Lady Liberty Speaks To The Donald

Lady Liberty Speaks To The Donald

what-does-the-tablet-say-on-the-statue-of-liberty_902a2395-8a85-42b5-993a-e93429By Marcelle Soviero

Protestors, bring your peonies to the picket lines, your marigolds to marches. Bring daisies and daffodils, roses and quince. Consider, perhaps, wild flowers; lavender and lupine. “See,” you will subtly say, “each bloom is different.” Diversity is gorgeous.

Bring your confetti, your fairy dust; something to sprinkle the bad stuff away. Something nontoxic that lands soft when tossed on the White House stairs, little wishes curling at the seams; people’s hopes and dreams.

You Donald, bring us your very many tax forms, your very many campaign promises, your sound bites and speeches. Yes, bring us your words, so we too can alter facts, rearrange the letters into something plausible, something with a lisp of empathy, something we wish you had said. We will imagine again, in the space of our findings, our wheat fields and flower beds.

And should you even think you can blow my lantern out, believe me, you can’t. I will summon the sun and the stars for light.

Marcelle Soviero is the editor-in-chief of Brain Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. She is also an award-winning poet and essayist and mother of five children.

@msoviero

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The Teenage Brain

The Teenage Brain

 

teenage brain artThe lights in the room are dim. An illustrated cross section of the brain floats on screen. “Parents of teenagers often act as surrogate frontal lobes,” the speaker, a bald man with wire-rimmed spectacles says, pointing to the lateral portion of the brain behind the forehead and eye.

He explains that while the amygdala, or primitive brain, is entirely grown, the frontal lobe which governs higher processing skills such as rational thought, impulse control and goal-setting is still growing and won’t fully gestate until around the age of 25.

I’d never considered being a frontal lobe part of my job description. Nor, apparently had the other parents in the packed room at our local library, eager students all, on a quest to learn more about the topic of today’s seminar, the teenage brain.

I counted my five children on my fingers. In addition to Sophia, I had Luke, Olivia, Jamie and Johnny who would one after the other hit puberty: I’d be acting as an outsourced frontal lobe on the fly, times 5, for the next decade.

I came to the lecture because of my growing anxiety over Sophia. It had become clear to me in recent weeks that parenting a teenager requires a different skill set than parenting a small child. The lecture at the least, I hoped, would help me understand why Sophia had become, in a word, difficult, or in a phrase, a completely different child than the little tutu-wearing girl I used to tuck into pink sheets.

Not long ago, I knew every single one of Sophia’s friends; she had the same six over for tea parties and trick or treat. Now, according to her Facebook page, she has 372 friends, only two of whom I recognize in the hundreds of photos Sophia displays on this website. I could spend hours tracking her online activity but I don’t. I have a husband, five children, a career, a desire to sleep more than three hours a night. Plus I trust her. Does this make me a bad mother or a crazy one?

The speaker is on slide nine, which shows brain scan results. He explains that if you watch the brains of teenagers while asking them a question such as would you try to ski down Mount Rushmore, the switches in their minds would not flick and flash as much as those of an adult being asked the same question. This is because a teenager is thinking, “Yeah, I might give it a try,”not weighing potential risks, while adults take all the data in and conclude: “It’s not a good idea.”

I broke this down in my notebook. Did this mean the same teenage boy on skis will soon be behind the wheel of a car?

The morning after my trip to the library, Sophia came downstairs for school wearing a tank top, short shorts and Ugg boots. In March. “You can’t wear that to school,” I said. “Why mom? Why?” she cried. Because you can’t,” I said and she blasted past me, right back upstairs.

Left breathless at the breakfast table, I thought “What the heck?” I followed her into the girls’ bathroom, a room I avoid at all costs. Nothing has a cap in there, toothpaste smears the sink, dirty clothes on the floor come so close to the hamper –mere millimeters really — but never in. Sophia pulled the skin under her eye to apply eyeliner. “Change your clothes first,” I said flatly.

Then I summoned my frontal lobe. “If you wear shorts to school in March you will be cold, and if you wear a top like that every boy at school will be looking down your shirt,” I said. The voice of reason. She looked at me as if she was going to spit then slammed the bathroom door, just like in a movie.

She came back downstairs in jeans, texting on her cell phone while breaking off small pieces of pop tart. “Who are you texting?”I  asked. “Are they eating breakfast, too?” I wonder if my daughter was typing out an SOS: PLEASE SAVE ME FROM MY MOTHER.

Sophia nearly missed the bus. “Where’s your sweatshirt?” I said as she raced out the screen door. I hate her going to school angry, hate going to my office wondering what I did wrong. I can lose a morning rethinking what I should have said, wondering if I was too hard on her, too easy. No seminar can help me with this.

She is, after all, the daughter who not long ago drank from a sippy cup in feety pajamas with a princess pattern, left notes for the fairies in the fireplace, and pranced about in pantyhose putting on fashion shows. Even now, there are times when she’ll let me brush her long black hair, smooth as sealskin. I yelled out the door after her again, “I love you, Peanut,” the nickname I’ve had for her since I saw her take the shape of a peanut on the ultrasound.

That afternoon she came home, tossed her backpack onto the couch, sat on top of it and started in. “Can I go to the movies tonight?” she asked. Not only did the movie start at 9:00 pm, but it was a school night. I remind myself she can’t think logically yet, her impulse is to want to go, so she simply asks me, not thinking it through.

“No, you can’t” I said.

“Cindy and Lindsey are going…”

Once again, I become a frontal lobe.”If you go to a late movie on a school night, you will be overtired for school in the morning.” I get the eye roll. I head out the front door to get the mail.

“But can I go tonight?”she asks. I take a breath. I would have to go back to my notes. Did the frontal lobe control hearing as well?

That night I call my mother. “You were the same way as a teenager” she says, her voice tired, as if she may still be weary from having raised me. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

It’s after 10:00 pm when I hang up. Sophia is sitting with her laptop on the living room floor, working on the ancient civilizations project that was assigned six weeks ago, but is due tomorrow. She has seven pages of notes, no report. I could lecture her on the necessity of planning ahead, but I don’t. I’m too tired to be the voice of reason, instead I sit down on the floor, next to this little big girl I love, pencil behind her ear, her long hair sailing down her back, and I hug her, each of us a work in progress.

About the Author: Marcelle Soviero is Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and the author of An Iridescent Life: Essays on Motherhood and Stepmotherhood.

 

 

 

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Ten Picture Books that Will Always Stay on my Shelf

Ten Picture Books that Will Always Stay on my Shelf

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By Marcelle Soviero

I began collecting picture books well before I had children, not board books, but the odd-sized hardcover books with beautiful illustrations and stories that enthralled me. There are ten I have listed here that has moved me before I was a mother and long after I was a mother. Many were introduced to me by my best friend, Susan, and together we introduced them to our children, often combining a read-aloud with an associated “story” craft. My five children are past picture book stage, but these books, ever-so-worn from rereading, will never leave my shelves.

