if that’s not fascinating enough, we also played “Finish This Sentence,” and discovered what Zach would do if he was a girl and what I would do if I was man.

Tune in here.

You can also listen via iTunes or Stitcher. Just look for Spokane Talks Online and Life, Love and Raising Sons.

We don’t always talk potatoes. Sometimes we cover corn 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Columns

Looking Ahead at an Empty Nest

Strains of ragtime music float through the house as I write. Zach’s learning a new tune on his banjo.

Nearby, explosions and machine gunfire flicker from the television while Sam advances in “Gears of War” on his Xbox. It could be “Call of Duty” – I’ve long since given up trying to identify video games.

I’ve also long since given up on having an office with a door. Ninety-five percent of all columns have been written in our unfinished basement family room. Family being the operative word. No matter how hard I try to carve out an empty house to write in, someone always comes home early. Or leaves late. Or brings a friend over. You get the picture.

Milo’s plaintive meows escalate as he tries to convince someone that he’s near starvation. Thor yawns while shifting his bulk onto my feet. He’d prefer to be reclining on my lap, but I’ve scooted my chair under my desk, so there’s no room for him. His thunderous purrs add to the cacophony.

It’s hard to imagine an empty, silent house, but one day soon these rooms will echo with memories instead of noise. Next month, Zach is moving to Nashville to further his music career. Our family that once numbered six (not including cats) will shrink to three, and sometime in the next few years Sam, too, will fly the coop.

Those empty-nest years I’ve both longed for and dreaded are fast approaching, and the feedback from friends who’ve walked this path ahead of me hasn’t exactly been encouraging.

You won’t have anything left to talk to your spouse about. You’ll be at greater risk for divorce.

Look out! Menopause and midlife crisis happen at the same time as empty nest.

Your finances will be more stressed than ever.

They’ll call all the time, yet never listen to a word you say.

They won’t call at all.

Don’t worry, they’ll come back. The hard part is getting them to leave again.

What empty nest? Those kids will never leave and still be living in your basement when they’re 30.

I take these dire pronouncements in stride, because I know plenty of folks who are reveling in their child-free homes, embracing this natural sequence of parenting with gusto and gumption.

Most days I think I’ll be one of them. In fact, I’ve already got my eye on a ’65 candy-apple red Mustang convertible. It’s my midlife crisis insurance policy.

I’m fine with the idea of my sons being out in the world, making their own lives, buying homes, building careers, and starting families. Honestly, I can’t wait to be a grandmother. “Nana Cindy” has a lovely ring to it.

We’ve done the best we can to equip our children for life outside the cozy cocoon of home because we’ve always understood their presence here was fleeting at best.

But much like giving birth, the reality of the experience rarely dovetails with research. So, I do the best I can to prepare. Like stockpiling for a snowstorm I shore up friendships, knowing I’ll need the company of others to help ease the silence that will remain in my children’s absence.

We invest in our marriage with date nights and weekend trips, remembering what it was like when we were a family of two.

We have work and volunteer opportunities. We have siblings and extended family. We have cats. An empty nest doesn’t have to be lonely.

Yet as much as I long for silence, I’m glad our home is emptying slowly. Each son’s departure offers an opportunity to learn how to parent from afar, and ultimately how to parent less and friend more. And I’m profoundly thankful for the unexpected blessing of our fourth son. Sam’s presence has served as a bridge between so many parenting milestones, including this one.

And this I know; however far my sons soar, their homing instincts will occasionally guide them back to the nest – a place where they will always be safe, welcomed and loved.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

Columns

In which I enjoy being a girl

Today’s Spokesman Review column finds me attempting to update an old song.

If there’s one remark guaranteed to rain down the wrath of Mom upon my sons, it’s when one of them says to the other, “Don’t be such a girl!”

Using gender as an insult is a nonstarter in my house.

Besides, as Doris Day famously sang, “I enjoy being a girl” – at least most of the time.

The 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune is fun to sing, but the lyrics are definitely not contemporary.

I’m a girl, and by me that’s only great!

I am proud that my silhouette is curvy,

That I walk with a sweet and girlish gait

With my hips kind of swivelly and swervy.

Let’s be honest here. After birthing four sons and reaching my fifth decade my silhouette’s curves are decidedly more pronounced. Are spheres curves? I’m not sure. I didn’t do well in geometry.

Also, my gait is no longer girlish. In fact, many mornings I limp to the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee due to a strained Achilles.

I still take the stairs two at a time, if by two at a time you mean carefully placing one foot and then the other on each stair before descending.

I adore being dressed in something frilly

When my date comes to get me at my place.

Out I go with my Joe or John or Billy,

Like a filly who is ready for the race!

We’ve already established that I’m not racing anywhere. I also no longer wear something frilly due to the aforementioned dangerous curves.

Fifty may be the new 30, but 30-year-olds are dressing like teenagers, so shopping is complicated. I recently bought some trendy jeans, artistically ripped in strategic places.

My husband said, “I could take a razor to your old jeans and save you a lot of money.”

“But, I’ve got bling! On my butt!” I replied, twirling around to show him my jewel-encrusted back pockets.

He started humming “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

I hummed “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.”

Game. Set. Match.

When I have a brand new hairdo

With my eyelashes all in curl,

I float as the clouds on air do,

I enjoy being a girl!

My sons used to pluck out a stray gray hair whenever they’d appear. A few years ago, my youngest announced, “I don’t think we should be pulling out your grays – you’re gonna get bald.”

So, now my new hairdo involves regular appointments for highlights – not to cover the gray, but to camouflage it. It doesn’t cause me to float on air, but it does lighten my wallet considerably.

When men say I’m cute and funny

And my teeth aren’t teeth, but pearl,

I just lap it up like honey

I enjoy being a girl!

Men do say I’m cute and funny and I love that. Of course, the men who tell me that now are generally over 70 or under 20.

Also, my teeth aren’t pearls, but there’s definitely some silver and a few crowns involved.

I flip when a fellow sends me flowers,

I drool over dresses made of lace,

I talk on the telephone for hours

With a pound and a half of cream upon my face!

OK, here’s the deal. I learned long ago, that while flowers from a guy are sweet, I can buy my own roses any time I want – no need to wait around for Valentine’s Day. And I like lace as much as the next gal, but not necessarily where it can be seen by the public, if you know what I mean.

I’ve come to terms with moisturizers, eye cream, toners and “miracle” repair, but I draw the line at a pound and a half of cold cream. Actually, the only cold cream I have is in the refrigerator and I pour it in my morning coffee.

Who talks on the phone for hours anymore? Texting and instant messaging are much more efficient. However, I rarely use emoticons. Especially after I sent what I thought was a chocolate cupcake to a friend on her birthday. Apparently, there are poop emojis. Lesson learned.

And one lesson I hope my sons have learned is that “being a girl” is not an insult. After all, without this girl, they wouldn’t even be here.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast, “Life, Love and Raising Sons,” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.