May 3, 2016
You’re not listening to me!!!
Somehow my mom and I just didn’t get along when I was in high school. (Hey, it happens.) I was an overweight, overachiever who believed nothing I did was good enough. It didn’t help that my dad, aka my #1 fan, died suddenly when I was fifteen. I was my mom’s youngest child, only daughter. After she lost my dad she couldn’t give an insecure teen the support and encouragement I craved. Conversely, she expected, no hoped, I’d provide her with support and comfort. That didn’t happen.
I remember her yelling: “You’re not listening to me!”
I was listening, I just didn’t like what I heard. I didn’t agree with her and I wasn’t going to do what she said. Even if she had a good idea, I’d reject it, on principle. What principle? That it was her idea.
Our relationship turned into a quagmire of hurt feelings, misunderstandings and miscommunications. We both longed for a cease-fire, but didn’t how to call one.
When I moved across the country, distance made the heart grow fonder. And when I became a mom, my mom and I learned to appreciate each other a lot more.
Now you understand why an email from a teen with parent problems gets to me. And why I do understand.
Like this one:
Teen: I have this disorder where I feel like I’m suffocating in my own self but can’t die. My mom says she understands but I think she understands what she wants to believe and now she says she wants to send me away to foster care because she doesn’t want to deal with me anymore… what do I do??
Annie: Aside from your mom, who else have you talked to about your feelings of “suffocating in yourself?”
Teen: I have a counselor but whenever I try to talk to him it never comes out right.
Annie: How about writing out what you’d like to say… like in a letter? Take your time. Choose your words carefully. When your letter says what you want it to say, go to the counselor and hand him the letter. Sound like a plan?
Teen: yeah. Thank you, but what do I do about my mom??
Annie: Hopefully, after you talk to the counselor, he will have a conversation with your mom and help her understanding your feelings better. You need her help but she can’t give you what you need until she understands what’s going on. It’s going to take both of you working together to make this better.
Teen: Hey, so I talked to my mom myself and explained everything and it helped sorta. We still have a lot of work to do.
Annie: I’m proud of you for talking to your mom. That took courage and you did it! I’m glad it helped. Keep talking and listening to each other.
I hope you and your mom have a Happy Mothers Day.
May 8, 2014
I don’t usually define something by what it is not, but in this seasonally inspired inquiry: “What makes a good mom?” I feel compelled.
A good mom is not a saint. While most saints were unswerving in their devotion, from what I know about saintly things (very little), not one of them was canonized specifically because of her selfless devotion to her own children. If St. Joan, for example, had been doing laundry, packing school lunches and checking this week’s spelling words would she have had time to take up Charles VII’s call to head up an army and relieve the siege of Orleans from English domination? Somehow I doubt it.
A good mom isn’t Superwoman. All of us are good at some of the things we do. Some of us are even great at one maybe two things. But no mom is good at everything. Not even your PTA president. Sure, she’s an attorney with an MBA. And who could miss that incredible wardrobe and the hair and nails? And yes, she’s got three beautiful, smart and oh-so-well-behaved kids, plus a hunky hubby who adores her. And yes, dammit, she bakes the most beautiful cupcakes ever. But even that woman must have limitations… somewhere.
A good mom isn’t necessarily a biological mother or even a woman. Mom-ness transcends biology. When you really cut into the core of what makes a good mom you find this:
A person who loves the child in his or her care and freely demonstrates that love in countless ways, for a lifetime– through a touch, a word, a look, a joke, a game, a plate of warm food, a cookie, a hug, a smile, a nod, a story, a toy, a warm and open invitation to be whoever you are. A mom communicates acceptance and understanding, support and encouragement in such a way that the child knows he or she is lovable. Through mom’s love, the child learns to love others.
Thank you, moms, for all you do to nurture the children you love.
Happy Mom’s Day
May 26, 2011
Oh, what fun to be a mom!
Every year on my birthday my daughter and son each write me a thoughtfully worded letter expressing how they feel having me as their mother. Touched I read their acknowledgement of what I’ve taught them and how I’ve shaped them. Of course I blubber through it all. They think I cry because their words are so beautiful and I’m a sucker for sentiment (both true). But mostly I weep over the Bigger Picture of one generation doing its best to raise the level of humanity through the next. I read my kids’ letters and see myself doing what I do because I’m a parent, and like all parents, it’s what I’m here for. The eternal dance is awesome. How can I not cry?
Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations and weddings all offer opportunities to acknowledge parents. These messages of thanks are as important for children to articulate as they are for Mom and Dad to hear. But every relationship is a two-way street and we rarely hear expressions of gratitude flowing in the other direction. Which is why I want to take this time to thank my daughter and my son for some of the many things they’ve taught me.
My daughter has taught me that she is not me and that her way of doing things is not my way. Different doesn’t need fixing just because it’s different. From this lesson I’ve learned that other people have their own way of responding to the world. When I allow myself to be open-minded and respectful there is much I can learn from their ways. I can even change my way of doing things if someone else’s works better.
My son has taught me that it’s good sport and a great mental workout to explore all sides of an argument. From this I’ve learned that when you can understand someone else’s point of view well enough to take that side and advocate for it (even if you don’t necessarily agree with it) then you can learn some important things about the way others perceive the world… and how they perceive you!
My daughter has taught me that fun can be had in pretty much any situation. You just bring your imagination and your sense of play. From this I’ve learned you don’t need a reason to tweak the ordinary into the extraordinary or the outlandish. Weird is it’s own reward. If it amuses you and brings a smile, that’s reason enough. So why not?