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrated by Michael Wimmer (1994)

On the day that Eli is born, his grandmother holds him up to the window to see the beauty of the land around him, and his grandfather cries and carves his new grandson’s name into the barn rafters alongside other family names. As Eli grows older, he discovers that each member of the family has a special place that he or she loves best, a place that “makes all the difference” in the world. In sharing these places, they celebrate their connections to each other and to the land that sustains them.

Cherries and Cherry Pits by Vera B. Williams (1986)

Young Bidemmi draws a sequence of pictures all involving people “eating cherries and spitting out the pits.” She tells captivating tales as she draws– a large man in the subway is “so strong… he could carry a piano on his head.” And of course he is holding a little white bag with cherries in it. My children loved to repeat the words “eating cherries and spitting out the pits,” I think yours will too.

Dahlia by Barbara McClintock (2002)

Meet young Charlotte, mud cake maker, tree climber and wagon racer. One morning she gets a package from Aunt Edme. Inside she finds a doll. A frilly doll. Charlotte immediately warns the doll that “we like digging in the dirt and climbing trees. No tea parties. No being pushed around in frilly prams, you’ll just have to get used to the way we do things.” To Charlotte’s surprise, she and Dahlia the doll become fast friends. Although outings with Charlotte have changed Dahlia’s appearance, Aunt Edme is pleased to see Charlotte has given Dahlia plenty of fresh air, excitement and love. A good lesson learned for girls and boys alike.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (1982)

As a child, Miss Rumphius promises her grandfather that one day she will do something to make the world more beautiful. Never forgetting her words, as an adult she finds a special way to add beauty to the earth. “All that summer Miss Rumphius, her pockets full of seeds, wandered over fields and headlands, sewing lupines. She scattered seeds along the highways and down the country lanes. She tossed them into hollows and along stonewalls.” Be sure to have a handful of seeds ready as you read this one as your child may be inspired to sow flowers in every crack and crevice of your neighborhood.

Mudpies & Other Recipes for Dolls by Marjorie Winslow, Illustrated by Erik Blegvad (1961/1986)

You won’t cozy up and read this one cover to cover, but you will take it outside often with your little one. Just holding this cute little book in your hands will help you recall the outdoor adventures of childhood. Enjoy the wonderful mix of recipes ranging from “Daisy Dip” to “Crabgrass Gumbo.” All of which use only the finest ingredients from outside. This book always inspired my children to make up new recipes to “bake in the sun for the fairies.”

My Mama Had A Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray, Illustrated by Raul Colon (1995).

In this story about nature and life, a ballet dancer recalls how she and her mother would welcome each new season with an outdoor dance. “And we’d go into the eye-blinking blue air, with mama leading in a leaf-kicking, leg-lifting, handclapping, hello autumn ballet.” The gentle spirit of the mother and the love this child, now a woman, has for her are palpable. I gave this book to a friend who lost her mother and had recently become a new mother and she said, “I didn’t know a picture book could be this powerful.” Indeed.

Sophie’s Masterpiece: A Spider’s Tale by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Jane Dyer (2001)

Sophie is not an ordinary spider. She is an artist. When she ventures into the world and into Beekman’s boarding house, she weaves wondrous webs that go unappreciated. At Beekman’s she tolerates being swatted and called names but is determined to spin webs as her gifts to strangers. She grows older and her last masterpiece, a spun blanket for a baby, is one that readers of all ages will not forget. This book meant so much to my daughter Sophia when she was young that she came home with her pictures from school all month and said “Mommy these are my masterpieces.”

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brombeau, Illustarted by Gail Demarcken (2001)

A feast for the eyes and the heart, The Quiltmaker’s Gift celebrates the spirit of giving through a fable-like story about an old quiltmaker who transforms a greedy unhappy king with her quilts. “Some said there were magic in her fingers. Some whispered her needles and cloth were gifts from the bewitched. And still others said the quilts really fell to the earth from the shoulders of angels…” The subtle message – it is better to give than to receive – is told in a vivid patchwork of pictures.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)

Young Peter one day wakes to the wonders of a new world. The first snow has fallen and in it Peter finds magic and limitless possibilities. The day of snowmen and sledding leaves such an impression that when Peter wakes up the next morning and the snow still blankets the city, he wants to “do the whole day over again.” Read this one with your brood when you’re stuck inside on a snowy day.

When Lightning Comes in a Jar by Patricia Polacco (2002)

An annual backyard reunion becomes the backdrop for family traditions (Aunt Bertha’s meatloaf with hard boiled egg in the middle) and stories (Aunt Ivah and Aunt Adah compete for who can tell the best tale). The narrator, Trisha, now grown, remembers the year a new tradition was started. “A small burst of starlight puffed out into the grass. Then more and more drifted out of the carpet beneath our feet, ‘fireflies’ we called out. We grabbed the jars and the dash was on to capture lightning and put it in a jar.” Share this one with your little person on a summer night.

Marcelle Soviero is the Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child, and the author of An Iridescent life: Essays on Motherhood. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Mourning Alone

Mourning Alone

By Marcelle Soviero

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“I don’t want to watch Grammy die,” my son said as he got out of the car, dirt-dusted from his afternoon baseball game.

“I know you don’t buddy.” I took his hand and we walked into the house. “But Grammy had a good life. Ninety-two years is a long life.” My ex-husband Larry’s mother was now in hospice care in Chicago, halfway across the country, and Larry wanted the children to be able to have their last good-byes.

I gathered my three children, Johnny, Olivia and Sophia, ages 9, 10 and 11, into the living room; I got a good look at the three of them seated in a row on the couch, each face punctuated with worry. Tear dots on Olivia’s cheeks.

My ex-husband Larry would be here in an hour to go to the airport. Though I had been divorced eight years, I had long adored my mother-in-law, and I was sad of course, but perhaps even more anxious than sad. I was unraveling knowing I would not be a part of what would be my children’s first attendance at a funeral. But this isn’t about me, I thought. Then again, somehow it was. This would be a major event in my children’s life, their first experience with a death, besides our family pet, and I would not be there.

I had asked Larry if I should go, but I knew I would not, our divorce had been court-worthy contentious, and we still spoke only if we had to. No, we would not fly as if a family to Chicago, instead the children would have their father—a no doubt distracted father—to care and console them. Who would really watch the children on the plane?

But it was more than this. Larry did not believe in a heaven of any sort; our misshapen souls do not rise. I knew matter-of-fact answers would be the only consolation offered from father to child—the details of the aorta, collapsed ventricles and how blood circulates through the body. I knew this because just after Larry and I married, my father had died young of heart failure. Mourning his death was made harder by the fact that Larry would not support speculation on an afterlife, while heaven was the only concept that was helping me through it. After a few weeks, Larry had told a tortured me that I needed to move on. I knew then that the marriage would end, not then, but soon.

“It will be hard to say goodbye to Grammy,” I said to the kids now believing each sentence I spoke would invite more questions in their minds. Perhaps I was hoping for that. Evoking questions and memories so they could mourn with me in advance. I knew Larry would get through it, his coping mechanism would be to intellectualize the death.

