Friday, April 30, 2010

Tsunami #1

Friday, April 30, 2010

I have this recurring nightmare (one of several, actually). In it, I'm getting ready for a tsunami I know is coming. Only I can't really get ready because it's only moments away, and there's nothing I can do about it. I can't run. I can't duck into my submarine for cover. I can't build a wall to hold it back. And I'm standing there, watching it as it rises in the distance, getting higher and higher until it fills the sky and is just a few feet away from crashing over me. And then I wake up.

I'm sure dream interpreters would have something to say about this. My unprofessional opinion, however, is that I hate being unprepared for anything. I like to know, going into something, exactly what is expected of me, and I want to make sure I have all of the equipment necessary to deal with it. So one of my biggest fears is knowing what's coming and having to just stand there and watch it happen. Another of my biggest fears is the ocean. Combine them, and that's my nightmare. Or, as I said, it's one of them.

Lately, I've been watching a tsunami approach and have been in denial that it's ever going to truly come all the way to shore. And it's my thirteen-year-old son.

I've been able to laugh off him walking ten feet ahead of or behind me in public. I've been able to laugh off him hunching up in his seat at the movie theater while sitting next to me, as if people behind us might recognize him and see that (gasp) he's with his mother. I've been able to laugh off him bringing friends home and disappearing into the basement with hardly a nod at me. And I've been able to laugh because I know he's just becoming more independent, finding his own way, his own identity. Those are all things that are important for a teenage boy. And I've also been able to laugh because when his friends aren't around, he actually talks to me. We have conversations. He shares stories with me of what happened that day at school. We laugh together. And I think he might even like me.

And then this morning...

I had to drop him off early at school for a bake sale he was helping to run for Relay for Life. And, honest to goodness, he snarled at me most of the way there. I'd ask a question, and he'd bare his teeth. I thought we were having a discussion; he apparently thought I was trying to steal his water buffalo carcass from him.

When I got home, I called my mother. "What do I do now?" I asked her. "He's turned into a teenager."

Mom laaaughed. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "Welcome to the club. You don't do anything."

I said, "Will he come back?"

She said, "Of course."

We hung up, and I asked my seven-year-old daughter, while I was braiding her hair and she was reading me a story she's writing, "Are you going to be like that when you turn thirteen?"

"No," she insisted.


The first tsunami has landed, and I saw it coming, and fat lotta good that did me--the "seeing" it. And three more are on the way, aren't they? The one who turns eleven in a few days is approaching. Then I have to worry about the seven-year-old (and, being a girl, she'll be a tough one, I'm afraid). Finally, the five-year-old will finish off what's left of me--IF there's anything left of me at that point. I see myself tattered and torn, my clothing shredded (either from the wind and waves or from renting them in sorrow), my face gaunt, my back bent as I cling to a tree in our backyard with my eyes closed . . . and all four of my tsunamis asking, "Was she always like this?"

Nope. She wasn't.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go out and invest in some heavy-duty rope to keep me wrapped around that tree for the next . . . (I'm counting) . . . thirteen or fourteen years.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Love

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yesterday morning, I sat my five-year-old on the counter so he could watch me make his egg. He said, "Mommy, I wish you weren't already married to Daddy, because I want to marry you." I said, "Oh, trust me. As much as you love me, you'll love your wife someday even more."

Ugh. I hated admitting that to him.

He gave me a hug and said, "I'm in love with you."

Now, of course, five minutes later he was in love with his shirt, his shoes, Curious George, his scooter . . . whatever could hold his attention. But if I rank up there with a monkey and his favorite mode of transportation, I'd say I'm doing okay.

I'm watching him now as he colors for the few minutes of free time he has before heading off to preschool. And I have to say I'm in love with him, too--even more than monkeys, scooters, applesauce, and diet pepsi. That's our common game: "I love you more than . . ."

And "anything" is always the shortest and most honest answer, but it's cheating as far as the kids are concerned. You have to really think about what you'd be willing to give up forever for the other person; otherwise, there's always the retort: "Really? What about this or that?"

Years ago, I sat in a book group with some of my closest friends, and one of them posed the question: "Are you where you thought ten years ago you'd be today?" Most of them said no.

