Happy Birthday Mom!

Well, I’m breaking one of my blogging rules. I like to spend some time catching up, reading favorite blogs, answering comments, posting a few of my own, before I launch a new post. But with a week of little ones and work to fill my time, blogging has been on the back burner. I’m still recovering from having an 18 month old running around my house, and a four-year old that has a million questions and opinions. It was a joy, every minute of it, but not conducive to writing.

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday, and I’ve done the standard things. I wished her happy birthday by phone, and with a Facebook post, and sent a gift, and we’re planning a girls’ night out in August when we’ll have a little visit in Seattle. But I wanted to do it one more way, marking the moment here, putting it in writing because I’m not there to say it in person.

It’s not a momentous birthday, 74, although really they all are, whether it’s a decade milestone or just a somewhere-in-the-middle number. We are 20 years apart, she and I, my big day lagging a few months behind hers.

Marking the moment

Marking the moment

This photo was made a few birthdays ago when she was up for a visit. She’s a traveler, that being part of her life’s work as a Christian missionary, along with my dad, to many locations, most in Asia. So a little trip to Ketchikan is just opportunity to see another part of the world. And when she’s visited, we’ve seen bears, and eagles, and done a little cooking and a little sampling of the local fare. She’s sat in my living room and seen the float planes and the cruise ships that dock just beneath my windows.

But mostly, visits are about connecting, whether in Alaska or her home in Mississippi.

My mom is one of a kind, an amazing woman in so many ways. This was my tribute to her a couple of years ago, and it sums up perfectly the mom I know, who has been dear to so many, and made a difference with her life.

Happy Birthday to my mom, the one and only Betty.

~ Sheila

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Mother’s Day and other adventures

So, thinking I would treat myself to a little face to face with my son, I flew to Denver yesterday. It’s not often that I get one-on-one time with my kids, and when I have a window of opportunity, I figure I should take advantage.

I reserved a car so I wouldn’t disrupt Alex’s work day with the need for an airport pick up. Since I’m by myself, I reserved a compact size. Imagine my surprise when I checked in at Hertz and was told they had a Ram pick up for me! Now, I’ve driven mini-vans, and I’ve driven a Suburban, and I even drove our Class C RV for a stretch of about 10 miles one time…my first and last time to do that. (I had a standing plan that if anything happened to Rob while he was driving it…death or stroke or any little thing that took him out of the driver’s seat, I would put a for sale sign out and abandon it on the spot. I am not comfortable driving 30 ft vehicles. :) )

The customer service agent assured me that I would like driving the truck…you’re up high, he said. You’ll have a better view, he said. I said it would be fine as long as it was an automatic. My upbringing did not include learning to drive a standard transmission. I was not going to admit to the rep that I would prefer a nice comfortable compact when I could get higher and better for the same price. No, no, I have my pride.

Well I was up high, all right. I’m short, and I had to do a little climbing to get in the thing. You know those running boards are not just cosmetic. I was a little insecure driving something that long. (This is a full size 2 ton truck…at least I think it’s 2 ton. Maybe it’s 1 1/2 ton. I’ve heard of those too. But what do I know? Vehicles with numbers are largely over my head.) But it’s true, I had a great view.  I think the other drivers I passed just wanted to stay out of my way.

I proceeded cautiously to the interstate. Now keep in mind, I live in VERY SMALL TOWN Alaska, so I’m not used to driving in heavy traffic these days. I used to be pretty fearless, but now that I don’t do it that often…well, I’m a little intimidated. I can do it, but I prefer to maneuver with a vehicle that’s more my size. I felt like I was in a semi, barreling down the road, peering over the steering wheel.

I don’t have blue hair, and I don’t think anyone would call me a little old lady. But I’ll be ready when the time comes. I know what that feels like now.

I made it to the hotel, and I parked. Alex lives about half a block away, so he’s able to do the driving for the weekend in his car. I’m just glad I don’t have to get in the beast again until Monday, when I go back to the airport. Good thing it was a great rate. Cheaper than a cab or shuttle as it turned out!

And oh yes, the customer service rep mentioned the truck would be good in the snow. Snow? I didn’t expect snow this weekend! I did not pack for a Rocky Mountain spring storm. Guess it’s a shopping opportunity for a sleeve or two. Wonder what else is coming my way?

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who wear that title and love, nurture, and parent. It’s not a task for the faint of heart. But it’s one of the best jobs around. And I’m glad to celebrate this one with Alex, even if it means driving a big truck. I’m funny that way…I’ll do anything to see my kids!

