My Mother’s Day Dream

I dreamt early this morning that I was having a baby. I knew it was time for me to go through the closet where everything is stored to get what is needed so I could wash and dry it, fold it and put it in the baby’s room. It had this wonderful, familiar feeling of that ritual that I have done so long ago now, just in the days and weeks before birth. Which is what I am about to do…

What a beautiful feeling to have on Mother’s Day before giving birth to The Good Birth Project – on Labor Day!

In my world, every day is Mother’s Day.

My Youngest Leaves Home

Yesterday, I took Liberty to college.
I have seen this moment coming, slowly gaining momentum, for some time.

Much like any life cycle event, there is no preparing for it really. As in marriage, pregnancy and birth, everyone has something to say; a story to tell, an opinion to give (invited or not). And all of those events have rituals to help one get ready – bridal showers, baby showers and various religious rituals once the baby arrives.

But there is no formal ritual for empty nesting.

I am beyond elated for Liberty. She is attending the school with which she fell in love. Her roommate is wonderful. They share a corner room in a great location on campus and there are two windows. (For those of you who have not yet done the dormitory do-si-do, this qualifies as hitting the jackpot.)

A team of kids greeted us as we pulled up to the curb and welcomed Libby. One of them whisked her off to sign in, get her key and help her find her room. I was to stay with the car while the rest of the team helped me unpack and carted everything up. I was then directed to a parking lot which was so far away I figured I was in the next state. As I walked back, it occurred to me that maybe this was a contrivance created by the college as one of the first steps to help with separation…

I found Libby in her room and we set about setting up her side – moving furniture around, putting clothes away in her closet and drawers, nailing up the shoe rack and mirror, adhesing corkboard to the wall with photos of her friends and family and all our animals…weaving extension cords and surge protectors into all the right locations for her computer, printer, alarm clock and fan (which provides the white noise she still needs to fall asleep; a ritual I initiate at birth).

Then comes the most important act – the making of the bed.

This is the bed where my children sleep when they move away from their home; our home together – the home in which the last two, Liberty included, were literally born in my bed. Bed is the place where I have lain with all three of them for countless hours, make that years, of nursing; nursing to feed them, nursing them through illness, nursing them through break-ups, hours of reading and years of conversation; listening, asking, processing. I have had the honor of being in their daily lives.

And so we begin what I have come to recognize as our ritual; Libby and I make her bed together.

“Your bed”, I remind her as she climbs up to try it out, “is your anchor; the place where you feel cozy, grounded and safe.”

Over the years, in my work with young mothers, I have often shared the wisdom I once heard as a young mother myself:
If we get our job right, they eventually leave us.

As Peter and I drove away, we passed a huge banner draped over a building on the Green that read: Welcome Home.

The Whole College Thing

I read in the NY Times this past weekend that Jose Arguelles passed away. He was the guy who organized the Harmonic Convergence in 1987 where people from all over the world gathered that August to hum, handhold and meditate. I can tell you that it sure looked like some weird version of that these last few days here in our household.

Today marks the end of the week in which Liberty, my 17-year-old, heard back from all of the colleges to which she applied. There was something to be said for the fact that hundreds of thousands of high school seniors were having the same experience all over the country and, because college application has gone global, all over the world.

I can say without any equivocation, that the whole college process is crazed. It has spun itself way out of control. We have spun it way out of control. Obviously, it is different from when I applied to college in 1971. It is absolutely different from when Liberty’s eldest sister applied in 2001 and different again from when the next sister applied four years ago. All sorts of things are different, but from what I gather, it’s really our fault, we baby boomers. There were lots of us and we had a lot of children. And apparently tons of kids abroad want to go to college here too. I keep envisioning that little square plastic puzzle where you have to move the little tiles around in an attempt to get the numbers to line up.

Seems like the bar is so high, no one can see it anymore. The Race To Nowhere, a powerful and timely documentary highlights how we are putting our children at risk given the educational system right now in this country. I joked with Libby that my mistake may have been not signing her up for the Peace Corps when she was five.

Libby had her “college plan” –

1. Avoid going to school where it was cold

2. Not attend school in CT just because her sisters did and they thought it had a kind of karmic symmetry

3. Try on living in a city where she wouldn’t ordinarily see herself because when else in life would she be able to do that with as much freedom (so much wisdom for one so young, I thought)

4. Not be daunted by being a plane ride away (I was daunted by this one)

5. Not be located too close to home (Ok. I get it…)

So much for college plans, not unlike birth plans. Within the first few minutes of visiting a college she felt she “should” see, where the winters are intense and last forever, Libby fell head over heels in love. The “there is no one else” kind of love.

