Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Grey is the New Blonde

I’ve reached a crossroads in my life. Yes, folks, at the ripe old age of approximately 45-1/2, grey hair is taking over my head. And so I have a decision to make. To dye or not to dye. Or, perhaps it’s to be (grey) or not to be (grey). Of the decisions to be made in adulthood, this one is particularly vexing.

While growing up, I watched my mom change hair colors and styles on a regular basis. It got to the point that I never really knew what color her hair was supposed to be. Today, she has the most beautiful white hair you can imagine. When I was younger, I made this goofy promise to myself to be true to my own color. I didn’t want to be a slave to the colorist or walk around with a color that just wasn’t quite right...or natural. Like my father, I didn’t fall victim to grey hair until later than most of my friends, so it was easy for me to say I wouldn’t color my hair. Now, it appears that the time to follow through with my promises is at hand. Within the past year, I have sprouted an impressive crop of grey hair that is not going away anytime soon. And as much as I like to blame my children for my grey hairs, my kids haven’t been that bad recently to attribute this all to them. No, it’s just Father Time catching up with me once and for all.

I’ve asked opinions of several people. My husband firmly says that he doesn’t care. I’m not sure if it’s that he doesn’t care or if he decided that this question was akin to “Does this make me look fat?” Always the diplomat, he has planted himself firmly in the camp of those with no opinion whatsoever. Big help that is.

Surprisingly, my daughter has voted an absolute no on me coloring the grey away. It’s surprising because she has just recently discovered the joys of hair highlighting and the compliments that come with that change. Still, she has no interest in having a mom battling aging with little or no success.

I’m pretty sure that my friends would say that I should color away the grey because that is what most of them do. I respect them for that decision, but I’m not sure it’s right for me. I’ve rationalized to myself that grey hair is a badge of honor. I realize it’s more biological than it is a testament to trials and errors, but I like to think that with grey hair comes wisdom. That is likely not to be true, but it’s a nice theory, don’t you think?

The other thing that I’m factoring into my decision is the fact that even if I dyed my grey away, I would still look 45+ years old. I’m no Demi Moore or Sheryl Crow, so the likelihood of somebody saying: “You couldn’t possibly have a child in college already!” is between slim and none. I won’t be fooling anyone soon, and I’m good with that. I’m as vain as the next person, but I’m also a realist at heart. Which is why my grey hair and I are probably companions on my journey to an AARP membership and that’s OK.

After all, the newest American Idol is a grey guy, so perhaps it will be the hottest new trend. Or maybe, just maybe, greys have more fun. Hey, why not?!

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Toughest Love of All

Patricia Murphy is my new hero. There is a story in our local newspaper about Patricia, who found syringes hidden in her teenage daughter’s stuffed animal this week. It was clear to her that her daughter was once again shooting up heroin. So, she made a very tough decision and turned her into the police, knowing very well that her daughter is likely to end up in jail for some time.

"It kills me to see her in that orange (jail-issued) jump suit. She's my little girl. But this is perhaps the best thing for her right now," said Patricia. "It's been horrible."

Wow, what an understatement. On the list of difficult decisions for parents to make, I would say that this one ranks pretty high. It's probably below organ donation but definitely above whether to let your kid stay out late. When you get into this parenting gig, you prepare yourself for things like colicky babies, potty-training, academic challenges and boyfriends or girlfriends that are bad news. I don’t think there’s anything that prepares you for the day when you pick up the phone, call the police and ask them to arrest your child. In my view, Patricia Murphy is amazing and has just earned a Master’s Degree in Tough Love.

The irony about this brave decision is that it might not work. This isn’t the first time that Murphy’s daughter has been using heroin and unless she stays in a substance abuse program more than three days this time, it might not be the last. At what point, as a parent, do you give up? I think that’s the amazing thing about parents: They never do. They never stop caring, worrying and loving....even when it seems hopeless.