That son of mine

That son of mine

My ride for the weekend

My ride for the weekend

Generations: My mom, my daughter, my granddaughter

Generations: My mom, my daughter, my granddaughter

The Jack & Riley show

The Jack & Riley show

Riley girl

Riley girl

Little Jack

Little Jack

She’s thirty

Stephanie & Jack

Stephanie & Jack

Friday, November 1st, and we’re heading to Seattle for a long weekend. We’re going down to celebrate, and mark the moment, and wonder where the time has gone. Stephanie turns thirty – 30! – tomorrow. I’ve joked that I’m not sure who is more traumatized between us. I think it’s me. She’s actually excited to be leaving the 20s behind, and feel that she’s fully a member of the adult world.

I’m excited for her. She’s a wife, and a mom, and a teacher, a home-owner, a tax payer. She sees this milestone as a cap to a decade of growth and achievement. A Type-A first-born, she powers through to her goals.

I’m nostalgic. I vaguely remember my mom turning thirty. I clearly remember myself turning thirty. I’m utterly astonished that my daughter could be hitting this marker. Decade birthdays cause reflection, my daughter’s no less than my own. I look at her and have flashbacks to earlier years. Photos and videos tell her story, interwoven with lives of family, friends, and now, her husband and little ones.

I’m proud. She’s funny and smart and pretty, and she’s kind. She follows her faith. She’s organized and creative. She remembers birthdays, calls her grandparents. She’s a better mom than I think I was…firmer, and more disciplined. She’s a strong woman.

I’m humbled. Motherhood will do that. From birth to now, I’ve watched her grow, with awe. She is unique, as all individuals are; yet watching her develop has taught me that from mother to child, the generations repeat the rhythms of life. I hear her talk about Riley and Jack, about her life and her epiphanies, and I identify. Yes, I remember feeling that. I learned that lesson too. I’ve experienced the same emotions as she does. I’m just a few years further along the path. And with the vision of my 53 year-old eyes, I see that my mom, and my grandmothers before, did the same things, said the same things. We are linked by blood, but maybe more importantly, by common experience. With all the changes in the world, we are much the same at heart. Technology and fashions change. Love doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes of motherhood says that once you have a child, your heart is forever walking around outside your body. That’s more true today than the day she was born. The love for the newborn grows and matures, just like the person. And now, thirty years rich with experience and memory, that love is a deep current that flows between us, mother and daughter. Not often spoken, but always there.

One of my favorite things about now is the ability to talk. We talk daily. Sometimes multiple times a day, usually short exchanges that keep us connected and rooted in the other’s life. The minute-to-minute events of childhood or traffic or a new haircut are the stuff of our conversations. Mostly. Sometimes we wander into deeper stuff, baring our hearts for a few minutes. But largely, through the magic of technology, we have a running dialog of the day-to-day.

Tomorrow we’ll treat her, and ourselves. We’ll open gifts and have dinner out, topped off with cheesecake. We’ll do photos and drink a toast to the day. Rob has a sentimental gift for her. I went with the more practical approach. I’m giving her a new camera for the coming decade. I expect lots of sweet shots to add to my digital collection.

Happy birthday to my daughter, my first born, my one and only Stephanie. You have been a joy and a delight! May you have many more to come, and may you be rich with love, opportunities to serve, and satisfaction from life well done. My deepest wish for you is that you experience the reward of relationships. Nothing is better than a life well lived, and full of love. But you already know that. You’re thirty now!

To Mothers

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who mother. This day is about honoring the first relationship human beings experience through the process of birth. Rightly so. But giving birth is only one element of mothering, and many women reach out to nurture, encourage, protect, and sacrifice for those they love…for those they mother.

Motherhood is a pay it forward business and not for the faint of heart. But worth it. So worth it!

I thank the women who have inspired me to be a better mom, who challenge me to continue to grow and mature in this role. First to my mom, and then to other women in my life who demonstrate unfailing love and commitment, thank you. Bless you.

“Of all the rights of women,
the greatest is to be a mother.”

Song of childhood

I have a child’s toy tune stuck in my head. Actually, the tune is from Jack’s new bouncy seat, complete with an assortment of objects designed to capture the attention of an infant. He’s not quite sitting without support, still a little wobbly. But in his little seat he reaches out to touch the noisemaker and color in front of him, his first exploration of the universe he’s joined.

Jack in discovery mode

Jack in discovery mode

I’ve been immersed in the world of the littles for much of the last two weeks. First we went to a family wedding, featuring Riley as the flower girl (sorry, bride and groom, this is Gram speaking!). It was fun to see her participate in the big event, complete with losing her shoe on the way down the aisle and stopping to put it on again. Priceless! She managed to scatter the petals (pedals, heavy on the “d” in Riley-speak). She was charming in her little dress. And both Riley and Jack were good on the flights. Mission accomplished!

