Tag Archives: family

Five Reasons Your Mom is Awesome

A mother holding a baby by the sea at sunset
Mother and Child

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, and mother figures out there! WE set aside today to honor and thank mothers for everything they’ve done and continue to do for everyone they care for. Mother’s Day has been an official U.S holiday since 1914, and you can learn a bit about its history here. However, as nice as cards, flowers, and breakfast in bed are as gestures, sometimes we forget that moms just want to be thanked. Being a mom is a full-time job with multiple positions; moms are alternately teachers, nurses, cooks, cleaning staff, spiritual mentors, and a host of other things that we probably take for granted, because we often don’t notice the little things that make a big difference in our lives. So here are a few things moms do why they’re awesome.

1. For tracing hearts in your peanut butter sandwiches

Okay, I’m probably dating myself here, but does anyone remember those Skippy Peanut Butter commercials from the 1980s where the mom draws a heart in the peanut butter? The fact that you couldn’t see the heart once the sandwich was closed isn’t really the point. The point is that Mom took the time to do this for you, probably at 5:00AM, because she had to make sure she sent you off to school with a hardy (and hearty) lunch. I don’t remember when my mom stopped doing this, but I do remember that her hearts looked just like the one on TV.

2. For reading bedtime stories to you

If you think about everything your mom had to do just to run your life, from sending you off to school, to going to work to pay the bills, to coming home and cooking dinner while reading over your shoulder to make sure you weren’t skipping the hard Math problems (not guilty), she probably wanted to spend any “free time” she had with a glass of wine, the TV remote, and the dog that never asked for anything but belly rubs and pretzels. (this was a ritual our dog initiated. the pretzels, not the wine. At least, not for the dog). Instead, Mom chose to spend that time reading to you. According to the Reading Foundation, infants and young children who are read to or frequently engaged with verbally develop more advanced language and literacy skills.

3. For letting your friends treat her kitchen like the Waffle House (except with better food and sans drunk truckers)

Remember all the Friday nights when you begged and pleaded with Mom to let your best friend sleep over? She always said yes even though she needed another hormonal teenager under her roof keeping her up all night like she needed the entire family to become infested with head lice. And when you woke up the next morning, there were waffles. Always waffles. With chocolate chips. And enough maple syrup to send your blood sugar off the charts. You can’t really thank Mom if you’ve since developed diabetes, because she probably told you once if she told you a thousand times to lay off the sugar. You can and should, however, thank her for giving up her Saturday morning to cook you breakfast instead of shoving a box of cheerios at you and saying “Kitchen is closed. You’re on your own, kid.”

4. For making you do homework during the summer

Maybe this one is more specific to children who were raised by teachers, but I still remember summer mornings of having to practice my handwriting and my multiplication tables before I could run under the sprinkler outside or bury my nose in a book (unless the book in question was my required summer reading, in which case, I could spend all day reading if I wanted to). I have to be honest, these morning previews of purgatory didn’t really improve my math skills or my handwriting, but that’s not really my mother’s fault. I’m just inherently bad at writing in cursive and balancing my checkbook. What I did learn, however, was the value of tackling unpleasant things first thing in the day to clear my head and allow me to focus on the things I enjoyed with greater enthusiasm. It’s probably the reason why as a grad student, without fail, I rolled up my sleeves, however reluctantly, and tackled my daily writing quota on my dissertation before doing anything else. The downside, of course, is that you can’t numb the unpleasantness of difficult tasks with alcohol if you complete them in the morning, but I’ve learned to settle for caffeine.

5. For forcing you to make your bed every morning

Maybe I’m assuming a rule of thumb here, but in my experience, organized parents seem to think that an unmade bed equals some kind of moral degeneration. My mom also thinks this about dirty dishes left in the sink. The truth is that as much as we grumbled about this as kids, there’s something quietly satisfying about seeing that neatly made-up bed, knowing that your day has officially begun, if for no other reason than that you’re not going to go back to bed after all that work smoothing the sheets and aligning the comforter just so. Perhaps it’s psychosomatic, but I always seem to feel more tired throughout the day when I haven’t made my bed, so obviously my mom was onto something here. I don’t credit my neatly made bed for all of my work productivity, but it certainly hasn’t hurt.

Even as I write this, I recognize that the ways that we define the roles of parenthood have necessarily become more fluid as family dynamics have changed. Some of us grew up in the so-called nuclear family. Some of us were raised just by our mothers, or just by our fathers. Some of us had two mothers, or two fathers. Some were raised by individuals not biologically related to them. The label of the person who performs these small kindnesses for those they care for isn’t really the point; what matters is the love behind those acts.

2Question

What does the word mother mean to you?