I pray that I never have to make a brave decision like Patricia Murphy, but as every parent knows, sometimes it doesn’t happen to “somebody else.” I like to think that I have the guts to do what’s right, even when it’s the most agonizing decision, but I honestly have no idea if that’s true. More than anything, I hope that someday, Patricia Murphy’s daughter will see how much her mom really loves her.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Weighing in on The Code

Unless you’ve been living on that remote island from the TV Show “Survivor,” chances are you’ve heard at least a tiny bit of the hype surrounding the May 19th nationwide premier of the movie “The Da Vinci Code.” The movie, of course, is based on the mega-blockbuster book by Dan Brown which has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for over 3 years. It would not be an exaggeration to say it’s become a literary phenomenon.

I did read The Da Vinci Code a couple of years ago and I really, really enjoyed it. Sure, the writing was as predictable as a Grisham novel and the hero and heroine were practically superhuman, but it was one of those books I couldn’t put down, and for me, that’s a great read, and a great escape.

Of course the controversy over the movie and the book stems from some of the religious claims made in the story. I won’t get into explaining them, refuting them or defending them. I honestly understand the opinions on both sides and I won’t say which team I’m on.

I will, however, defend one very important thing that the book and now the movie have made us do: It has prompted discussion of the Christian religion. As a Roman Catholic, I understand why many eyebrows were raised when this book was published, but I can’t help but think that anything that gets us to stop, think, listen and talk about our faith is a good thing. A very good thing. We may not agree with the theories presented by the author in this work of fiction, but for many of us, it has caused us to reexamine and, perhaps, renew our faith. In today’s culture of mass media and cynicism, I see this as a positive. For me, that’s the key to The Da Vinci Code.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What Do I Do?

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 4 ½ years. Prior to that I was working about 30 hours per week, having scaled back from full-time work. It was a tough transition, not because the pay was a little less, (um, can you say paycheck to zero in no time at all?) but because I had to get my rhythm back. I had to structure my so-called “career” as a full-time homemaker. (If you’re a parent to anyone under the age of 10, that last sentence meant absolutely nothing. You have no need to figure out what you’ll do with your days because they go zooming past you at 5,000 miles per hour with little time to breathe.)

My situation was a little different. My kids were in high school and elementary school. They were starting to become at least a little bit self-sufficient. And yes, at many points, I was wondering why I was choosing this time of my life to step off the career carousel. But sometimes life changes at odd moments and you decide that you need to move in a different direction. This is what I did.

But back to the challenge of transitioning. When I first decided to “stay home,” I had lovely dreams of organized closets, gourmet meals and charming homespun hobbies. Outside of learning to knit...badly...absolutely none of that came true. In fact, I was barely able to finish laundry before everyone ran out of underwear. I can’t explain it, but I had no idea how to do this – manage a home. My children, who had grown up with a mom who went into the office every day, would come home after school and ask the dreaded question: “So, what did you do today, Mom?” I was speechless. What did I do today? It is still my most hated question. And it goes to the heart of being a full-time homemaker without young children. In fact, my OB/GYN asked me that question at my last appointment, after I proudly told him that the children that he delivered were nearly grown up. “So, Karen. What do you do all day?” I have to tell you, I was kind of peeved. He was questioning the credibility of my existence as a homemaker and I couldn’t respond, except to say: “Well, I’ve taken up tennis.” And since Venus and Serena have nothing to worry about, that didn’t seem to impress him at all.

It made me wonder why it is that we stay-at-home moms feel the intense need to validate our existence. We make life easier for our families in such small and covert ways that sometimes we forget what it is that we actually do. According to a recent study, American mothers would earn $134,121 for the work that they do at home. I think that sounds great, but unrealistic. What stay-at-home moms have always known is that our work is simply not quantifiable and much of the luxury of being home is simply being available, when Suzy is sick or when Billy’s has to stay late at school and needs a ride home or when Tommy’s class is going to the museum and needs a chaperone. The value is not so much in the doing as it is in the being. Still, we Americans look for results....impressive anecdotes and stories with which we regale our friends, neighbors and former co-workers when we meet for lunch. We are defined by our jobs and I have a job that defies description.