Flower Girl Riley

Flower Girl Riley

I spent the following week in Gram mode, rediscovering the joys of potty training, naps, snacks, feeding times, and a memorable blow-out of a diaper. Funny how effortlessly it comes back! I struggle to remember I am not mommy in these scenes. With my own two children being the same sex and birth order as Riley and Jack, I could close my eyes and skip back twenty-five years to see Alex sitting in Jack’s spot, and Stephanie chattering beside me.

Riley is a joy, in the phase of constant “look at me.” She wants to go everywhere the adults go, have a part in everything going on. She’s both a big girl and emerging toddler, and you never know for sure which side of her you’ll get. But it’s all good. I have endless patience for this phase of life. Give me the sweetness of these ages, the funny things a child says, the joy of snuggling a three-month-old safe and warm in my arms, and I’ll gladly take the not-so-pretty spills, poops, and messes as the price of admission.

Over the weekend I flew to Denver to spend a few days with Alex. Alex, who at twenty-five has already spent five years in the army, has been 13 months deployed abroad in a war zone; has married and divorced, one of the statistics of military life; and is now trying to re-start his life in his old home-town…my Alex, who just a few short years ago was the Jack in my photos. He’s come through, not without scars, but with courage. He’s learned some difficult lessons, made hard choices. And now, seeing him after a year apart, a year of plans for connecting that didn’t work out, and long conversations by phone, I’m satisfied. The mom in me has needed this sight and sound of him, his hug and quick smile.

Alex smiles

Alex smiles

We talk. I drive to his apartment in a blinding white-out of a spring snow storm, one of Denver’s famous March storms that makes me wonder if I’m foolish for being on the road. But how could I not be? I won’t give up a day of visit to the inconvenience of weather. His apartment is spartan, bachelor in furnishing, and needs a mom shopping trip. He doesn’t ask for anything, but I load up the cart with comforts and extras. It’s so little to offer.

He knows what he has to do: put his head down and forge a path to next. He has to make his life work, and that takes time and discipline, doing it day after day, paying his bills, creating a place for himself. I can’t do it for him, and I can only help in minor ways. Mostly, he has to choose what he wants, and then accomplish it. Hard for me to recognize that he is essentially on his own.

He used to want me to watch him play video games, to see his Lego creations. He was the one that said, “look at me!” Now he’s singing a different song. He has to prove something to himself, and to the world around him. His song has matured.

We were out in the storm last Saturday, hitting Target and Safeway and knocking out my list for him. In a parking lot there was a car with the hood up and a guy standing beside it, leaning over to look at something. Alex pulled up next to him and got out, offering to help. Turned out no help was needed and we drove away. That’s who Alex is. He’s funny, has been known to wear a kilt on occasion, loves music, is helpful to a fault.

My head spins a bit, coming back to Seattle for another few days in the nursery before heading back to Alaska. I’m in a time-warp, caught between the realities of today and the memories of the past. All good, but just the same, poignant, driving home the reality that the days are long but the years are short. I’m so blessed to have had children in my life that brought me joy. They weren’t, and aren’t, perfect. But they were, and are, a joy. And to see it repeat with Riley and Jack..that’s a privilege I treasure. I know this go-round just how fast it really goes, and I know more than ever that life is a risky business with no guarantees to the outcome.

Motherhood is a delicate balancing act. Heart can get in the way of character building and courage-growing. How could I not want to protect? And yet these adults that I still mother a bit have moved well beyond my ability to protect. They fight their own battles and make their own decisions. Sometimes my heart has to race to catch up with them. My head gets it, but the mother in me struggles. I’ve been a slow learner and late bloomer in the realm of letting go. I’ve done a good job of it externally. Does that count?

The song of childhood is sweet but short. I’m learning to listen to the adult voices of my kids, and feel proud that somehow, in spite of the fact that I was making it up as I went along, they turned out well. If I do say so myself, not in my own praise, but more in wonder that it worked…all the things I tried to do, that we tried to do as parents, somehow, we got enough right.

Mommy and cub

Mommy and cub

Little #2

So this week I get to be the proud mom in my blog posts: yesterday with a birthday wish to my son, and today, an announcement from my daughter:

Baby #2 is joining the family. Riley will be a big sister in January, and Stephanie and Matt will be in the thick of parenting with a not-quite-three year old and a newborn. The lucky guys! Lots of work, but wonderful, meaningful…the best stuff of life.