The Fondness of a Father: a Tribute to Jane Austen and Mr. Bennet

I stood in my closet, hands on hips, tapping my foot as I surveyed my wardrobe. The floor around me was a tangle of jeans, sweaters, and black leggings.
“Woman of substance. Inner poise,” I repeated. “You can do this. It’s just a department holiday party.”
“No, it’s not,” said the small voice of insecurity that generally likes to make its opinions heard when I’m least interested in hearing them. “It’s a holiday party with your new sweetie. The first holiday party you’ve ever attended with a date in your nearly 30 years on this planet.”
“Shut up!” I hissed. “That’s classified information.”
“It’s blog fodder,” said the voice.
“That too,” I conceded. “Now, if you’ve finished lowering my self-esteem, I’ve got a party to go to.”

After much deliberation (and quite possibly the first game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe I’ve played since grade school) I’d selected what I hoped would be the perfect outfit and was debating the merits of comfortable and sensible versus sexy and stylish in the footwear department, when my phone rang.
“So, what are you wearing to the party tonight?” (It was my dad.).
“I don’t know,” I answered, contemplating the potential danger of blind woman and high-heeled shoe versus hard wood floor.
“What? What do you mean you don’t know? You’re going to a holiday party with your new beau. This is an essential detail.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, endeavoring to calm my breathing that had quickened through a combination of nerves, frustration, and tight pants.
“So what are you wearing?” he continued. “You want to look nice. Something that straddles the line between ‘professional’ and… ‘available.'”
“I-what?” Christopher Columbus! I wasn’t having this conversation with my father. I have a very short list of things that I never want to hear in my lifetime; it includes cats caught in a garbage disposal and Colin Firth’s American accent. Now we’ll just add to that any conversation with my father that includes or in any way references the topic of sex or sexuality.
“I, um, Dad, I don’t…want to have this conversation.”
“Well, whatever you wear, just don’t look too sexy, and behave yourself.”
No, not the “Remember-your-catholic-morals” conversation. Please. I mean, if the fact that I’m not dating a catholic already means I’m shopping for a condo in Hell, we might as well just move in together and have done with it.
“Dad, I’m going to be late,” I hissed into the phone.
“OK, but just one more thing.”
I sighed. “Yes?”
“Have a good time. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

With what relatively little experience I’ve had playing the dating game, my father’s involvement can probably be best described as something between Steve Martin (think Father of the Bride here) and the Godfather. The thing is, my dad understands my taste in men about as much as he understands my taste in pineapple pizza. That being said, I have a long-cherished fantasy about the moment when I will some day announce my engagement to my father—a fantasy that is scripted along the lines of this conversation between Lizzie Bennet and her father about Mr. Darcy.

“Lizzie,” said her father, “I have given him my consent…I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzie. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband…Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage…My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Elizabeth, Still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice…and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity and reconcile him to the match.

“Well, my dear,” said he when she had ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

This passage echoed in my mind as, with one deep breath, I checked my purse for emergency cosmetics and headed out the door, and—literary geek that I am—I can’t help noting that I’m typing this on Jane Austen’s birthday; perhaps I’ve somehow managed to channel her spirit. I should try writing a historical novel set during Regency England, though I’ll leave out the zombies and seamonsters, thanks.
I might blame Jane Austen for enabling my romantic notions, but amidst the Darcy dreams, she taught me a valuable lesson: boyfriends come and go, but the fondness of a father is forever.

Happy 237th Birthday, Miss Austen.

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing: or, Valentine’s Day and the Commoditization of Love?

Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.- Oscar Wilde, the Picture of Dorian Gray

This quotation has been marinating in my brain for the last several days as I’ve been rereading the novel from which it is taken, and I found myself reflecting upon it last night as I entered the grocery store with a friend and was immediately in danger of being sucked into a vortex of Valentine’s Day merchandise: cards, candies, flowers, cupcakes, cookies, balloons, and teddy bears offered fragrant, fluffy, and fatty reminders of the approaching Hallmark holiday. Now, I am in no way averse to the celebrating of Valentine’s Day, but I do think that it’s gotten increasingly like the commercialization of Christmas in the marketing campaigns associated with it.

When I was growing up, my father would come home from work on Valentine’s Day each year with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates each for my mother and me. When I was in high school, the student counsel sold roses and balloons each Valentine’s Day, and my father (who taught at my school) would send me a rose and a balloon each year, anonymously of course, and he still won’t admit to having done it because there was, and possibly still is, the chance that some boy too socially aware of his reputation to openly like the blind girl might secretly have wanted me to know he was out there, somewhere. Forming an alliance with me might be “regarded as a highly reprehensible connection” by the rest of the school, but I was no less worthy all the same. My dad did what he did for the simple joy of watching me participate in the day with my schoolmates.