“She’ll die and we will never see her again?” Johnny said.

“That’s right, but she had a good long life.”

“Will Daddy be busy being sad?” Olivia asked.

“Yes,” I said, “But he will be OK I promise.”

Johnny twirled the fringe on the couch pillow. I sifted my words, deliberately dumbing them down in an effort to explain the unexplainable.

“I believe in heaven,” I said. “Your father may think differently and that is OK. You can believe what you want to believe.” I went on and on, this would be my only chance to ever tell my side of the heaven story. “Every time you think of Grammy she will be alive again in your memory.”

The concept of heaven wasn’t an entirely new idea for my children, we’d lost our dog years back, which had required some explanation on my part. I was able to persuade Larry then that the children did not have to hear the clinical aspects of how our dog died.  

“Grammy will be watching you from another place, she will see you grow. She will watch over you, you’ll talk with her in your mind, not face to face.”

“I love Grammy,” Johnny said.

“Me too buddy,” I said. Then I surprised myself by taking out every cliché I had in my purse—This is for the best, Grammy will be at peace soon—until I was clichéd out.

Larry came to get the kids at 6:00. Again came the clichés, I was so sorry she was nearing the end. How could I help? Polite conversation, then me escorting the children gently to the car, remembering every other time I piled them into the car to see Larry on his weekends.

The Jeep etched out of the driveway, and I went back inside. I cried anticipating the sadness my children would carry witnessing their grandmother’s death. I cried finally too for my mother-in-law. She was a charming character with good intentions, our only contentious moments being my decision not to breastfeed any of her grandchildren, and my decision to divorce her son. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to him,” she once said, my first and only Jewish mother.

An hour later Sophia texted me. They were at the airport—Grammy died. They had not yet boarded the plane. Neither they or Larry would have a chance for that one last visit.

I clenched my hands, which had already begun to sweat, the kids would not get to say goodbye to Grammy after all. I selfishly consoled myself with thoughts that their grief would be closer to home, closer to me now. Grammy was from New York, the services would be here so they would not board a flight and mourn across the country.

The next day Larry texted the particulars. The services would be on Wednesday.  

Nine-year-old Johnny got on the phone next with questions.

“Yes honey, the funeral will be in two days, on Wednesday,” I said.

“Did Grammy go to heaven already or will she go on Wednesday?” he asked.

 

Marcelle Soviero is the Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child Magazine. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: Gary Rockett /unsplash.com

Top Ten Holiday Gifts for Thinking Mothers

Top Ten Holiday Gifts for Thinking Mothers

We chose ten gift picks for the season — please note none of these items are sponsored in any way,  just a true list of what we’d love to receive. Enjoy.  –Marcelle & Randi

Feel free to print and pass on…

 

il_570xN.697450065_4xv6Paper Portraits

This is number one on my list, pricey for sure, but what a prized possession this paper portrait of my brood would be. https://www.etsy.com/listing/207467178/custom-family-portrait-made-from-paper?ref=shop_home_active_1

 

 

 

291665_561_42Sassy Shoes

Last winter, I watched with envy as my next door neighbor snowshoed around her yard after each dump of Northeast snowfall while my running shoes sat, untouched, in the hall closet. Ever since, I’ve been pining for a pair: http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/509581?page=snowshoes-and-sets

 

 

 

CarrotsMore Veggies Please?

Bok choi, red leaf lettuce, sugar snap peas. This 24-week program (June through November) would mean a weekly share of fresh certified organic vegetables, grown at a local farm. All of the colors and flavors of spring, summer and fall. Sign me up! http://www.stoneledge.farm/csa-program

 

 

 

beautyberry-blanket-600-2-181x214Ready, Set, Knit

I fancy myself a knitter, though I can’t make a stitch, maybe it is time to learn with one of my kids. The intructions, the yarn – ready, set, knit. purlsoho.com

 

 

 

 

photos-negatives-slides-organized-archives.jpg-nggid0230-ngg0dyn-170x120x100-00f0w010c011r110f110r010t010I Dream of Jeannie

Pictures of my kids and their childhoods sit in photo boxes stored in a basement cabinet and on my phone and laptop. I am hopeful the creative and organizational talents of Jeanie Engelbach aka Photojeanie will streamline our family photos and archive the last eighteen years of family memories: http://www.photojeanie.com/services/photojeanie/

 

 

6x5_185wT-Time

I wish I had made one of these tee shirt blankets for my daughter when she left for college this fall, but I didn’t. At least I have 3 years until my son leaves the nest, plenty of time to collect his outgrown tee shirts instead of putting them into the give-away pile: https://campusquilt.com

 

 

 

912TP6CvRgL._SL1500_Because Comfort Matters

Whether it’s due to age, or mothering two teens these past few years, I’ve been pining for one of these neck support pillows for travel. This holiday, we will be traveling on an airplane; I’m hoping I will be adding one of these to my carry-on bag.  http://www.amazon.com/Neck-Pillow-Travel-Replacement-Guarantee/dp/B00GTAG3Z6

 

 

il_170x135.676346141_letwQuartro Formagi?

Grab a gallon of pasteurized milk and these DIY cheese kits include the rest of the supplies needed such as cheesecloth, a dairy thermometer, citric acid, and cheese salt. Oh, the flavors: Fresh mozzarella, ricotta, queso blanco, paneer, or goat cheese. https://www.etsy.com/shop/UrbanCheesecraft

 

 

PC183831-150x150The New Book Bag

Carry Jane Eyre with you at all times? I love these shoulder purses (also available as clutches), made from preserved vintage books. Choose from your favorite author, book or illustrated cover. http://www.beezbyscranton.com/vintage-shoulder-book-purses/

 

 

 

il_170x135.876357316_65dcCircle Scarves

OK, I was limited to two literary picks – here’s my second–literary infinity scarves. \ Each one is silkscreened by hand with passages from some of the world’s great books — It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife…https://www.etsy.com/shop/storiarts

 

Editor’s Letter

Editor’s Letter

IMG_00006007Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers has partnered with Stars of HOPE® to help families “pay it forward.”  With the Stars of HOPE  Box of HOPE parents and their children can make a difference right from home.

 

Our hearts are with the people of France. Lets make the world a better place.

 

To learn how you can give hope, please look at our family guidebook

 

Editor’s Letter

Editor’s Letter

Marclle Headshot 1How Are We Doing?

 

I’m going to turn the editor’s letter around this month. Instead of me giving you an update, I’d love to get an update from you. Really, how are we doing?

As you know, Brain, Child moved to its monthly online format in September. Our subscribers now receive our magazine in a monthly online format. We’d love to know what you think – what you’d like to see more of — or less?  Please send them to me at Marcelle@brainchildmag.com.

I thank you in advance for your feedback and for your support of Brain, Child.