Watching this unfold is fun, almost as much as when I was in a leading role. It’s a lot more restful, from this vantage point! I can’t wait until Riley understands her new position. She’s already quite the little firstborn. I recognize the type you know, since I am one, I’m married to one, and I gave birth to one. Firstborns are a little bossy. We just can’t help ourselves. We like to make sure things are done. And Stephanie and Matt have exactly the same mix in family order that Rob and I had. Two firstborns married, had their firstborn, and now will add a baby to the mix.

I always say that any family dysfunction we had was the result of our mix of three first-borns and a baby, in birth order. Three of us always wanted to direct, and the youngest one marched to his own drummer. Well, maybe that was his best option, with three of us leading the way all the time.

Anyway, exciting, happy news! I got it as a mother’s day present, but it wasn’t my secret to share, until today. Today the little ultrasound image is up on Stephanie’s Facebook page. I’m a believer in letting the one with the big news share the big news. So now that’s done, and I can share it too.

Can’t wait for January and a new little to cuddle!

My mom

I’m not going to be with my mom tomorrow, although we’ll have a chance to celebrate a belated Mother’s Day together in a couple of weeks. It would be nice to be with her on the day. But often we make do with phone calls to mark special events, the price of living many states apart.

While I won’t be with her in person, she knows my heart. In many ways, we are very different people, yet we share a strong bond that has stood the test of time and distance.

My mom is a passionate person, and cares deeply about family, faith, and country. She loves to cook big meals and have a crowd around her table. One of her favorite things to do is to plan treats for the little ones in the group. She has a play area set up for the small fry, and over the years the grandchildren and nieces and nephews have all had their turn among the toys. They’ve had their special cakes and tea parties, and they know she keeps kid food on hand at all times. “Goodie bags” and little “unbirthday” presents have marked many a visit to her house.

She’s a great one for family photos, and is always on a mission to gather the group to get an updated shot for her wall. You can see the changes over the years…the babies who are now teens, or worse, the young adults who are now grey adults.

She and my dad were married more than 50 years, and though he left us in 2008, he is still in her thoughts, a close companion throughout the days. She remains married, even in her widowed state.

She’s a strong woman, healthy, energetic, and motivated. She always has more to do than she can do in a day. She is creative, and when she was younger, channeled creativity into sewing, cooking, yard work, painting, and mothering. She made my wedding dress, sewed special things for my children, made drapes for the house. She’s an artist who painted in oils, and a gardener who loves flowers. She is a legendary cook, and has created memorable feasts over the years. She’s famous for her yeast rolls, her fried rice, and her Italian Cream cake, a few of her many specialties.

She’s enthusiastic about her work, continuing the commitment to Christian missions that she shared with my dad. She’s a writer and publisher, a traveler and a speaker. She is tireless in her efforts to share her heart, and her faith in God.

She is a prolific author and an amazing correspondent. Computer savvy, she emails and Facebooks friends and co-workers across the country and around the world. No slouch, my mom. She often works late into the night keeping up with her commitments.

She has been a support throughout my life, listening, listening, listening. She has heard my sorrows and my joys, and has made soothing noises at the right moments, rejoiced in the good things, and resisted opportunities to throw out the occasional “I told you so,” even when it has been warranted. She is ever hopeful for me and mine.

My mom is generous in her caring, ferocious in her concern, and sympathetic to a fault. I rarely catch her in a down mood. She’s carried along by the tide of her hopes and plans, and by the memories: so many good memories through the years.

My mom has been fortunate in many ways. Though not a rich woman by monetary standards, she has had love and family and calling to fill her life. Though the family picture has changed through the years, and some dear ones are not in more recent photos, she finds joy in those around her. And she looks toward the future, to accomplishing her goals, finishing her mission, and watching the grandchildren, and great grandchildren, grow.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, Betty Burton Choate: my example, my encourager, my friend, a charming woman with a charmed life, and a full life. Long may she live it!

Getting to know myself

In the past few years, post kids in the house, I’ve had more time for myself. In some ways, with work, travel, new projects, my days seem as full as ever. But there has been a shift in the busy-ness of my free time. Now I’m more likely to spend time reading online, or exploring some new activity for myself. Not that I’m totally self-absorbed. No, there are others in my life, and I reach out in many ways. But in the quiet of the evenings, or early mornings, I have freedom that couldn’t exist in the years of getting kids out the door for school, or doing laundry for a family, or proof-reading term papers due the next day.

