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Journeying Through Motherhood

Affirmation: Being a mother is my greatest joy.


Geese-2As we walked around the lake the geese couple were crossing the path and next to them was a gaggle of goslings. The female goose raised her head and stared right at us daring us to come closer. Behind us was another walker and her dog. The mother goose didn’t hesitate. She took off charging, squawking loudly at the dog. It had come too close to her babies. I’ve been a mother for over 40 years now. Now, I’m also the grandmother of four great people. I’m also very non-biased. My adult gym now offers toddler swim lessons on Saturday mornings. I feel a deep ache as I watch the parents interact with the children. I have an even stronger reaction when I see the fathers caring for the little ones, holding out their arms for them to jump into and holding their little hands as they lead them to and from the pool. I’m nostalgic for that time but I remember those lessons when I did them and I am just fine that now I’m simply an appreciative observer.

parents-2One day a young mother shared with a group of us that her 15 year old teenage daughter and husband had had their first terrible blow out. She was worried they would never have a trusting, loving relationship. The other mothers present assured her it was all normal growing pains and if it had taken this long for them to have this type of interaction, they were probably going to be just fine, probably even better than fine.

Many years ago the New York Times ran an article about the happiness level of parents. The researcher reported that in general the parents of teenagers were unhappier than parents at any other stage. I don’t remember being unhappy when my children were teenagers but I do know that now that they are adults, I thoroughly enjoy their company and that of their spouses. It’s pure joy when I have the opportunity to spend time with them. I think what we spend our money on reflects on that which we consider to be important and I’d rather spend my money on events that bring us all together than on anything else.

jeanDay1-2Today when I see a young family together I want to run up to them and tell them it’s a “short long journey.” I want to embrace them and shake them and make sure they know it and tell them to savor every moment of it. Motherhood is work. It’s painful and it’s challenging. It’s demanding and it’s tiring. It’s frustrating and it’s confusing. As a young mother I was never around extended family. Our first move was when my oldest was 6 weeks old. Our second move five years later was when my middle child was 18 months old and then ten years after that, we moved when Ellen was just three. I never had a support system. Every time we moved, I was completely on my own. I didn’t have a clue how very hard it was but looking back I can see how hard it was. Each time we moved, I had to create a new support system. It was easier sometimes than others. It was exciting to go to a new place but it was also lonely. Our last move brought us here to North Carolina over 25 years go. We began again. Now, I live close to most of my family.

My oldest girl, Melissa and her kind, loving husband, Larry and my four grandchildren live about 2 miles away. My son, Joey and his beautiful (inside and out) wife Belen also live close and I’m blessed to still have my husband of 45 years. My youngest and her sweet husband, Adam are in London but I’m optimistic about the future.

costafamily2My years of motherhood are not over. Once a mother, always a mother but this stage of being the mother of adult children is for me a rich blessing. While the children were growing, I was too busy with the cares of life and daily activities to savor all the precious moments they offered me but now, I can relish each moment. I can relax in their company. When I was doing my Master of Social Work I decided I would ask each of them, all adults at that time, how I did as a mother. Truly, this has been my life’s work. I wondered how they felt I did. When I look back I remember each of their births. I remember all the times they were sick and needed care. I remember all those miles in the car to different sporting events or classes. I remembered making dinner almost every night. I remember reading stories and grabbing hugs and kisses as often as possible. I remember helping with homework and visiting schools. I remember helping find colleges and going to ceremonies. I remember a home that I always hoped felt safe and secure. I welcomed their friends and eventually their spouses. I encouraged them to follow their dreams and listened when life went a different way. I hadn’t had any training and other than my wonderful husband, I hadn’t had any family around to guide me but it appeared I’d done alright. What did they think? I was curious and I was brave.

jeansandyYes, it’s been a “long short journey.” If I could do it again what would I change? If I were as wise at 20, 30 or 40 as I am now, what would I do differently? I’d not clean the house so often. Occasionally I’d have cereal for dinner instead of taking time to cook each evening. I’d read even more stories, hold hands even more often. I’d sit and just listen whenever they wanted to tell me something. I’d know this moment will soon be gone and I’d treasure it for the gift it was.

They were kind to me when they answered my question. That response alone was an answer in itself. I’d done ok. I must have done ok. Sandy, my hubby, and I must have done well. They’re still hanging out with us. In fact as I write this it’s almost Mother’s Day and the family and Sandy have gifted me with flowers, cards, a rice cooker and most importantly, time together. Yes, I might change the way I did some things, go slower, be more mindful but I wouldn’t change choosing to be a mother, especially to these three remarkable people. I’ve been blessed and at least now I can go slower and relish each and every moment I get to spend with them.

