The Best Mother’s Day Gift: My Children

Yesterday was my son’s  7th birthday. Seven years ago, one week before Mother’s Day, he made me a mother.

Four years later, one week after Mother’s Day, I became a mother again. This time, to a daughter.

Best Mother's Day Gift My ChildrenI was gifted with two amazing little people.

There are some ways that bringing my babies into the world was not the most pleasant experience. When Ben was born he had some sort of bizarre vomiting and choking issue that awarded him three days in the NICU.  When Genevieve was born, my husband’s somewhat estranged mother sent hateful, accusatory, and demanding emails to me when I was still in the hospital.

In spite of the worry and upset associated with their births, nothing could take away that amazing feeling I had after giving birth. The hormones, freeing your body, and seeing that new little person you created, combines into the greatest cocktail of your life. It makes you feel light and airy. Energized. Deliriously happy. I’m sure there is a drug out there somewhere that makes you feel the same. I have often mentioned I wish I could bottle the post-birth euphoria, but without that sweet little baby, it just wouldn’t be the same.

There are some ways that being a mother is not the most pleasant experience. The hormones subside. The fatigue kicks in and never really goes away. New worries pop up. Maybe you allow them to dictate what kind of mother you will be. The kind of mother who is filled with self-doubt, stress, and worry. Maybe you don’t ever become the mother you thought you would be.

Motherhood is hard and overwhelming.  I’m sure fatherhood is too, but in my home, as in many others, I am the default. I do the lion’s share of the loving, the planning, the breaking up of fights, the discipline, the handing out disappointment.  It’s tumultuous, and many times I don’t know if I am coming or going.

It’s truly draining.

Motherhood is also glorious. On my children’s birthdays, I am almost able to recall that hormone cocktail feeling, when I recount to them their birth stories. I look at them and see their tiny infant faces, which I can still see through their growing kid faces. Everything stands still, and nothing else matters.

It’s truly refreshing.

The best gift I ever received for Mother’s Day was my children, and they never fail to give to me every day.

They give me eyes to see myself.

They give me love when I cannot love myself.

They give me pause to forget the stress and see the beauty and humor in every day.

They give me their trust, that I will love them and care for them unconditionally.

I often feel like I am not the mother I wanted to be. I am impatient. I’m overwhelmed. I’m annoyed. I yell. I am not always in the moment. The list could go on.

Yet, they continue to love me unconditionally, because I am their mother. And I them, because they are my babies.

That is the greatest gift of all.

*This post has been submitted to NerdWallet’s Mother’s Day Your Way Contest.

Christmas Tree Magic

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of getting a Christmas tree. The funny thing is even thought I am approximately eight and twelve years older than my sisters, I don’t really remember getting a tree before they were born.

Kids make Christmas fun!

We always cut our own trees. There was ALWAYS snow, so we bundled up in snow pants, boots, hats and mittens. Mittens were doubled up because they did double duty. Not only did they keep your hands warm, but they were also used to put on top of the trees, as a signal that tree is in the running to be “the one.”
Ready to go, we would make the happy trek to Hunt’s Tree Farm on the other side of town. We always found the perfect tree and watched in wonder as dad, dressed always in jeans and a Carhart jacket, wiped away the snow with his boot, lay on the ground, and cut down the tree.
GO DAD GO!
My husband and I have had a tree since the first year we lived together. We have found our perfect trees in a number of ways. We have gone alone to cut our own, tagged along with family to cut together, paid too much in an overly-lit lot. While always fun, and always special, there was always something missing.
I don’t remember where we got our tree the first year we had Ben. But I know the year after we started going to a tiny little tree farm down the road. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. It doesn’t even have a name! There isn’t more than a couple of acres of property, and you have to walk behind the owner’s house, through his back yard, and around his gardens to get to the trees. But it’s so homey, and the owner so welcoming, you don’t mind. I love going there.
The first year we took Ben, when he was about 20-ish months old, we had a ton of snow! We pulled him around the hilly farm on a sled as we searched for the “Griffin Family Christmas Tree.” He laughed and ate snow, and we found the perfect tree, and daddy kicked the snow away with his boot and lay on the ground to cut.
GO DAD GO!
The second year we took him there was even more snow. While daddy strapped the tree to the top of the car, I sat Ben in a snow bank and snapped silly pictures of him.
We have continued the tradition with Genevieve, although it was only her first year that we had snow, and it was only a little bit. But she has enjoyed our trips to the tree farm, and her brother showing her the ropes. One thing about there being no snow, is you can really tear through the farm, racing from tree to tree to inspect them. Or, in her case, hug them and tell them you love them. We have a pine tree hugger on our hands, folks.
This year the trees are looking a little sparse at our little farm. I’m a creature of habit, and so I’m worried about what we will do next year, as I think they will need another year to become perfect trees. I’m going to shelve that worry though, because I know no matter where we get a tree, we will be together. Creating memories. Creating magic. Them for us as much as us for them.