Marcelle

 

 

Enjoy This Month’s Exclusive Subscriber Offer

Our New Mama Bundle is for all the new moms out there — or new moms you know. The  bundle includes four print issues of Brain, Child plus Brain, Child’s Book This is Childhood and my book An Iridescent Life: Essays on Motherhood for $20 instead of $45. While supplies last – Offer ends on Monday 10/05/15. Order now.

Need a little Brain, Child between issues? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.

 

Back to the October 2015 Issue

 

Brain, Child Turns 15

Brain, Child Turns 15

BC 15 GroupOur Literary Salon

Seventy-five guests joined Brain, Child’s 15th Birthday party in Wilton CT where our editors and writers read from their work.

(Left to right: Front row) M.M. Devoe, Krista Miller Farris,Nan Richardson, Rebecca Martin, Marcelle Soviero, Jaqueline Maria Pierro,

(Left to right: Back row) Susan Lutz, Ellyn Gelman, Mary Ann Palmer, Estelle Erasmus, Elizabeth Matthews, Randi Olin, Susan Buttenwieser, Aline Weiller

 

 

Should Parents Be “Friends”  With Their Teenagers?

Should Parents Be “Friends” With Their Teenagers?

YES!

By Marcelle Soviero

79394216When my oldest daughter turned fourteen, she fought every rule I made, and acted out considerably and dangerously. I knew something had to change if she was going to stay safe, make better choices, and if we were ever going to sit in the same room together again.

Because I only had control over my own behavior, that’s what I changed. I chose to be my daughter’s friend, to cut down on the naysaying and rule-setting. And when my monologues eventually grew into discussions, my punishments into compassion, I knew I had somehow pivoted onto the right parenting path—at least the path that was right for us. Some might say choosing to be friends with my teenager is a path of permissiveness, but being friends doesn’t mean I let my daughter do anything she wants. Others might say kids crave boundaries, limits, and structure, but I say the teenage years call more for empathy and friendship.

For the most part, friendship with my friends or my daughter means being a really good listener—I don’t overshare with anybody and I certainly don’t think a teenager needs to hear the details of my personal life. Like my friends, though, my daughter fascinates me. I admire her “I don’t care what people think” attitude and her wild streak of non-conformity. Her intense loyalty and constant compassion are qualities I look for in my closest friends. In changing the nature of our relationship, I wanted to model these qualities for her, instead of modeling an authoritative rule-setter. I had been her rule-setter for fourteen years, and it wasn’t working anymore, thank you very much.

I stopped my incessant talk about grades, and I stopped all my questions about why she smelled like smoke and where she was every second. Instead I practiced trust, figuring if I raised her right, she would now be someone I trusted.

Choosing not to join in the quintessential adolescent power struggles—and understanding that I wasn’t always right—has made way for friendship, often a rocky one, but a friendship nonetheless. Together my daughter and I became mutual learners of her growing up and my growing older. As she told me more and more about her life, I did not judge, or criticize, or tell her what she should do. I listened.

So we talked, set goals, and shared dreams. She veered off her path and the path I had hoped for her, but when she did we talked some more, because I promised I would not punish her for telling me the truth. And this is what happened: Instead of sneaking around, my daughter told me what was going on in her life. If she stayed out late, she told the truth when she came home.

Becoming more of a friend to my daughter by playing less of a parental role, I stopped comparing her to girls who seemed perfect, girls who were on a tight path toward college, with mothers who planned every footstep and blocked any falls. In the end, though not fairly, I felt those mothers knew nothing real about their daughters. Seventeen now, I have not pressured my daughter about college, but she knows my preferences and she has her own.

Yes, she has smoked, and experimented with boys, drugs, and alcohol. But we talked about it and I guided her as best as I could, just as I would a friend. And while those talks were not easy, I had to believe she was learning. I know now that she would have done all these things whether I chose to be a rigid rule-setter or a friend. Better that she felt comfortable confiding in me.

With only a few exceptions, I have enjoyed my daughter’s teenage years. I am proud that we did not spend her senior year shouting and sulking and I am proud she is off on her next adventure—one of her own choosing. Of course, I have made a million mistakes as a mother and as a friend to my daughter, but I don’t regret my change in parenting style. She often tells me that when she leaves she will miss me most, that I am her best friend. And for me, that is exactly how it is supposed to be.

Marcelle Soviero is the Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child, and author of An Iridescent Life: Essays on Motherhood.

 

NO!

By Alexandra Rosas

175535016I had a neighbor who used to say, “I am my children’s friend first, their parent second.”

She knew I felt strongly about not being “friends” with my own kids, and she would make remarks about how they would never confide in me on these terms. She didn’t consider her mother a friend and, as a result, she never told her anything personal. She felt that I was short-changing my children, closing myself off to them, by not creating a relationship akin to friendship.

My neighbor is misguided, but I understand where she is coming from. She sees my parenting style as old-fashioned, heavy on the discipline, and one hundred percent authoritarian—similar to what she experienced as a child.

Old-fashioned or not, I won’t be friends with my kids because parenting comes with obligations and responsibilities. I draw a line between myself and my children, and friendship does not fit in the grid. But it’s not as my neighbor imagined—I don’t miss out on the opportunities for intimacy with my children that friendship provides. It’s just that we share a different, healthier sort of closeness.

True friendship involves both parties confiding in each other. I don’t think this is appropriate for a parent. As a teen, my mother treated me as her friend. It never felt right as I listened to her emotional and financial struggles. What I wanted then was to be mentored, advised, to see an example of a role model in action, and to learn from her.

A parent is responsible for her children and, ideally, a secure environment is created when the child feels cared for and supported. In my circumstance, I was asked to meet my mother’s own emotional needs for support and companionship. I was pulled into decisions about my siblings, asked to help with discipline, and regaled with the frustrations of her personal life. I had been asked to play an inappropriate role.

There was not enough separation between us for my mother to do her job right. I don’t want that for my children. I can’t be a true mentor and a guide to them if I am their friend. The word ‘friend’ implies equal footing, and I have much more to give my children beyond what equality can offer. I have a lifetime of experience and lessons learned that I want to share with them. I am there for them, but my support comes as a parent enforcing the rules I have taken care to set, not as a buddy bending them.
When we aim to be friends with our children, the line between responsibility and companionship becomes fuzzy, especially during the teen years. Teenagers need the assurance of consistent boundaries and of someone they can count on to enforce them. I know firsthand that the waters of adolescence can be especially choppy. As somebody who has always worn the “parent” shoes, I am grateful that I didn’t have to change my relationship with my children suddenly in order to give them the discipline they need during these difficult years.

I made the decision to mother as a parent, not a friend, because I fell back on what I wished for as a teen: someone to help me define and reach my dreams, with no ambiguity about our relationship. I want my children to feel the security and comfort of having a parent who will say the hard things when they need to be said, to set the strict curfew, to refuse the late night out. I want them to trust me in a way that is possible only when a partnership is unequal.

My children have the promise that I am overseeing the details of their lives until they are adults, and that I am accountable for providing them with what they need to flourish.