I read other women’s work and at times, feel like I’m a late bloomer, or maybe just incredibly slow on the journey of self-discovery. There are women in their 30s that seem to be more enlightened about themselves, and more experienced in some ways, than I am. How can that be? And then I remember. I was busy that decade of my life. And in my 20s. And until late 40s. Not that motherhood and family prevent self-examination, or stunt personal growth. No, in many ways, parenting is a never-ending growth opportunity and personal challenge. It has made me want to be the best “me” I can be, and for the best motives. But it takes tremendous commitment and focus. And maybe I’m not as much a multi-tasker as I like to think.

I began the experience of motherhood at a young age. At twenty-three, just out of college a year and still a baby myself, I had a baby. And suddenly that consumed my world. In many ways, because my husband was equally consumed with medical school, it became my salvation. I was so absorbed with this new person in my life that I wasn’t troubled by the pattern our lives fell into. We each committed to our assigned roles (roles we assumed and accepted without discussion or question) and put our heads down to power through the next several years of life, surviving professional school, residency, another child, moves, stress, minimum income, minimum time together. Looking back, it is nothing short of a miracle that our marriage survived and that we were able to create a functional and even positive environment for our children. Somehow we did it. Now I understand that there was a cost, and we paid a price. We paid a price personally, and jointly. But at the time, we were just doing what was expected of us. What we expected of ourselves. Failure wasn’t an option.

As our children grew and I took on work, first part time, then full time, and Rob moved through various stages of a career in medicine; as the obligations and responsibilities of family and social commitments, volunteer positions and the chores of life grew to be never ending, we soldiered on. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that for all of the thought and care that I put into those years, there were pieces of myself that were dormant, just waiting to breathe, to have opportunity to surface.

Let me validate, for myself and for anyone else who cares to know, that those years were good. Reduced to a few paragraphs in blunt language, it’s easy to miss the joy, the love, the laughter, the good stuff. So let me acknowledge: it was mostly good. But it was busy, overwhelming, consuming, challenging. Fill in the blank with whatever word conveys the sense of completeness. The reality of life is: if you jump into the pool of creating a family, it’s going to consume you. It may consume you with joy or with grief, with busy-ness or guilt, but it will consume you. You can’t really dabble in it. If you do it well and successfully, that takes time. And if you do it poorly, there’s a cost to that too.

So what’s the point of all of this? The point is: I did it. We did it. We made it through to the other side. I always say if you have children, you’re going to pay the price either early or late. It’s not a question of the value of the decision to parent. That statement simply acknowledges the commitment. And the hands on commitment, whether you begin at twenty-three or forty-three, is going to take time, energy, money, thought, self.

Now I’m in a different time of life. I’ve written before about the empty nest, about growing into it, accepting, coming to celebrate it. The emotional ties with our kids are strong. The effort to be connected still takes time and thought, energy and commitment. I still spend money on our kids. Of course I do. They didn’t exit my life when they went off to college, or joined the army, or got married, or began to earn enough that they didn’t need regular rescue checks. But the hands on tasks are largely done. And that has left room in my days for self-discovery, for quietness, for thought. It’s amazing how much time you need to think and absorb.

I don’t know how I stack up against others. Maybe I am slow. Or maybe some of the writing that I read online that speaks of a self-knowledge gained at an earlier time in life is possible because the women writing have taken different paths than I did. Maybe they found themselves first, and will add family later, if at all. And I’m not saying that personal epiphanies and family are mutually exclusive. I had moments of enlightenment even when up to my armpits in the lives of my kids. I learned to do many things because of them, and through them.  But it’s easier to get to know myself without the noise of a full house.

So I’m working on it. Some parts of me I’m well acquainted with, but there are nooks and crannies that I’ve hardly looked into. I’m exploring, both to see what I’ve neglected or forgotten about myself, and to learn what I can contribute to the rest of the world. Because really, the point is not to do all this growing just for my benefit. Isn’t the goal to integrate, to give, to share, to take part in the lives of others? Yes, that’s the goal. And to do that, I have to know what I bring. I’m late (those who know me will hardly find that surprising…one of my faults…I’m chronically late). But I had a great reason for my slow start, and I don’t regret it. I was investing up front. Now it’s time to catch up, and I’m ready to do that.

Where are you? Did you begin early, or late, to know yourself?

Mothering

My favorite quotes about the privilege of motherhood:

“Making the decision to have a child – its momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone

“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” Jill Churchill

To mothers everywhere: enjoy your special day on Sunday. And keep up the good work. It’s a hard battle to bring up children; maybe it always has been. But worth it. Oh, so worth it.

I’m an empty-nester now. In addition to living with me, my heart lives in Arizona, and in Tennessee. If you are a mother, where does your heart live?