Kids make Christmas magical.

cutting down the Chrismas tree
GO DAD GO!

Where do you find Christmas magic?

Election Day Traditions

I voted sticker

Do you have any election day traditions?

Depending on what area of the country you live in, there may be different community gatherings to celebrate such an exciting day.

Perhaps you go to a pancake breakfast.

Maybe you go to a spaghetti dinner.

President Obama plays basketball in Chicago.

Candidate Romney…well, I don’t know, he hasn’t released that information yet. I’m sure his plan includes five points, though. Kidding! But seriously, does anyone know what he is doing? I was unable to find info when I wrote this post.

Tradition in my family has always been to go together to the polling place to vote together as a family. I remember pulling the thud of the curtain as I pulled the handle. Carefully reviewing the candidates and on what lines we would vote. My mother letting me help her press the levers in the voting machine. The thud as we once again pulled the curtain handle. The ding letting us know our votes had been cast. A wrinkled, smiling volunteer waiting with an “I Voted” sticker. What excitement! I’m getting choked up just at the thought of it. What can I say, I have inappropriate emotional responses!

I’m sure this tradition has contributed to my love of voting, and downright indignation of people who do not exercise their precious right.

We carry on this tradition in our home now, with our children, even if the way we vote has changed. All I can do is hope these kids will recall their lifetime of voting with fondness and a sense of responsibility. For themselves, their families, community, and country.

So today we will vote, and Ben will help fill in the circles. And then we will come home to eat an all-American meal of burgers, fries, and lettuce wedges.

Happy Election Day! Do you take your kids to vote with you?

There’s Always Something That Needs Painting!

I am super excited to have my mom as a guest poster! She is wonderful, and I’m a very lucky lady. She is a student of life, wearing many hats – as many women do. Never idle, she spends her spare time sewing, knitting, reading, writing, and painting. She is also a newbie blogger herself, at Living, Loving, Cooking. Let’s cheer her on so she’ll post more on her own blog!

I like to paint things.  I like to paint rooms, but I especially like to paint furniture.  Almost all our hard furniture is painted because I bought it at yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets, and it needed a “makeover.” Sparky calls this activity “dragging stuff home from the junk shop,” but I call it “rescuing nice things that need some work to restore their usefulness.”  Over the years, he has learned to trust my vision.  Most of the time.

This painted, made-over furniture puts our house squarely in the decorating style that magazines devoted to categorizing decorating styles call “cottage style,” which means “a house in which most of the hard furniture is painted because it needed a makeover – said furniture was probably bought at yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets.”   “Better Homes and Gardens” often features rooms decorated in cottage style.  There is a magazine called “Cottage Style,” and I recently saw a magazine called “Flea Market Style.” These magazines feature pictures of rooms in which all the hard furniture appears to be painted.  Just like in my house.

I also like slipcovers, which also fall into that style of decorating, but that’s another story.

This preference for painted furniture is partially innate – one of my earliest memories is of my mom painting a little 3-drawer washstand gloss black – but it mostly stems from the fact that – except for mattresses, our sleigh bed, and one or two chests of drawers (which we bought unfinished), I’ve always had to buy furniture at yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets.  It’s an economic preference; I’ve never bought new, finished furniture because it’s just too expensive.  Luckily, I like to paint furniture!  A fresh coat of paint on furniture or walls makes the whole world seem brighter.  With a little effort and a very little expense, I can have brand-new things whenever the spirit moves me to change colors.