After 4+ years, I finally feel like I know what I’m doing, whatever that is. Some days I’m picking through nasty laundry, sometimes I’m roaming the aisles of the supermarket, some days I’m driving around for hours and still others I’m photocopying worksheets for teachers at my daughter’s school. Practically nobody would really pay for these services and yet for me, they’re what I do. They now feel as comfortable as my old shoes. The only problem is that, like everything else in life, they’ll change. The school will change, there will eventually be less laundry and shopping for two will take just minutes. And then, once again, I’ll have to figure out the answer to that question: What do I do?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Good News, Bad News

If you've got a high school student in your house, there's a good chance that they'll go to college. This will be both great and difficult for both of you. But, eventually, you'll adjust. The good news is that they do come home. You'll welcome them with open arms. I don't want to scare you, but the bad news is that they'll also bring laundry. Lots and lots and lots of laundry. Oh, and I haven't shown you the photo of everything else that he brought home. That would be WAY too frightening.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In Defense of Insanity

Benjamin Franklin once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If that’s true, and if you’ve ever parented for more than 10 minutes, you’ll agree with me that parenting often feels like insanity.

I’ve been a parent for nearly 20 years, and during that time, I’ve read lots of books on parenting, listened to a lot of experts on parenting and watched a lot of TV shows with so-called parenting experts. Every one had a different approach to the age-old parenting dilemma: How do you get your kids to do something...anything? It doesn’t matter if it’s laundry, chores, making beds, cleaning up rooms, coming home on time, doing homework or walking the dog. The plain and ugly truth is that we parents often speak until we’re blue in the face with precious few results. Sure, once in a while we score a victory when Suzy actually cleans her room or Bobby finally remembers to walk the dog, but put a bunch of moms together, and eventually the conversation will turn to managing our children and how nobody does it well.

If you know someone whose children supposedly always do their chores and actually listen to their parents, then you can be assured of one of two things: 1) The parent is on a power trip and is terrorizing his or her family or 2) The parent is lying. Because no matter how hard we try, the one sure thing in parenting is that we repeat ourselves...often...with very little to show for it. This is where the insanity thing comes in.

For years I’ve tried to convince my kids to prepare for big projects, assignments, events or trips ahead of time so that they won’t have to rush around and inevitably forget something or have to stay up late finishing that could have been done weeks beforehand. This suggestion is generally met with a blank stare and a shoulder shrug. I’ve even tried to say it more dramatically, more excitedly or even more cheerfully. It doesn’t matter. Hello brick wall. Meet Mom.

But I’m here today to say that I’ve actually experienced a teeny ray of hope. Something happened to make me think that the insanity may actually be paying dividends.

My daughter and her classmates are getting ready for a class trip to Washington D.C. It’s a huge event in her life, worthy of many meetings, reminders and, what I’m famous for: lists. I put out her suitcase in anticipation of the trip and as a mental note for her to start thinking about packing, but honestly figuring that we have a couple of late nights of panicked organizing ahead of us.

Then yesterday, my daughter called me upstairs to her bedroom. On her bed was the trip itinerary. On her floor, laid out in a row, were entire outfits for the four main days of the trip, complete with jewelry and shoes. I did a double-take. For a minute there, I thought she was reenacting a scene from one of those wardrobe makeover shows. I was stunned. I could not have organized my clothes better if I were Calvin Klein himself.

I know that this isn’t the Holy Grail of momhood, but I have to tell you that this is a big step. Why? Because my kid has skills! Yeah, I know it’s only selecting clothing, but hey, it’s a start! I want to shout this from the mountaintop: PEOPLE...THERE IS HOPE!

Look, I realize that I have years of joy and frustration ahead of me. I do understand that my life will continue to be a series of ridiculous one-sided conversations about accepting responsibility, planning for the future and “just once could you do something without being asked?!” But I will optimistically hold on to the memory of that row of wonderfully-coordinated outfits and how it brightened my day.