Happy Mothers Day!

Letting Go of Childhood Limitations

Affirmation:  I let
go of my childhood limitations.

How can one be over the age of 50, 60, 70 and still be restricted
or controlled by emotions and concepts that influenced them as they were
growing up?  How can one not?  I’m speaking about those emotions and
concepts that deter us from true joy, that interfere with our ability to
completely savor and embrace life.  And, is it even possible to release
oneself, to become an adult in one’s own right?  Is it possible to grasp
the positive qualities that serve us and our loved ones and let go of those,
perhaps at least acknowledge and appreciate the experience but then let go of
those concepts that are damaging us?

Part of the creative process encouraged in Julia Cameron’s The
Artist’s Way
, is an examination of what one felt was lacking in their
childhood.  I was a lucky person.  Looking back on my childhood I remember a lot
of freedom and amazingly, even with all that freedom, I never experienced any
trauma.  My mother and my father worked
very hard and while my grandparents lived below our one bedroom apartment for
the first ten years of my life, that was about the extent of our family.  My father was an only child and my mom’s
siblings were more than a decade older than her and did not live close.  I grew up in Jamaica, Queens.  When the city was preparing for the 1964
World’s Fair, they took down all the trees along my street, Grand Central
Parkway, and I could actually see the Empire State Building from my house. 

It was not an inner city neighborhood but it was close.  Most of the houses were attached brick homes
with the driveway in the back alley.  We
had about ten square feet of lawn in the front and my dad paved over the back
yard so we had room to park our cars.  My
mom had a clothes line that went from the second story kitchen window to a pole
out back and she hung most of our laundry out to dry.  I would head out to play early in the day and
wouldn’t return until the street lights went on.  We played hard.  We skated, rode bikes, climbed walls and
trees.  We played tag, jumped rope and
played stick ball.  In the winter we ice
skated several miles from the house and rode our sleds down the back alley
driveways.  No one ever seemed to come
look for us and if you can imagine, we didn’t have cell phones!  We were free. 
We had a lot of choices.  I grew
up believing I could do anything.  I
wasn’t sure what that was or where it would lead me, but there were no
boundaries for me as a child.  I assumed
there wouldn’t be any for me as an adult. 
Oh, I was well aware of the fact that I was a girl but when it came to
running, climbing and skating, I was equal to any boy.  It wasn’t until college that I discovered
women were expected to only follow certain paths. 

After Julia has you examine what you thought you lacked as a
child, she then encourages you to find ways to parent yourself, to nurture
yourself.  You can’t begin to let go and
to heal until you recognize what it is you were missing.  Maybe you never felt loved enough.  Maybe you never felt valued enough.  My parents were so busy that I never felt I
received enough affection.  Of course, so
much of our childhood memories can be so skewed.  I once heard the story of a young woman who
recalled a fainting episode to her mother. 
She was shocked to learn she hadn’t fainted at all, it had been her
sister!  But, whether or not our feelings
are based on reality or perception, doesn’t matter.  They are our feelings.  I can still recall childhood incidents that
make me feel sad or happy or frightened and my childhood ended more than half a
century ago.  And now life moves
onward.  There are times when you need to
let go of any junk you feel about your childhood.  At some point if you hope to be healthy and
happy you simply need to “get over it.” 

I am my mother’s main caregiver.  I am very blessed because
at 90 she is still extremely healthy and independent.  I’m the oldest of
three and mom chose to move near me over 15 years ago.  She made the move
all by herself.  She likes to be independent and self- sufficient. 
It empowers her as it probably does most of us.  My prayer for Mom is that
she will continue to have joy and maintain dignity as she finishes out her
life.  I only want to love her and enjoy her presence. I want to be the
“good little girl” and make her happy.  I want to take whatever
steps needed to help her feel better, to make her happy.  I’m 66 years old
and the child in me still wants to please my mother but I know, this is a fact,
that no matter what or how much I do, I cannot please her long term.  I
cannot make her happy.  Sister Mary Margaret from A Place for Women to
Gather says, “Happiness is an inside job.”  There is only one person who
can make us happy, us. 