And therein lies the problem.  There’s always something that needs painting!  Of course, our house was a fixer-upper, and every room and all the trim needed paint; even the ceilings had to be freshened.  The process of painting each room brought me A LOT of happiness.  Covering up the dingy, circa-1970 paint with new, updated colors – mad fun!  And I thoroughly enjoyed finding some similarly-styled dining-room chairs and painting them all the same color (“Better Homes and Gardens” hint:  if they’re all the same color, each one can be different, but they still look like a set).  Things get dicey when I bring home another new-to-me old piece of furniture, like the dining-room chair I recently bought at a thrift store:  after I painted it, all the other chairs looked shabby.  Not shabby-chic, a look I admire on other people’s furniture, like Elaine, who has a set of beautiful shabby-chic chairs that look aged – no, patina’ed – by time and loving use.

To my eye, my furniture doesn’t acquire a patina, it looks old and chipped and in dire need of a new coat of paint.  So painting one chair led to painting all the chairs, which made me look at some other painted pieces with a critical eye – and the next thing I knew, I was rooting through my paint chips, trying to decide what color to paint the table in the sun room.  And a little 4-drawer chest I use as an end table in the sun room.  Brand-new things with a few brush strokes!

I ended up making an extensive list of projects, including new paint for the hallway and my bedroom and spray-paint for a patio table.  I’m psyched!  I’m ready to start!  And I may look at slipcover fabric this weekend.

About Robin:

I am Robin – wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher, but I don’t define myself by any of those roles, although I take pride in being a responsible adult since that’s what I’ve done best for two-thirds of my life.  I’m a seamstress, gardener, reader, painter, baker, writer, and student (in no particular order), all of which define me.  I have been a student for most of my life, finally making it through graduate school (in 1999) to a Masters in Creative Writing; my current course of study is Culinary Arts.  I can’t wait to be called Chef Robin.  I spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen at school following my Zen Master, Chef Alex, around, trying to tap into everything he knows.  He is patient with me, as are my husband (who will always be my sweet boyfriend) and 3 daughters.  There are many days when I listen to loud Neil Diamond in the truck and drive fast – at the same time – and some days I would keep driving if I could, without looking back.  But I’m a homebody, so I always end up back at home.

Little Old Ladies

Little Old LadiesLittle Old Ladies.

Who used to meet their friends for coffee at Woolworth’s.

Who would wrap their restaurant leftovers in napkins and put them in their purse.

Who used their caring insightfulness to help guide us through our troubles.

Who we named our babies after.

Remember them? I do.

I’ve been struck, lately, by this need for little old ladies in my life. Because, well, I used to have them and now I don’t.

It started when I was selling merchandise at a local festival. This old, wrinkled woman handed me a fresh, crisp twenty dollar bill with her tight, crooked fingers.

“Two buttons please. Keep the change.”

What she donated was not much, really. ‘Only’ ten dollars. But I cannot put a price on the nourishment she fed my soul.

Yesterday I took my son to get his hair cut at this little local place in my little local town.

You know the place. Where they take walk-ins. Where they  know most of the walk-in customers, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t. They still ‘know’ you and find a way to strike up conversation with you as if they have known you your whole life. The owner is the Northern version of Dolly Parton’s character in Steel Magnolias. Sweet, loving, careful, and you betcha she knows all the going’s on in this town, and is not afraid to tell you all about it. Or keep your deepest, darkest secret.

When we aren’t chatting about the new Mexican restaurant that has been trying to open for the last nine months, I overhear the owner telling another customer about the loss of her grandmother this past Winter.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, thanks honey, it’s okay, I really expected it. I’m just glad that she got to know my kids. It’s so rare that kids get to know their great-grandparents.”

My heart stops. Cracks. And shatters all over her linoleum.

Those are almost the same words that came out of my mouth four and a half years ago, after two days of Thanksgiving dinners with my family and my husband’s, where we basked in the glory of our 18-month old son getting to know not one but three great-grandmothers.’

And then they died.

My grandmother, just days after Thanksgiving, and with no warning, died after suffering a catastrophic stroke.