Refusing to be friends with my teenagers doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy my company or confide in me. But it does mean that the boundaries between us are always clear. I am confident that being a parent to them right now will lay a firm foundation, one that will allow our relationship to grow into a true friendship when they are adults.

Alexandra Rosas is a writer and online content contributor. You can follow her on her blog www.gooddayregularpeople.com and on Twitter @gdrpempress.

Photos: Getty Images

Our Sibling Blog Series

Our Sibling Blog Series

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The Twins and the Pendulum

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By Andrea Lani

But they’re not wizards, just two normal boys—as normal as you can be when you share the same DNA—a pair of pendulum bobs swinging through their days, sometimes crazily out of whack, and sometimes in near-perfect alignment.

 

 

 

 

Saving My Sister

WO Saving my Sister ART

By Marcelle Soviero

I hated visiting my sister in the hospital, but I did, because though her personality had completely changed, she was the same sister I once thought was in charge of my earth’s orbit.

 

 

 

 

They Are Not Half Sisters 

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By Stephanie Sprenger

I believe with all my heart that my children will never regard each other as half of anything.

 

 

 

 

 

Play With Me

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By Randi Olin

Our siblings are the only true witnesses to our childhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Home

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By Kris Woll

On that night, in that moment in time, home seemed to be a pretty clear-cut place. 

 

 

 

 

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Purchase our Sibling Bundle for essays on the joys and challenges of the sibling relationship.

Saving My Sister

Saving My Sister

WO Saving my Sister ART

I hated visiting my sister in the hospital, but I did, because though her personality had completely changed, she was the same sister I once thought was in charge of my earth’s orbit.

 

“Liddy, what’s going on?” I asked my older sister who sat across from me at the kitchen table, scratching her arms until they looked raw. Lydia had been home only six weeks from a three-month stay in Harbor Fields, a psychiatric hospital.

“Dr. B gave me the wrong medicine,” she said. It was obvious now that her psychiatrist had prescribed, for the second time, the wrong medication and Lydia was having an allergic reaction. Her skin itched and her eyes appeared frosted.

It was a Saturday morning in November, Lydia’s 21st birthday, a day I had planned for all week, thinking I could make everything better for her, make up for the months she lost at Harbor Fields. I was 16, anxious, and in charge, our parents away for the day picking up our brothers from college. I’d made confetti birthday cake with pink frosting and rainbow sprinkles, the kind Lyds always made for my birthday when I was little, before she got sick. “Make your wishes,” she would say, “a sister-wish too,” she’d add, which meant a wish for something for both of us.

Lydia and I always made a big deal of each other’s birthdays. When I turned 13 Lydia bought me the eye shadow kit I had wanted from Woolworth’s. My mother wouldn’t buy it but Liddy had saved her allowance. “Check under there,” Liddy said, pointing to my pillow when I went to bed that night. I pulled out the pink plastic case. Inside were four squares of glittery powder the color of Easter eggs. Lydia showed me how to apply the eye shadow and made my eyelids look bluebird blue. I looked in the mirror and for the only time in my life felt almost as pretty as Lydia.

It was past noon now, the medication mix up ruining my birthday plan. The pills were having an impact—Lydia did not want the cake, she dumped it in the garbage, saying “not now.” She insisted on eating grapes fast, two at a time, telling me they had to keep each other company in her belly, while she paced around the perimeter of the braided rug.

I left two more messages with Dr. B, following up with calls to CVS to see if the prescription had been faxed in. By 3:00, when there was no call back and no prescription, I told Lydia to get in the car. “We’re going to Dr. B’s,” I said. I sped north on Round Swamp Road. Dark haired and dark-eyed, her eyebrows plucked into thin crescents, Lydia sat in the passenger seat, picking her cuticles.

As I drove, anger boiled inside of me. Anger at Dr. B and anger at the mental health system that had done little to help Lydia. Her stint in Harbor Fields had simply sterilized months of her life. There, she lived like an inmate, as animated as a potted plant, the drugs having diluted her once vibrant personality. During her stay she was labeled bipolar and given so much medicine that her speech slurred and her hands shook.

I hated visiting my sister in the hospital, but I did, because though her personality had completely changed, she was the same sister I once thought was in charge of my earth’s orbit. I remembered when I was six and Lydia eleven and Lydia saved my dollhouse, which had drowned when a hurricane flooded our basement. The dollhouse floated in the murky water but Lydia waded knee deep to rescue it. Late that night, in the room we shared, I woke to the sound of her blow drying the miniature wood furniture, using a toothpick to get the mud out of the thumb-sized drawers.

Not long after the dollhouse rescue Lydia got noticeably sick, rocking wildly in the chair beside my bed late at night, whispering to the doll she kept on her lap, writing the same sentence line after line in her velvet-backed journal; something is wrong with me. The worse Lydia got, the more passive and quiet I became; an onlooker watching her wither. My role was to stay calm in the midst of her cracking psyche. I was the steady sister, the perfect child my parents would never have to worry about.

The drive to Dr. B took half an hour. I wondered what I would do when we got there, what I would say. We pulled into the parking lot. “Come on Lyds,” I said grabbing her hand. The elevator didn’t come, so she followed me up eleven flights of stairs. There was no receptionist. I tore into Dr. B’s office. He was in session with another patient, a 40-something woman sitting in a stuffed chair, stunned and staring at me while Lydia stood open-mouthed at Dr. B’s door.

“I called you twice,” I said. “It’s Lydia’s birthday for Christ sake and she’s not going to be doped up on the wrong medicine.” I shook the plastic bottle of pills like dice in front of Dr. B’s face. He was a little man, an old man with pitted skin and I wondered how the hell he could possibly relate to any of Lydia’s issues. “He’s a quack,” I said to the woman in the stuffed chair, my voice rising in the room.

“You calm down,” Dr. B said, putting his arm around my shoulder, pointing me out to the reception area. “Call the prescription in now. I want to see you do it,” I said. My heart double pumped. “I’ll have your license for this,” I shouted as I slammed the door and raced down the stairwell with Lydia, laughing now. I laughed and cried at the same time. “No doctor is going to screw up your birthday, ” I said, empowered and exhilarated for having yelled at Dr. B and for having stood up for my sister.

“Do you think he’ll call it in,” Lydia asked. “He will,” I said. We drove directly to the CVS and waited an hour for Lydia’s medicine. We went home and changed into miniskirts, then met our cousin Marybeth at Ole Moles, Lydia’s favorite Mexican restaurant. Over guacamole and bean burritos Lydia told Marybeth “the story of the break in on Dr. B” as Lydia had already begun referring to it. “She called him a quack,” Lydia went on, gesticulating wildly, happier than I had seen her in months. This time Lydia ate her cake and her hands did not shake, I brushed a stray bit of chocolate frosting from her cheek. When we left it was dark, our old blue Cadillac with the taped up glove box lit below a streetlamp. Lydia got in, looking like a kid next to me in the big bucket seat, her tie-dyed shirt loud against the black leather.