My son has taught me that talking about people in unkind ways isn’t the best use of anyone’s time or intellect. It’s hurtful and habit-forming. From this I’ve learned to watch my mouth and remember that just because I’ve thought of something smart, sarcastic or clever doesn’t mean I need to say it.
My daughter has taught me that organizing your time and your life helps you do more of what you want. It also helps you feel good about what you’ve accomplished. From this I’ve learned that you don’t have to choose between being creative and being efficient. You can be efficiently creative. You can also be creative in your efficiency.
My son has taught me that listening is a skill worth developing. From this I’ve learned that most words are superficial. When you want people to take you seriously they’re more likely to do so when you listen more and talk less. Also when you do speak you should always come from a caring place.
My daughter has taught me that setting boundaries is a good thing. From this I’ve learned that telling other people what you need makes it more likely that you’ll get it. You’ll also find out sooner rather than later whether someone is willing and/or able to be the kind of friend you want. If not, lower your expectations and you won’t be disappointed.
My son has taught me that everyone deserves respect as does their time and their endeavors. From this I’ve learned that just because I’ve got something I want done now doesn’t mean that my desires are a top priority for everyone else. And so I’ve learned patience from this one too.
My daughter has taught me there is great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from going outside your comfort zone physically and emotionally.
My son has taught me that staying calm is usually the first step to resolving an unexpected challenge.
My daughter has taught me that accesorizing is fun because if life is a stage then the body is a canvas.
My daughter and son have helped me realize that being their mom is truly an amazing honor. Like, the best. Thanks so much, guys. I am eternally grateful.
May 7, 2011
That's my mom
My mom, Martha Scolnick Larris, has been gone for 17 years. I’d be lying if I said we had an easy relationship. It was often contentious and frustrating and hurtful. (As much for her, I’m sure, as it was for me.) But there was also a lot of good stuff.
Memories of Martha pop in throughout the year… her impressive vocabulary and quick wit, her instant rapport with every young child she encountered, her self-reliance and her sense of fairness. But it’s springtime when she comes to me most often. As I admire my neighborhood in bloom, pick aphids off my roses… I think of her. The fact that I have a garden which gives me so much pleasure is a direct result of being my mom’s daughter. Let me tell you, that woman knew her flowers and because of her, so do I.
Maybe it seems a small thing to know a freesia from a forsythia, a hydrangea from a hyacinth. And who really cares if those irises I got from my neighbor seem bluer this year than ever before? I care. I can’t help it. This special awareness of plants provides me… no compels me to pay attention and celebrate color, light, form and fragrance. If I saw them all as “just flowers” I’d be missing most of the show. Seeing at that level ain’t small potatoes, so thank you, Mom.
My mom grew irises and now so do I.
I’ve been thinking about parental legacies so I asked friends and family what “life lessons” they had learned from their mom. Here’s a sampling of what people said:
- Don’t take too long to shuffle the cards. It drives people crazy.
- Don’t be so dramatic.
- Don’t be like me.
- Don’t waste money, water or electricity.
- It can’t hurt to ask.
- Be kind to children.
- Always put your best foot forward whatever you do.
- Go for whatever you want in life.
- Creativity is a good thing.
- Do for each of your children what they need.
- When you go to dinner at someone’s house, bring some cake.
- When you get a gift, write a nice Thank You note. Do it now!
- Taste it, you might like it.
- Enjoy life today, you could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
- Honesty, loving kindness, selflessness, humility, femininity, grace.
- Aging is in the mind of the beholder.
- A women needs to be educated, to have a career and a profession. You never know what is going to happen to you, you always need to be able to support yourself and to stand on your own two feet.
- Live in and enjoy the moment. That became an internal positive tape – that I can do anything and that I’m beautiful.
- Due to my mom’s inability to handle her own life, I learned to do many adult things and my opinion was heavily relied upon even as a small child – of course, that greatly prepared me for taking on adult responsibilities and taking for granted that I could do those things.
- My mom taught me about unconditional love and acceptance. She was very tolerant/accepting and allowed me to experience things for myself without judgment. She also was accepting and helpful to many of my friends during my adolescence – something I tried hard to do as well for my kids and their friends!
- Mom had two distinct personalities, one usually light and happy, and one dark and unhappy, so I had to make adjustments in the way I thought about her. I began to see the light and dark sides in others, also, but with others, the line of separation was not as distinct. As I grew older, I learned how to fight the dark influences from others and enjoy the lighter sides that people offered.
- How to listen without projection or attachment and lovingly to others, especially those you love. Trust that they will find the right way for their unique path.
- At my mother’s funeral an actor who’d worked with her on stage in her later years (she started out on Broadway before she met my father) told of a local parade where the cast was asked to participate. This actor was resistant to doing it. My mother chided him “You’ve got to love it!” He said it shifted his attitude completely and that he’d learned much from working with her as a professional actress. This is a side of my mother I never knew. I now throw myself into projects with more abandon remembering her words.
My glasses aren’t so rose-tinted that I see all moms as a positive influence on their kids all the time. I know that people, including our own parents, come into our lives for a reason. Even in a less than wonderful childhood there are positive lessons we can take from our relationship with our mothers.
As you take a moment to look back, see what you can find, from all that you learned from Mom, that’s been helpful to you. Acknowledge that contribution in whatever way makes sense. Now think about the long and short-term choices you make in relation to your own children… that’s a legacy you’re handing to them. Hopeful it’s a life-affirming one.