My husbands grandmother had a stroke on the day we buried my grandmother, finally giving in to rest two weeks later, on December 23rd.

We jinxed it.

And now I’m longing for a little old lady.

So after this heart-stopping moment at the hair dresser, I go to the local grocery store to pick up some bread for some quick, yet soul-satisfying grilled cheese sandwiches. You know, the Heidelberg bread? That  bread my grandmother LOVED and could eat by the loaf? I bought that.

And then I went outside. I noticed a well-dressed dude sitting in his brand new, running car, doing something on his phone. Not unusual. And then I turned after putting my baby in the car, to see a little old lady.

And a young grocery boy asking her which car was her’s and where to put the bags. She pointed him in the right direction, and he, with a shocked and confused look on his face, pointed to the car with the dude on the phone in it, and said, “This car?”

I shared his confusion.

Because not only did the dude in the car not notice his grandmother coming out of the store, he also didn’t notice the grocery boy opening the back driver side door and putting in the groceries. Or he didn’t care.

Most importantly, he didn’t notice his little old lady struggling to get the car door open so she could get in.

What the fuck.

My heart broke, and I started crying. I said, in the shelter of my car, “What are you doing, dude? Help your grandmother! There are so many of us that would give ANYTHING to be able to help our grandmothers’ grocery shop, and you are on your PHONE!”

There was an audible gasp from the back seat as my son realized what was going on. A quiet, “oh mom” from my two year old when she realizes I’m crying.

And then silence. The only silence I’ve had all day.

I pull out of my parking space, crying, as I head home.

Wishing I had a Little Old Lady.

Summer is Best of All

I am pleased to present my second guest poster, Regi Carpenter. Regi is a kind and amazing women, mother to many, teacher, and friend. She travels the world to tell her stories, how amazing is that?! I met “Miss Regi” when she was my son’s preschool teacher, and we have all been very blessed to have her in our lives. Please make her feel welcome and loved! 

Summer is Best of All

On June 24that 3:15 p.m. the last bell of the school year rings.  My sister Mary and I run home, burst through the door of Carpenter’s Grocery, my family grocery store, kick off our shoes and yell, “Mom, we’re going fishing!”

“No, you’re not.  You might lose an eye,” she warns.

What? Her constant concern for our well being forces us to lie to her.  We don’t want to commit the sin of lying but we have to or we will die.

Mary and I sneak down the basement stairs and hide in the coal bin to make clandestine fishing poles. A willow stick makes a pole, string is the line and paper clips bend into hooks. We get some balls of Wonder Bread bait and sneak down to the municipal dock where we spend the entire day reeling in one inedible fish after another.

We haul in carp, baby perch, sunnies, catfish… One day Mary catches an eel off the end of the dock in the deep water.  It is flopping around, smothering in the air and she cries out, “Don’t touch it!  Don’t touch it!  It’s an electric eel.  You’re gonna get electrifried!”

Mary is four years older than me and she knows everything.

“Swallow a cherry pit, Reg; a cherry tree’ll grow out your ears.”

“Swallow a watermelon seed, Reg, and you’re gonna poop out a watermelon.  It isn’t gonna be a sugar baby either.”

“Dragonflies are sent by the Pope to sew Catholic girls legs together.”

She knew everything….

We fish with worms. Always go nightcrawlin’ with a flashlight and an old coffee can stuffed with torn newspapers. Trick of the trade so the worms stay wet. Mary says, “Reg, there are worms as big as rope by the stinkem’ tree in the war zone behind the Black’s house.” I’m so excited I don’t even put my shoes on. We run down Mary Street, cut over on Alexandria and quietly tiptoe in the green wet grass next to the Marshall’s side porch. Mary is way ahead of me when I step on the biggest worm in the world. This thing is a whopper! It must be an inch in diameter and wet and slick. I freeze. The worm is going to get me! I feel it squirming under my toes. I whisper Mary’s name quietly so I don’t raise the ire of the Master Worm of the World. She finally comes back and calls me pokey. I tell her about the worm. “If I step off the worm it will be like letting go of the handle on an active grenade. We’re gonna die and I’ll be first! The worm is gonna suck me to death!” She points the flashlight at my feet. I could have sworn that garden hose was a worm.