Author’s Note: This moment took place 25 years ago. My beautiful sister is my mentor and my hero. She has her MA in social work.

Purchase our Sibling Bundle for more essays on the joys and challenges of the sibling relationship.

Editors’ Picks: Some of Our Favorites from 2014

Editors’ Picks: Some of Our Favorites from 2014

 

On Shame and Parenting

onshameand parentingBy Adrienne Jones

I did for them everything I believed a good mother would do for her children and clenched my teeth and prayed it was enough, or right, or that at the very least they would be OK in spite of the depth of my brokenness.

 

 

 

Brave Enough

sunsetBy Jennifer Palmer

She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.

 

 

 

 

For Life

For LifeBy Sarah Kilch Gaffney

We named her Zoe because it means “life” and we could think of no meaning more fitting for our child.

 

 

 

 

This is Adolescence: 16

This is 16 artBy Marcelle Soviero

Sixteen is full of paper thin promise, delicate due to the decisions I can’t make for her anymore, decisions that will determine what happens next.

 

 

 

 

Till Death Did They Part

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.57.07 PMBy Molly Krause

When my dad came back after two decades of divorce, I wondered if my mom had somehow been waiting for him.

 

 

 

Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 5.04.33 PMBy Dawn Davies

At 6:15 a.m., take the children downstairs for breakfast because, even though you are exhausted, the onus is on you. It is always on you.

 

 

 

 

My Daughter at the Blue Venus

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.03.52 PMBy P.L. Lowe

She tells me she is not allowed to give lap dances or blowjobs. She smiles kindly, reassuringly, as she tells me this, as if I have been waiting for this exact information, secretly hoping she will divulge such details to assuage my motherly worries.

 

 

 

Bury My Son Before I Die

Bury My Son Before I DieBy Joanne De Simone

It goes against everything we believe about motherhood, but I’d rather bury my child than leave him behind.

 

 

 

 

The Boob Tube

boobtubeBy Susan Vaughan Moshofsky

On my second day in the hospital, the nurse worried that Rachel was getting little, if any, milk, so she suggested formula supplementation. I refused, determined to succeed. New mom though I was, I knew that supplementing was the Dark Side.

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This is Adolescence: 16

This is Adolescence: 16

By Marcelle Soviero

This is 16 art
Sixteen is full of paper thin promise, delicate due to the decisions I can’t make for her anymore, decisions that will determine what happens next.

 

Stunning in her complexity, 16 balances in the gray area—in my moment of hesitation after she asks if she can stay out later tonight. Before I can answer she says, “Great, thanks Mom,” and I wonder if she’s heard me or if this is sarcasm. I don’t know if she’s going out with the older boyfriend I don’t like and don’t trust. “Not with HIM,” I shout as she hops in a friend’s car parked in front of the house, because some of 16’s friends drive now. And some of 16’s friends have sex and drink and smoke pot.

Sixteen is my peanut, the nickname I gave her when she appeared on the ultrasound in that shape. She is still my small-framed, green-eyed wild child. She is experimentation, pushing every button I have, and hugging me in between.

Sixteen loves me. She loves me not.

Sixteen is different than the early years, when milestones were more predictable—first steps, first days of school. Sixteen is unique, sometimes volatile, and I’m more alone and insecure in my parenting than ever before.

My sixteen is ripped jeans, eyes stenciled with black eyeliner and the Bob Dylan station on Pandora. She is love and peace; she is hate and war. She is the girl in the back of the class, not trying too hard. She is nothing I expected and everything I wanted.

She loves me. She loves me not.

She is the one who set her own path in kindergarten, dressing herself in her snowsuit and leaving the classroom to play outside, alone. She did not need cohorts to mastermind ideas, if others came along, they came along, if not, then not. She is still that way.

Unlike many of the 6-year-olds at that small non-conforming but still impossible-for-my-daughter Montessori school, she hated flower arranging and helping the teacher. My 6 loved to collect rocks on the playground, stash them in her pockets, and empty them when she got home. “See,” she would say displaying what was really gravel in her hands, and I’d ask her what she liked about those rocks. “They’re mine.” And I wonder now if those rocks made her feel grounded.

Sixteen is flunking Algebra Two, getting her driving permit in spite of my efforts to hold her back from the wheel of a car, you can always start next year, I say casually. Sixteen needs to prepare for SATs. “I’m not going to college,” she says when I sign her up for a test prep course. “I’m taking a gap year.” She is not, I say. Not a chance. She leaves the room and I am panicking, the prospect of 16 living at home for another year, it is not a warm vision, and I am glazed in guilt. Then she comes back. “What day is the test?” I don’t realize now that some day in the near future she will apply to far away schools, and I will wonder why so far, and wonder if it’s me. And I will miss her until my heart cracks sideways.

She loves me. She loves me not.

Sixteen is my first child, the first grandchild, the only person my mother—her grandmother—remembers now after five years of dementia. When we walk into the nursing home my mother looks at me and says “Sophia?” “No Mom,” I say, “she’s coming.” When 16 arrives my mother kisses her and 16 hugs back, and I remember “the hug” when 16 was six. When I told her her father and I were getting divorced, “and never getting back together,” so she wouldn’t get her hopes up. She scootched her way out of the big upholstered chair where she had been reading her Lola book and came to me, her shoulders narrow under her ladybug sundress. She took my hand and we walked out to the swingset and sat side by side. “Watch me kick the clouds,” she said. “Mommy kick the clouds!”

The clouds are not kickable these days and they are often lined with black. No silver. No blue. Really, I can’t tell. The storm changes by the day. No hour. No minute. She is suspended for buying alcohol but she is also first violin in the county orchestra. She is a girl in a tattooed halo, my girl. Regardless.

She loves me. She loves me not.

Sixteen is full of paper thin promise, delicate due to the decisions I can’t make for her anymore, decisions that will determine what happens next. Yet she has no fear and no sense of consequence; she makes the same mistakes more than once, if the boyfriend asks her to ride on his motorcycle—to do almost anything—she’ll do it, then tell me, “it’s no big deal, Mom.” And I will have my words with her, and she will dismiss those words before they even have a chance to dissolve in the air.

Sixteen quit the volleyball team, and instead got a job as a counselor in an after school program she once attended, the program where she lost her first tooth during the square dance in the gym. When I pick her up at work she is the only adult in the room, with a dozen 1st graders, and I am astonished. Little girl, I want to say, where did you go?

And she loves me. She loves me not.

Sixteen breaks up with her boyfriend, “to be the breaker is harder than to be the breakee sometimes, Peanut,” I say. She tells me too much about the relationship (I get all or nothing) and I note to call the gynecologist in the morning. We sit on her bed, legs Indian style, cans of cranberry lime seltzer on the bedside table. She is crying and her pale face against the orange walls that were once wall-papered with baby barn animals, looks older. Instead of the froggy sheets with matching comforter, the one we sit on is tie dye, and she has written I hate her, in ink across the top edge of the blanket, and I wonder if it’s me she is writing about.

She loves me. She loves me not.