That’s why I create affirmations.  It’s all up to me what I
think, how I perceive life, how I feel.  I cannot remain the good little
girl and live frustrated and sad because of anyone. I must let go of ALL
my childhood limitations and embrace my own adult determination to create my
own happiness.  Have you looked at your childhood limitations?  Are
they interfering with the quality of your life?  Can you too release
them?  Do you want to?

A reporter went to interview a man who was very down on his
luck.  He had lost everything dear to him
and had fallen into a chronic alcoholic state. 
“Why do you think your life has turned out this way?” he asked.  The man shared with him that his father was
an alcoholic and he never held out much hope for himself.  Then the reporter went to interview the man’s
brother.  He was surprised to find him
leading a very happy, successful life. 
He decided to ask him the same question, “Why do you think your life has
turned out this way?”  The brother said,
“Well, for heaven’s sake, my father was a chronic alcoholic.  I watched him all through my childhood and
decided my life was never going to follow that path.” 

Life is all about our choices. 
We get to choose what lessons we want to learn from our childhood.  We get to decide if we’re going to carry the
sad, remorseful feelings with us into adulthood and let them weigh us down or
if we are going to learn the lesson, release ourselves from the limitations and
grow up healthy and happy. 


Affirmation:  I expect to be treated the way I treat

traveling through Ecuador I observed a family on the side walk.  There appeared to be two couples one much
older than the other.  The eldest woman
was in a wheelchair and the younger woman kept reaching out to hug the older
woman and pat her head and give her a kiss periodically.  The traffic in Ecuador is horrific, worse
than any city I have ever visited or lived in and I was born in New York City
where the Long Island Expressway was referred to as “the world’s largest
parking lot.” Because we were stopped for so long, I had the opportunity
to watch this family for several minutes and I was quite taken with the love
and kindness they were showing to the elderly woman. 

Life in
Ecuador for the elderly appears to be much different from what I’ve seen and
experienced in the United States.  Life
for most families revolves around the whole family.  Many homes consist of residents who are
multi-generational.  My husband’s family
was like that when he was a very young boy. 
He comes from an Italian background and tells stories about the large
gatherings they had at least once a week and for all the holidays.  When his maternal grandmother was 42 her
husband died leaving her with 11 children, her mother and her father-in-law all
living in the same house.   My
mother-in-law tells how the older children stepped in to help the family.  They lived in an area that had a huge mafia
influence but the children in her family never became connected to that
world.  The older brothers kept a very
close eye on them and on her.  When the
children were grown, her mother never lived alone.  One son and one daughter dedicated their
lives to her care.

I know
there are many subcultures in the US where this kind of “village
approach” is still in existence. 
Several years ago I was lucky enough to do a yoga presentation to a
hospital that served a huge minority population.  The day was designated as a “spa
day” for breast cancer survivors. 
One of the young women I found myself chatting with had taken the day
off from work to accompany her mom to the event.  When I commented on how nice that was of her,
she stopped me dead.  “All my life
my mom has cared for me.  It has been my
dream to be able to care for her one day and now I can.  We live together and she helps me with my
children and I would do anything for her.”

I love my
mother and I love my mother-in-law.  I
love my children and love my grandchildren and we spend a lot of time
together.  But, we don’t live
together.  Truth to tell, it’s not part
of our culture.  Somewhere along the way,
we changed that.  I think our family
still forms “a village” but it’s more of a virtual village. 

One of my
favorite shows ever was The Golden Girls. 
Do you remember the jingle, “Thank you for being my
friend.”?  The Golden Girls was an
American sitcom created by Susan Harris, which originally aired on NBC from
September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue
McClanahan and Estelle Getty, the show centers on four older women sharing a
home in Miami, Florida.  The Golden Girls
won several awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy
Series twice. It also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy. 
All four stars each received an Emmy Award throughout the series’ run
and had multiple nominations. The series also ranked among the top ten
highest-rated programs for six out of its seven seasons. (

I must
admit to this day when I hear that jingle I tear up.  I know it wasn’t a real life situation.  In my mind it represented an ideal.  Four very different women sharing their
lives:  their dreams, their challenges,
their stories and their flaws.  Over the
years they went through every type of situation imaginable.  They laughed, cried, argued, hugged and
loved.  I know there have been many other
sitcoms that have stirred the emotions of many of us.  Fictional people who seemed to become our
family.  This, for me, was a prime
example.  I wanted to tell them if the
day ever came when I was left alone, I planned on moving in. 

having the opportunity to spend an extended period of time with my
daughter-in-law’s mother (three weeks), I think if I find myself alone, I would
thrive in such an environment.   When my
son’s in-laws first came to visit they stayed for three months.  I was quite concerned about how stressful
that might be.  I had always been told
company and fish had the same shelf life. 
At the time, my son and his wife lived in a one bedroom apartment and
the parents were not renting a car.  I am
pleased to tell you that not only was my daughter-in-law sad to see her parents
leave but my son was sad.