Moral of the story:
Always go for the barefoot adventure……

Bio: Regi Carpenter is a storyteller, writer and fourth generation St. Lawrence River Rat. She tours throughout the country telling stories from her soon to be published book “Where There’ Smoke, There’ Dinner”-stories of a seared childhood. Visit her site at www.soaringstories.com.

The Armpit of Winter

Winter in the riverbottom at Lethbridge

I not so lovingly refer to February as the armpit of winter.

I don’t know why I call it this. I guess it’s because  once in a while it seems all warm and fresh and then all of a sudden it’s unkempt – cold and smelly.  I know, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. But maybe if you live
somewhere cold and dreary eight months out of the year it does.

This year February in Upstate NY has been unusual, as it has in the rest of the country.  Even though we’ve dealt with mud all winter (I’ve stopped caring about mopping our floors) I’m grateful for the warmer weather and lack of snow. I don’t like the snow – I hate driving in it, and I don’t play
winter sports.

But I do like a good storm.  A whollop, holy shit we have to get to the store for junk food and liquor, let’s plan on sledding and playing games for two days kind of storm. We haven’t had that, and I miss it this year.
I feel for the kids, too. The fun of winter has been zapped. It’s a bust.

It’s starting to storm now. I think we are supposed to get 1-3 inches and then a wintery mix. Most winters that is nothing. No cause for alarm or concern. But this year everyone talks about every flake of snow as if it’s about to be Armageddon.

We have a winter storm alert and everything! Maybe we’ll get more than expected. Maybe we’ll get ice!!! Oooh, a power outage would be EPIC!
Tomorrow is my birthday. Every year my mother tells me the story of the huge snow and ice storm that began the night she went into labor with me. When she went to the hospital in the morning the roads were so bad
she was more afraid of the seven mile drive than of giving birth. In like a lion, I was. So I’m always particularly excited when the universe honors my birth with a storm.

And now it is almost March 1st. Goodbye February, you cold, stinky armpit, you will not be missed!

Are you ready for spring, or do you enjoy winter?

 

My Grandparents: From Two Different Worlds

My grandmother was one of the most amazing human beings ever.

She was my protector, my grounding force, my moral compass, my confidant, my teacher. My best friend.

Here she is in her senior photo.

Christine Springer, by Elaine Griffin Designs

I don’t remember too much about my grandfather. He died from malignant melanoma when I was five. I do remember some things though, other than the sad memories of him being unable to move from the couch, his leg propped up on the back of the couch post-skin graft.

My favorite memory of him is how he used to make me butter with some English muffin under it. He could put more butter on a muffin than should have been humanly possible. A perfectly toasted English muffin with perfectly melted butter to run down your perfectly grubby little arm.

Here is my grandfather coaching for the Redskins (he’s the one in the jacket). Looking on (in the hat) is Hall of Fame Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. I don’t know the other guy.

Stan Springer coaching Sunny Jurgensen and the Washington RedskinsThe thing that amazes me about my grandparents is what I hope my grandchildren feel about my husband and me. I look at my own family and I don’t think, “look what we created.” I look at my family and I think “look at what they started.” And of course I know it goes back infinitely, but I wonder if previous generations have thought this too. And they were pretty against all odds, so that I’m even here amazes me.

My grandmother was the daughter of a hard working, small-town farmer. She was a musician and a singer, and earned a full scholarship to the music school at Ithaca College. She was never able to use that scholarship. The summer before she was to start college her father was in a farming accident. She dutifully skipped college in order to help her parents in the house and on the farm.

I also earned a full scholarship to Ithaca College, where I studied sociology. She thought it was mighty fine of them to hold her scholarship so someone she loved could use it.

She ended up at Ithaca College eventually, working as a secretary for Ben Light in the Physical Education department.

My grandfather was a Catholic school boy and the victim of divorce. He alternated living with his alcoholic father in an apartment behind a bar his father owned, and with his mother, in a one-room apartment. She was a prostitute, and her home was her office. Luckily he had a community of people looking out for him, so he made it out somewhat in tact. But not before he lied about his age to enlist in the Marines without his father’s permission.