But I said yes. I knew I wanted to be a freelance editor and a wife and a stay-at-home mother. I'm all of those things, even if the proportions vary over the years. I don't feel like I sacrificed anything to be a mom--except perhaps a little muscle tone I'll never get back. But I never wanted a high-profile career, only a little work to call my own. And I never wanted fame and fortune, only a bit of sometimes-appreciation and comfort. I'm lucky and have never claimed I wasn't, never even felt I wasn't. I know a lot of people don't have the freedom to make the choices I have. I know a lot of women don't want to work full time but have to. I know a lot of women feel stifled at home and would love nothing more than to be outside of it now and then but can't. Life is good, and I'm in love with it and with all the little (growing) creatures that inhabit my portion of it.

Yet even if becoming a mother didn't require sacrifice, being one does. And it's those moments of being that I struggle with. It's the difference between loving and being in love. The "being" is a constant effort, a conscientious and daily decision, a measuring of what you can and can't do, what you are and aren't able to do.

Being a mother requires me to sacrifice my time, my pride, my tendency toward selfishness and inertia and impatience. Do I hurry the kids to bed so I can clean the kitchen in peace? Or do I let them stay up fifteen more minutes so I can hear them laughing with each other? Do I drive my youngest to school so I can have those ten extra minutes to get things done while he's at school? Or do we walk together so I can hear him tell me about the bird he saw eating a worm the other morning? Do I let them correct me now and then instead of the reverse? Do I take them to the park or send them to the backyard? Do I look at them when they talk to me or do I urge them to get to the point already?

The miracle of being in love is how it grounds you in the present, and how when you're in the present, you don't have the means to look at what you've given up in the past or what you might not have time for in the future.

I'm in love with all of my children, and I love being exactly where I am. And when they someday love someone else more than they love me, I'll be immensely grateful that they'll get to feel what I do now.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Friday, April 16, 2010

The American Mothers Inc. convention is in NYC in a couple of weeks. I was supposed to attend and give a 3-minute speech on what legacy I hope to leave my children. I can't make it there after all, but the Illinois chapter of AMI asked me to still write the speech and send it to them. So I thought I'd go ahead and post it here as well.

I took my five-year-old son in for his kindergarten screening recently. The teacher brought him back to me after her fifteen minutes with him and said, "He did great. He certainly is confident."

With my first child, I would have wanted something different, something "more." I would have wanted the teacher to say, "My, he's bright. Have you considered having him skip straight to first grade?" Or perhaps, "You've obviously been working hard with him at home." Or even, "He's a sweet boy. He picked out a sticker for his little sister instead of himself."

And I do want all of those things for my children: I want them to be identified as intelligent and capable and certainly kind. But the longer I'm a mother—which sometimes seems like only a few minutes and at other times like my entire life—I've realized the most important legacy I want to leave my kids is a belief in themselves.

For my fourteenth birthday, I received two pairs of shorts from my mother, and both of them were too small. I tried them on, took them off, threw them on my bedroom floor, put my headphones on, and went for a walk, during which I cried and cried about how unattractive and unloved I was. After I returned home, I went straight to my bedroom, where I planned to continue to feel sorry for myself. But then my father knocked on the door.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"I'm fat," I said.

"And that's why you're crying?"

"I'm fat and I'm ugly," I answered.

I prepared myself for a pep talk, for a hug, for reassurance. I didn't prepare myself for his disappointment in me. "You're my daughter," he said. "Mine and your mother's. When you criticize yourself, you're criticizing us."

Speechless, I simply nodded. "Okay."

And I stopped crying.

Because he was right, and I knew he was right. I didn't need the pep talk or the hug or the reassurance. I needed the reminder—of who I was, not what I was. I was George and Sylvia's daughter. I was a Givens. And that's what mattered.

I fell in love with a boy in college who proved to be terrible for me. For three years, I loathed myself. I was fourteen again and trying to squeeze into shorts that were too small, that would never fit. And instead of realizing I should get a different pair, I found myself believing for too long that I was ugly and fat . . . and stupid and dull and untalented and completely unlovable.

Then I moved back home, and in more way than one.

I began working with the young women in my church, where we recited a motto every week than began with, "We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love him." And there was that reminder again of who I was, and this time it wasn't that I was a daughter of George and Sylvia. It was that I was a daughter of God. He had created me in His image. And I had worth for that reason alone.