Sixteen stays home from school sick, we snuggle on the couch both stuffy-nosed and sleepy. “I caught it from you,” she says laughing. “No you,” I say. And I am reminded of the day she saw the first psychologist and told me after the session that she caught my depression, that I passed it to her, as if I passed the mashed potatoes. I blamed myself. I blame myself for all of it. Always. I look at her on the couch next to me, spent and sniffling. “Peanut let’s go get ice cream,” I say and we drive to Stop n’ Shop in our sweatpants and slippers and buy three flavors of Haagan Dazs. It is 10:00 in the morning. “You are so much fun Mom,” Sixteen says as we check out. And I think, I am fun.

And she loves me, and I stop here.

Marcelle Soviero is the Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, and the author of An Iridescent Life: Essays on Motherhood.

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This is the sixth episode of This is Adolescence, an essay series conceived by Lindsey Mead and Allison Slater Tate. The series will be published in full in Brain, Child’s Special Issue for Parents of T(w)eens, coming in Spring 2015. To order our previous special issues for Parents of Teens click here.

The Boy Who Is Mine

The Boy Who Is Mine

Baseball Equipment Laying on Grass

Unlike the blissful announcement of a baby the first two times, my mother’s smile taking up her entire face; this time, she met the news with a blank expression. “Why?” she said, before hesitating, then hugging me as if to hold me up.

 

Johnny’s bus comes later, after my other four children are off to school. And suddenly I am in “Johnny Time,”—the half hour each school day morning that I have to spend alone with my youngest son, a small-for-his-age first-grader.

“Ready Mommy?” he says. “Ready!” I say, and, unless we’re rained out, we head outside to play baseball before his bus comes. It is late autumn, the leaves have let go of the trees, and I stand in the grass in my pajamas and robe, a cup of cold coffee on the ground next to me. Johnny races to get our mitts from the garage, his small muscled body pulsing with excitement.

I throw him a high fly; the ball crashes through the branches of our oak tree; he zig-zags beneath the limbs judging exactly where it will fall. “Johnny Jingle makes the catch!” I scream and he beams, raising his mitt, calming the crowd. “How did you get to be such a great baseball player?” I ask, TV-interview style, using a small stick for a microphone. He says the answer I made up for him. “I owe it all to my mother!”

He bats next, my pitch lacks accuracy but he slams it. He hits left-handed—the way my father, a professional baseball player and also named Johnny, used to. Johnny does nothing else left-handed, but by some odd coincidence he hits lefty and his swing makes me smile every time. He has an uncanny resemblance to his namesake as well, tufts of blonde hair, blue eyes like light blue fondant.

I throw a thousand balls, or so it seems by the time the bus lumbers to our driveway, letting out its routine wheeze. Johnny gives me my three kisses, left, right, and center, before getting on. And though I am tired, feeling thin as wax paper, I know I did the right thing seven years ago.

Because Johnny was all my idea. The baby I insisted on having, though he was conceived at a time in my life when a baby should have been the last thing on my mind. My marriage was breaking, my daughters were just two and three, and my career had hit high gear. But for reasons I have only begun to figure out, though I know it was more than a desire for a boy who I could name after my father, I wanted a third child as much as I’d wanted the first; every cell of me committed to it, the need innate, primal.

My husband and I were in marriage counseling at the time; we had been for months. The therapist cautioned against having another child just then. “Another child will not fix things,” she said. Of course not, I thought. But that was not the point.

The point was I wanted a third child whether my husband and I stayed together or not. I was clear on the issue in my mind. I told my mother I was pregnant first. Unlike the blissful announcement of a baby the first two times, my mother’s smile taking up her entire face; this time, she met the news with a blank expression. “Why?” she said, before hesitating, then hugging me as if to hold me up.

I knew what she was thinking; she was the one who came to stay with me when I suffered postpartum depression with both of my daughters, who were born in the context of a better marriage than what I had now. She was the one who took Sophia from my lap while I cried, leaving me frozen in the polka-dot cushioned rocking chair, cold cabbage leaves on my breasts to sooth the engorgement.

I waited many weeks before I told other people, including my husband, who smiled when I showed him the stick that flared pink.  He left quickly after to go to his flying lesson. I remember thinking, he would fly 15,000 feet in the air while I stayed grounded.

My husband was home less often. He’d had so many interests and made time to pursue them all—a zest I loved when I married him but hated now that we had children. We were together less and less, a thick silence webbed between us. Over time my daughters sensed the end of something I think; clinging to me, grabbing at my thighs while I cooked macaroni and cheese again, my stomach huge, wedging into the countertop as I filled the large pot with water. At any time I could snap, like a celery stalk, knowing that if I didn’t unravel during the pregnancy, chances were high I would plummet again right after the baby was born.

It was a lonely pregnancy, punctuated by doctor appointments that I went to by myself. At 21 weeks as I lay in the dark on the exam table, my melon-sized belly in full bloom, I asked Dr. Derman if it was a boy or a girl. “I thought you didn’t want to know?” he said, having delivered both of my daughters who I insisted be a surprise. I felt the baby roll inside of me, swimming, as it surfaced on the ultrasound.

“I want to know,” I said.

“Boy” he said.

“For certain?” I said. It was certain.

The divorce came when Johnny was 18 months old; I now have to share my son, along with his sisters. On Wednesdays and every other weekend the children go to my ex-husband’s house and the little bird beats in my throat. In spite of that I try to see the situation through a positive lens, thinking that perhaps the forced separations help me appreciate the extra minutes I have on weekday mornings with my son, before the bus comes—the little boy who I still like to believe was all my doing.

Mothers at the Microphone: Sharing Our Stories

Mothers at the Microphone: Sharing Our Stories

LTYM photoImagine the most loving, honest conversation you’ve ever had with a best friend and multiply that feeling of connection a thousand times and you could be me, last Thursday at the Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) reading in Minneapolis. Visiting the city, I gave myself a pre-mother’s day treat, attending LTYM for the first time. Among a packed audience, I was taken in as each of the 13 authors performed her well-crafted vignette one by one giving a kaleidoscopic view into motherhood: the complexity, diversity, and humor.

Every story stood out—the experience of simultaneous triplets, the loss of an infant, a mother breaking her ankle on the troll bridge at the miniature golf course—each told by the author herself.  The 13 performances were honest, authentic, and perfectly rendered.

Founded by Ann Imig in 2010, to expand opportunities for women’s voices, LTYM is a series of staged readings in celebration of Mother’s Day that now takes place in 32 cities nationwide.  The Minneapolis show was produced this year by two Brain, Child writers Tracy Morrison and Galit Breen (along with the talented Vikki Reich) and Brain, Child author Claire DeBerg who read from Choosing Gloria, which was first published in Brain, Child in Fall 2013.