My grandfather was a young Korean War veteran, and some would say hero, when he met my grandmother at Ithaca College. He was a physical education major with an English Lit minor. He was interested in one of the other girls working in that office. That girl happened to be my grandmother’s roommate. My grandmother stole him from her. I’m sure she was a lady about it, don’t worry, she was ALWAYS a lady! Shortly thereafter she asked him to marry her. Or told him, again, as a lady! What can I say, even ladies can know what they want and go after it.

They were so different. Yet they made it work in their way.

They lived together and apart, depending on the situation and their obligations. They created three girls and adopted my grandfather’s much younger brothers when the boys’ parent’s died unexpectedly. They moved and made friends, saw Ray Charles when it was still taboo, and laid the foundation for the rest of our family. Through them we have learned what to do, and perhaps more importantly what NOT to do in life and love.

I miss them every day. But I know they are watching and laughing at us, scolding and rooting for us. Guiding us along our journeys.

Stream of Consciousness Sunday: Football and Family

My grandfather is the handsome fella, second row down, far left. Someday I will write more about him and scan my original image of this.

I try to plan my Sunday’s around watching football, eating, and drinking. And everyone here hates me for it.

I feel like this is something I’ve been doing my entire life. But when I look back at my childhood, I don’t really remember doing this often. The only time I really remember watching football is when we watched the Super Bowl.

I think it was because my mother never really liked watching football. Her father – my grandfather – was a member of the Washington Redskins coaching staff from 1967-1969. Sometime after that he spent his time traveling and scouting for the NFL. I remember my mother saying to me at one point that although she had some good locker-room memories of when her father was with Washington, she felt like she missed out on a lot of time with her dad when he was scouting.

And so, although we watched football (how else could I know what I do about football?), there was no pomp and circumstance like there is in my house now.

Even though I’m the only one who cares about it.

But the relationship between football and my family has changed in recent years. As we have become more interested in it, my mother has become more interested, or at least pretended. No, I think the Sunday and early Monday texts regarding football are evidence that she does in fact, enjoy it.

What once provided a division in our family life has now become a binder.

This has been my Stream of Consciousness Sunday post, brought to you by All.Things.Fadra. Go check her out!

Crazy Eyeris – why I want to be a roller derby roller

SufferJets Ithaca, by Shatterbug11
SufferJets Ithaca, by Shatterbug11

That’s my Derby alter-ego. If I make the team.

I’m trying out next year. Going to train and soak in as much Derby as I can in the meantime. I am beyond excited. Scared. Overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed with the support that my family has shown. I thought it was something I would want to do, but oh man, the time commitment with a young family? I don’t know. When we went to our first bout, my husband and son both looked at me and said, in some sort of version, “you need to do this!”

My mother, bless her heart, said, “You need to do this. It’s the OLD YOU!” And so she is buying me my first pair of skates.

And it is the old me. I used to be an athlete. Soccer in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Track in the spring. All the swimming and bike riding possible in the summer, not to mention sports camps.

I was never great at any one sport. Good, but not great. But I was proud of me, proud of what my body could do. I was not afraid of pain (physical or emotional) and I was not afraid to get hurt. Diving, sliding, hitting balls with my body, hitting people with my body, giving me the cuts, bruises, and floor burn to prove it.

But then life happened. And now I’m a different person, but the same person, desperately ready to reclaim a part of me that many people don’t know anymore. Someone they never knew, but that I would like for them to love. A woman who’s strength my son can admire. A woman who’s strength my daughter can also achieve.

And then there is me with this very real need to move this body and feel better. So what better way to  be super motivated but the prospect of trying out for our local Derby league. Listen people, I am not capable of being a person who could just go try out without number one being in super-shape, and number two not being able to skate circles around the other “fresh meat” wannabes. Nothing personal if you not afraid to do that. In fact, I respect your fearlessness. I just can’t go in not ready to roll.

Next week is right around the corner. The fitness plan is being formulated. And the only thing that will make my heart happier than training and dreaming and soaking in the support of my family and friends is being known as Crazy Eyeris next year.

Do you have a huge goal set for next year? Is there a part of yourself you want to reclaim and have the people in your life know?