In the
United States today a relative who is visiting is restricted to three
months.  I’ve spoken with many people
whose relatives visit from other countries. 
When they come, if possible, they come for the whole three months.  Interestingly enough I’ve never heard anyone
complain.  I can tell some are not too
fond of the extended visit but it is not part of their culture to complain
about or criticize their family.

husband and I have had several opportunities to go to The John C. Campbell Folk
School in Brasstown, NC.  It is a school
dedicated to creating community through crafts. 
It’s over 75 years old.  It’s such
a treat to be there.  Every aspect from
Morning Song to family style eating is about community.  Many of the teachers are octogenarians and
older.  It’s one of the few places I have
been in the United States where the wisdom of the aged is honored.

there’s wisdom or not, it’s awe inspiring for me to see how some cultures
respect and honor the generations before them. I think many in the US feel the
senior citizen is a bother and a nuisance. 
For me I want what Aretha sings about “R E S P E C T.” That’s
what I want and if that’s what I want, it’s what I need to give.

There’s the story about the indigent farmer who
has made a box for his elderly father. 
He encourages his father to get in the box and then quickly closes the
top.  He begins to push it towards the
cliff.  He’s had it!  He’s finished!  Then, he hears knocking from inside the
box.  “What! What do you want old
man?” His father says, “Son, let me out.  You can just carry me to the cliff.  Your son will need this box for you.”

An Ethical Will

Affirmation:  I discern well between those actions that empower me versus those that enable me and direct my energies towards the former.

What are you leaving your family when you die?  Have you made out a will?  Have you written down who will get the silver, the house, and the many treasures you’ve collected over the years?  When we moved several years ago, we had an attic and in that attic were many treasures I was sure the “children” would one day want.  I had saved their baby furniture.  All three children used the same cradle and the same baby carriage.  All three children used the same layette set to come home from the hospital.  We also had a huge doll house that my son and I had built.  You know the kind; the kind that has a shingled roof and into which people put tiny furniture and lights and decorations.  It took us months to glue it all together.  We did it on our dining room table.  These are just a few of the treasure we had saved over the years.  Now, it was time to pass them onto the people we thought would want them.  Have you guessed their response?  They had no desire to own these items.  The baby furniture was outdated and not considered safe any longer.  The doll house was just too big for their tiny apartments or small homes.  The layette may have had a lot of sentimental meaning for me but they could have cared less about the outfit they wore home from the hospital.  Wow!  What a learning experience.  All those years of accumulating stuff, caring for stuff and now getting rid of that stuff.  What else have I, we, been collecting that no one is interested in? 

But, there must be something my family, my children and my grandchildren would like to have.  There must be something that I can leave them so they will remember me.  Perhaps the best I can leave them is what life lessons I have learned over these many generations.  What are they?  What are the most important things I have learned that I can leave for posterity?  What words do I want to use?  What sentiments do I want to write down?  What would your shared life lessons look like?

This is my “ethical will”, I write:  Love-love yourself and love others.  It’s our first responsibility-our #1 job.  Look for, discover and grow a belief in a Higher Power.  Find a way to trust that you can tap into God’s love and concern for you as an individual.  Know you are exactly where you are supposed to be at any given moment; practice being in the moment, being in the present.  Write down your priorities; use them to guide you in all your decisions-stay true to them and to yourself.  Write down your dreams.  There’s power in putting them on paper, energy is born and without struggle they will be manifested.  We are always manifesting, beware of your words and thoughts.  Focus on joy.  Focus on compassion and gratitude.  Find a way to see the blessings and benefits in everything that happens to you in life.  Say thank you, thank you, thank you.  Forgive, Forgive, Forgive-yourself and all others.  Smile, Laugh, Play & Dance!!

What does your “ethical will” look like?  Give it some thought and write it out.  It’s small.  It takes up very little space.  You won’t need an attic for it, just a drawer some place and it’s a gift that will benefit them far greater than any piece of old clothing or furniture.