All the accolades in the world cannot drown out the loud shout of who we are, nor can all the discouraging whispers, the jibes, and the hurts our children will inevitably encounter when they're five, or fifteen, or fifty. My children can be smart and talented and thoughtful, and I do my best to make sure they are all of those things. But nothing will make their lives easier or more rewarding than the reminder that they have every reason to hold their heads up high because they have parents who love them and who believe in them, and more importantly, that their very existence gives them worth.

"He certainly is confident."

And I certainly hope so.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Slacker adults in YA books?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The lovely and talented Brigid Kemmerer sent me a link yesterday to this article on "The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit."

I'm not really sure what point the author is making. Yes, parents in a lot of YA novels are depicted as bumbling at best and completely absent at worst, but that's how teens view their parents. My 13-year-old might think I'm funny and a little cool, but he also doesn't acknowledge me in public anymore. Teens straddle the line between still being reliant on someone and wanting to be independent, not needing anyone. So parents are peripheral as much by the children's choices as by their own. I don't think it's indicative of society; it's indicative of child and family development. My confusion with the author's point is that she, by the end of the article, is saying, "and thus it ever was." This isn't anything new--the idea of absentee parents.

And having read "Once Was Lost," I can say that the father wasn't bumbling. He was trying to be a good father while also a good husband and a good preacher. So he bought the wrong groceries... it didn't make him clueless. It made him typical. Does your father/husband know what to buy at the grocery store? If he does, he's as rare as the mother/wife who can change her own oil. I'm not talking about stereotypes; I'm talking about percentages. And I'm saying that not knowing what to do when the other half of your couple-self isn't there to do his/her part anymore doesn't mean you're inept.

I also think young adults need to be able to feel now and then like they're coming to the rescue of their parents. How else can they handle their own continued need to be rescued while still needing to feel like they're growing up and capable? My 13-year-old may still need me to drive him to school when the windchill is 10 below zero, but he also needs to teach his idiot mom how to text. Does he think I'm a moron? Probably, at times. And I'm okay with that if it means he thinks he needs to pick up the slack now and then and take out the garbage.

I had to chaperon a junior-high party last night. And I was one of 20 or so parents there that the kids ignored the entire time. Another mother said, "I feel like we're sticking out like sore thumbs." I said, "Really? I don't think they see us at all." Because, really, how embarrassing is it to acknowledge those old people that raised you or raised your best friend and who even feed you the occasional meal when you're at their house? But without us there, the party wouldn't have happened. They know that, but they'll be darned if they'll admit it.

This article's author says midway through her piece, "Afflicted by anomie, sitting down to another dismal meal or rushing out the door to a meeting, the hapless parents of Y.A. fiction are slightly ridiculous." Uh, that's us. That's virtually every parent of a young adult out there. We ARE the bumbling parents on the sideline because that's what we have to be to them, not because that's what we are.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Friday, April 9, 2010

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I cried. Not immediately, perhaps, but within 30 seconds. "I don't know how to be a mother," I sobbed. "I'm not ready for this." Ron comforted me as best he could, when I'm sure somewhere deep--or not so deep--inside, he was thinking, "Holy crap. If she cries over this, we're gonners once the baby comes."

I was 27 and had no clue what I was in for. I was right to cry. Ron should have been doing the same thing if he'd had more foresight.

I still don't know how to be a mother, and I think that's why we've been able to make it thus far as a family. I bend my own rules because I was never that attached to them in the first place. I'm malleable (which happens when you've been bent and broken so many times that you've forgotten how to hold your original shape). I never claim to know exactly what I'm doing. I never give parenting advice unless someone asks for it, and even then, I'm quick to say, "This is just my opinion" and not "Do what I say or you're an idiot."

Most importantly, I've learned humility.

It's an odd kind of humility, really. In some ways I've become more confident. I know I can make dinner starting at 5:00 when I have no idea what to make--only a handful of ingredients that might be edible when thrown together (with butter). I know I can stand up for my kids when they need it, be it at school or the doctor's office or in the neighborhood. I know I can make a good birthday cake. I know I can cheer my kids up when they're sad (that I can sometimes do the reverse isn't such a great talent).