The past two years, I’ve received a package from my mother with several dozen chocolate muffins from Vitalicious. Nothing says “I love you” quite like a box of fiber-infused, shit-your-brains-out chocolate chip muffins. More importantly, they’re practical, like my mother. These guilt-free, tasty treats are a weekend ritual for me—a hardy helping of indulgence on a Saturday morning. They are, however, rather pricy on a fixed income, and bank account, heart, and waistline appreciate the gesture.

Such sweet simplicity offers a stark contrast to the advertisement from Amazon.com that appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago: a special deal on the new Kindle Fire, an exclusive Valentine’s Day offer! As gadgets and gizmos replace candy and cuddly animals as tokens of our affection, is the price tag on love getting bigger and its value getting smaller? Perhaps, though we might argue that jewelry store sales have been indicating as much for years. Truthfully though, whether you show your love with candy or a Kindle, what matters most is that your heart is in the right place.

St. Valentine’s name is taken from the Latin word “valens,” meaning strong, powerful, healthy, and worthwhile, according to Latinwordlist.This day isn’t simply about chocolate, cards, and conversation hearts; it’s about cultivating strong, powerful, healthy, and worthwhile relationships, with yourself as well as with others.

So: love to all, not just today, but each day. Remember that you are worthy of love and are loved in ways you probably aren’t always aware of. Most importantly, remember that love, the most priceless gift we have to share, is also the freest. (Restrictions do not apply. Offer good year-round).
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Playing with Fire, Scorched by Flame: Ellen Hopkins’s Burned

I’ve had this novel in my “TBR” pile for several months, and in the humdrum of returning to work after the holiday, I decided to pick it up, thinking that some good young adult fiction would help me forget, at least temporarily, the stress of life. (Obviously I was new to Ellen Hopkins). I found, instead of the trials and tribulations of teen angst, a compelling story of love and hate, of faith and doubt, of feud and forgiveness.

Pattyn Von Stratten is a good Mormon girl: completing her chores, caring for her six younger siblings, dutifully attending sacrament meetings and seminary, tacitly tolerating her father’s alcoholism and abuse and her mother’s submissiveness to his domineering ways. But then a secret relationship with a “real boy”—a non-Mormon boy—incurs her father’s wrath and triggers a chain of drama that results in Pattyn’s “exile” to spend the summer with an estranged aunt in Nevada.

Banished from her home to be punished, Pattyn finds comfort in the arms of “Aunt J”. Battered and broken, she learns about the healing power of love. After years of attending sacrament meetings and adhering to church elders who rarely practice what they preach, Pattyn finds God in the thunder that rolls across the mountain range, in the rhythmic rocking of a horse’s canter, in the eyes of a boy who loves her. So long crouched in cold darkness, she blooms in the wild of the Nevada desert. But in these vast, wide open spaces where her heart is free to fly, is there a shelter in which she can escape her demons?

Burned is a story about the choice to love and the consequences of that choice—that with great gifts come great responsibility, and that even God, in his infinite wisdom, deals doses of tough love. Ellen Hopkins’s simple yet elegant pros at once touches and twists the heart of the reader, and Pattyn’s story is one that gives voice to any young girl forced to grow up in a narrow-sheltered world where questions are forbidden by adults who have no answers.

Note: not being entirely familiar with the Mormon faith, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the portrayal, but this is a story whose power is not bound by cast and creed; Pattyn’s family could just as easily be a Protestant family, A catholic family, a rich family or a poor one. It is a story that will resonate with anyone who struggles in a world where being lost seems far easier than finding oneself.

Give me Coffee or give me Death: a Chapter in the Life of a Caffeine Addict

Regular readers of my blog are familiar with my tendency to wax rhapsodic about the joys of caffeine. Coffee is to me what cocaine is to Sherlock Holmes; the cure for mental stagnation and the elixir of life (and, fortunately for me, the entirely legal and socially appropriate addiction for an academic).

That said, I find it miraculous that I can type in complete, grammatically-correct sentences right now. I have spent the past three days battling with headaches, excessive sarcasm (even for me) and the occasional twitch. Why, you ask? Simple: I’m currently visiting my parents, who, for the last few years, have been subjecting themselves, and occasionally me, to the muddy mess called half-caff coffee. Since Thursday, I have been walking around in a withdrawal-induced haze with approximately 50 % less caffeine circulating through my bloodstream than my body is usually accustom to receiving. Admittedly there is a legitimate, medical reason for this switch on my parents’ part to the abomination of beverages. Caffeine is technically not supposed to be part of my father’s diet. In fact, he was “strongly urged” by his cardiologist to remove coffee, chocolate, and red wine from his diet. Coffee, chocolate, and wine: shit, double shit, and triple shit. The above are my personal trinity. The removal of any or all will more than likely spell my demise. Dad says it keeps him alive. I say: give me coffee or give me death. Cut off my caffeine supply, and I’m about as pleasant as a premenstrual lioness.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make contact with a chemical engineer about that long-anticipated 24-hour caffeine drip I’ve been dreaming of.