Tracy, who also performed (tasting small bites of Hostess Ho-Hos between lines for effect) read from her hilarious, yet poignant piece, “The Mommy Wars”:

“I stand here today as a survivor. I was exclusively formula fed as a baby. I never co-slept with my mom.  I watched entirely too many episodes of The Brady Bunch and The Love Boat, and did not eat anything organic until I was 25. We enjoyed pre-packed Hostess desserts and red Kool-Aid by the gallons. I come from divorced parents who both worked full-time, enforcing a childhood at that time that was labeled “latch key” and would now be called illegal—please call CPS.”

She concluded with a forget-the-mommy-wars call to action, that I think we can all learn from:

“I thank my mom for making sure these (Ho-Hos) were always in the snack cabinet and not worrying about what others thought. She and others mothered without a manual, and I hope without a worry of whether they were doing it right, without comparison, without guilt, and without regret…So I’m taking a lesson from my mother and her generation and believe it’s time we make the mommy wars go away by ignoring them, because they truthfully don’t exist if we just focus on doing what we need to do for our own families…”

Tracy’s reading—all the readings of course—got me thinking about my own mothering experiences with my five children, as well as my experience of having been mothered. I left the theater, my eyes still wet, saying goodbye to strangers and friends, all the same really, bound by the common denominator of being mothers.

I went back to my hotel room (I was visiting the city for the first time) and of course I thought of the stories behind my life; the narratives that weave together to make up my reality. How I’ve written so much about my children, and how grateful I am for that. And I thought of my mother telling her stories about me, my ladybug first-day-of-preschool dress, my abhorrence of meatloaf since the age of three. And how now my mother, suffering from dementia, cannot tell the stories any more. Only fragments. I thought more about how storytelling transcends time and what happens when that power is lost, what becomes of my childhood if my mother can’t remember it.

So I thank Ann for creating such an event, and all the readers, for telling their stories—without pretense or judgment. Stories that make me feel less alone in my work to raise good kids, and help me feel less anxious about what I’ve done right or wrong.

A night full of emotions indeed. My own perspectives shifting with every reading, the lenses of who I have been and who I will be. All for the telling.

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Hall of Famers

Hall of Famers

johnny baseball“In here!” my 9-year-old son Johnny says, pulling me into the Babe Ruth room at the Baseball Hall of Fame, pointing at the Louisville Slugger Babe Ruth no doubt used to hit one of his 714 career homeruns. We walk through rows of display cases; Johnny’s enthusiasm building as he examines each artifact.

Johnny’s passion for baseball is an ongoing pleasure for me, a sign of how my father lives on through my son. Johnny is named after my father who died of heart failure five years before Johnny was born. Dad played AAA baseball for the Red Sox; a southpaw pitcher. As Johnny and I walk through the museum I imagine snapping a photo of him with his grandfather; my father’s large arm over Johnny’s shoulder buddy style. Instead, I snap a picture of Johnny next to a life size painting of Hank Aaron.

I wonder what my father would think of my little boy, so much like him, who hits left handed and who can strike out the side in any given game. Though my father rarely talked about his baseball career, I imagine maybe in this setting he would tell Johnny everything, all the stories I heard secondhand after Dad died.

I brought Johnny to the Hall of Fame for spring break, my four older kids home with my husband. Having Johnny to myself was a unique occasion for one-on-one time with my youngest son. I’d booked a hotel with a swimming pool. I wanted to make it all special, squeeze every memory I could from the trip. I’d even told Johnny, just for this weekend, I would be a Yankee fan like him, instead of my usual role as a Red Sox fan. “Babe Ruth played for both teams,” Johnny had said giving me some leeway, “but lets be for the same team Mommy, OK?”

Johnny wore his baseball mitt the whole four-hour drive from Connecticut to Cooperstown, reading Sports Illustrated for Kids on my ipad, reciting some stats  from the backseat. We drove down one-lane roads, through small towns – Cobleskill and Broome, past Hubcap Heaven and the Cob Knob Driving Range, ramshackle houses pinpointing the start of another town.

When we arrived in Cooperstown, we parked near the batting range then walked through low hanging fog down Main Street, past rickety shops that displayed baseball memorabilia in dusty windows. I gave Johnny quarters for bat-shaped gumballs. We reached the Hall of Fame and started our tour on the second floor watching a 10-minute movie in the Grand Stand Theater, which was made to look like Comiskey Park, complete with stadium seating. The show ended with images of baseball cards projected onto the ceiling. My son looked up, his mouth wide, and I imagined my father looking down at him. I felt a combined love for my son and my father at the same time.

My father loved baseball season, and it was baseball season now. Johnny’s Little League had started and I volunteered to be the “lady coach” as the boys called me.  I had stood on the field with twelve 3rd graders wondering why I took this position, but I knew like so many things, I did it for my father, because he had been a coach and taught me what I know about throwing a baseball and keeping both hands down for grounders. And maybe Dad could see me, and my son, together on the field.

After going through 200 years of baseball history in the museum we went down to the official Hall of Fame on the first floor where Johnny raced to find the bronze plaques for his favorite inductees. I took three photos of him in his Yankee Cap next to Babe Ruth’s plaque. After, we went to the gift shop and I bought baseball bat pens for our Little League team and spoiled my son with pennants, pencils and so many packs of baseball cards.

Back at the hotel, Johnny, the only 9-year-old I know who watches ESPN, turned on the TV and opened his baseball cards, praying for Babe Ruth. “Will Grampy be in one of these packs?” he asked, just to please me. The first pack was all duplicates of cards he already had, same with the second and third packs; mostly dupes. “I’ll trade them,” he said, trying to stay hopeful, and I knew I’d be the lucky recipient. I’d long taken to trading baseball cards with my son as a pastime.

Johnny saved the World Series pack until last, frantic for Babe Ruth. He stopped mid-flip. There was Babe, in his Yankee uniform. Johnny looked at the card, it seemed too much for him. He separated Babe from the pack, laid him on the table and took a photo of the card with my camera. I congratulated Johnny on his good luck. It seemed, even with all the museum attractions, this moment with the Babe Ruth card was the highlight of his trip.

“Time to go to the pool,” I said.

“I can’t leave,” Johnny said. “Someone might take my baseball card.”

“Lets keep it in the gift shop bag,” I said, holding the bag open. But he secured the card in a sheath of plastic that had been wrapped around the hotel glasses, and brought his treasure to the pool. Shirtless, in his bathing suit and baseball cap, the two of us took the elevator down. I sang Take Me out to the Ballgame and Johnny sang parts along with me, raising his fingers for the one, two three strikes you’re out refrain.

That night Johnny slept with Babe Ruth under his pillow. I had a dream about my father. Unlike most of the dreams I had of Dad, where he is nettled with tubes as he had been in his final days, in this dream Dad was young and strong in his Red Sox uniform, just like the photo I keep of him on my desk.

In the dream, my father and I played three-way catch with Johnny in the backyard. “Our boy can throw Martie,” my father said, calling me by the nickname he gave me, which I’ve not heard since he died. The dream was so real it was hard for me to wake into the new day; my head foggy, I saw the outline of my son in his Yankee pajamas asleep on the bed next to me, and swore I saw my father there too.