The humility comes not in what I can do, of course, but in what I know I can't. I can't follow them throughout the day to make sure people are nice to them--or vice versa. I can't make all of their decisions for them. I can't add hours onto the day to spend with them when it's 8 p.m. and they're upset about what they wanted to do but now it's too late to do. I can't add years for the same purpose.

I was recently named 2010 Young Mother of the Year for Illinois. It's something I haven't told many people because I feel more than a little self-conscious about it. Should I have more answers now? Should my back be straighter? Should I appear more capable? More assured? Should I make fewer mistakes--at least in public?

My kids aren't terribly impressed by my "title." They know I still give them popcorn for dinner some nights. They know I still hate cleaning bathrooms. They know I still expect them to pack their own lunches and to not ask for a band-aid unless there's blood involved.

My five-year-old got angry at me the other night and muttered, "You're as big as a rhinoceros." I said, "Excuse me?" He said, "I didn't say you were a rhinoceros. I said you're as big as one."

Yesterday at lunch, I asked my seven-year-old if I had any seeds in my teeth from the salad I'd just eaten. She said, "No, but the back ones are a little yellow." She also pointed out that I had on too much eyeshadow.

My 10-year-old, following me down the steps a few weeks ago, said, "Mom? Your hair is gray on top."

And my 13-year-old--the one I cried about when expecting him--told me two nights ago that I make myself laugh more than I make other people laugh.

It's called insanity, my dear, and all four of you hand delivered it to me, slowly but surely, over the years.

Insanity and plenty of humility.

I've always wondered at the phrase, "I am humbled by this nomination/award/experience/acknowledgment." I've always thought, "How could something meant to reward you humble you?"

My children--the greatest award I've ever received--humble me because they remind me daily that I did nothing to deserve them, and that after 13 years of doing this, I still have so much to learn. But I'm willing to learn. I'm willing to keep trying and to keep working at it and going gray in the process because they're worth it, and because I'm confident that even when I'm doing a lot of things wrong, I might yet do a thing or two right. I have confidence in them.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ron!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The first time I met Ron, he was wearing faded jeans with holes in the knees, a white t-shirt, an unbottoned blue and plaid flannel shirt over it (that is now mine), and a pair of boots he'd owned since he was 13. His hair was long and curly, and the moment I saw him, I knew he was the one for me.

But he had a girlfriend. And he lived in Connecticut, whereas I lived in southern Virginia. Still, I told my father the next morning, "I met the guy I'm going to marry." In typical Dad fashion, he replied, "You're never going to get married. You're too fickle."

And I was . . . up until that point. I'd been the Baby Bear of casual dating: that one's too tall, too short, too blond, too blue.

It's not that I thought Ron was perfect. Okay, so maybe I did. Maybe in the flush and rush of new-found awe and attraction, I couldn't find a thing wrong with him. Except that he wore socks with Birkenstocks. (Birkenstocks alone weren't enough to make me question his perfection.) And his two front teeth are chipped from one childhood fall or another. And he showed up late to our first date so he could replace the grill on his Rabbit.

More importantly at that stage in my life, though, Ron had no complaints about me. He thought I was cute and sexy (siblings, cover your ears). He thought I was smart and funny and sweet. He thought I was a good writer (which is a good thing since we dated long distance prior to the days of easy email access). Within three months from the time we started dating, we were engaged. Another three and half months and we were married.

I've told him many times he "saved" me. And I mean it. The night he proposed, I cried because I couldn't believe someone wanted to spend forever with me--a girl whose last boyfriend loathed all three years we'd spent together, and taught me to loathe myself along the way.

And since then--the proposal, the wedding--I've grown from someone who revels in being loved and accepted to someone who revels in loving and accepting.

I still think Ron is perfect, at least in more ways than I am. He's patient. He's long-suffering (I've taught him that). He's kind. He's all but impossible to offend. He's thoughtful. He's supportive and encouraging but he also tells me when I'm flat-out wrong. He's affectionate. He's expressive. He's good-looking, sexy (siblings, cover your ears). And he's a loving, attentive father.

And I'm still amazed that he, of all people, wants to be with me forever.

Last night, my five-year-old asked how old Ron would be today. I said, "29." He said, his voice soft with awe, "Wow. And then 100?"

Happy 42nd birthday, Ron. I love you more now than when you were 29, but not as much as I will when we're 100.