She applied early decision. She was deferred.

I was not prepared for just how painful this was for me to see Libby in so much pain. I am no newcomer to the college process. This was my third and last college applicant. And, I am completely committed to the construct that wherever my children land is where they are and that affords them the opportunity to find their way in that exact place. Having been with hundreds of women in their pain, I have discovered that I am not always such a good “daughter doula”…

Libby chanted (through her tears) all those things that thousands of kids chant – I worked so hard – I am a really good student – I am a really good person…..

That was the one that jerked me out of my disappointment for Libby and launched me into some kind of ancient Talmudic call and response embedded deep inside of me by my own mother.
I chanted back…..

Life is unpredictable. You have no control over any one’s decisions or behavior but yours. The only person who can truly evaluate your worth is you. What matters most is that you feel good about you and your work. No one can take that from you, but you.

Libby was accepted in the end. I know that the discovery she made about herself this year will far outlast the process. And the joy she felt when she read the email will serve as a touchstone for the rest of her life to remind her to always hold on to her dreams. And, be ready to strategize if it doesn’t work out the way you envisioned.

Over the years, I have offered each one of my daughters the option of letting me home school them for college.

How much will this cost them in therapy in the years to come do you think?

The Worst Mother Of The Year Award

Around this time every year, my friend Amy and I commenced with the tally for our annual “Worst Mother of the Year Award”. We would review scenarios over the last year in which each of us had behaved in absolutely terrible, horrible, heinous fashion, without any redeeming anything, completely without reason, toward one or some of our collective seven daughters; four of them hers and three of them mine.

We would evaluate systematically all the catalogued transgressions and determine who would walk away with the title based on who had done the worst self esteem damage – hardest to recover from – requiring the most therapy in the future.

This review was conducted over lots of time together in any number of locations; on the phone over morning meeting (which we took pretty much every morning in order to get news, give news, assess who needed to be where, picked up when and fill in how), on our many-times-per-week walks with our dogs in the five thousand acre preserve down the hill from our homes (having lived 35 seconds apart for 23 years), in my kitchen, in Amy’s kitchen over breakfast, lunch, coffee, noshing, dinner or a glass of wine (our favorite!).

We laughed, we cried, we cried from laughing. Sometimes I would win, sometimes Amy would win and there were years we tied. In fact, lots of years we tied. We shared lightening speed tempers when pushed to our respective limits coupled with razor sharp tongues. Can a Viennese Jew and an Italian Catholic qualify as “tiger mothers”?

Amy passed way in November of 2009, nineteen months after being diagnosed with the most brutal type of brain tumor.

Amy might have argued that dying and leaving your children wins you the title of Worst Mother of the Year, no contest. Throw in that the eldest will be married next month without her mother by her side and that seals it.

I would argue back that this absolutely does not qualify.
This was not by choice.

When I consider all the choices I watched Amy make as a mother over the two decades of intertwined, crazy making, raising children years of our dear friendship, I can say, with complete conviction, that she made each and every one of them out of love…
deep, unconditional, no questions asked, tough love, love.

And that kind of love, the kind that will stay with her daughters for the rest of their lives, wins her, in my heart, the Wisest Mother Forever award.

Mothering the Mother. For My Mother…

My birthday is in February. It was a Thursday and as I drove my daughter to school, I found myself trying to work out – is it my champagne birthday if I’m turning 55 and I was born in 1955? Or was it my champagne birthday when I turned 18 on the 18th, which was in 1973?

We chatted for some of the forty-minute commute we have each morning to school. Given that our local high school is five minutes away, you might ask why in God’s name did we say yes to the request to attend this high school, which may as well be in Zimbabwe for the miles I put on my car doing drop offs, pick ups, trips back down for parent nights, high school dances, evening basketball and weekend football games. That is for another story.

After dropping my daughter off at school, it suddenly came to me what I needed that Thursday morning of my birthday. I drove to the assisted living complex where my mother lives, which happens to be five minutes from school and where I grew up.

I knew my mother would still be sleeping at 8:15 am. In another time, when I was a child, there was hell to pay for waking my mother. But this morning, I parked, walked into the building, climbed the stairs to her floor, walked down the hall and knocked lightly on her door. Her aide let me in, surprised to see me there so early and whispered that my mother was still sleeping. I told her I figured as much, walked into my mother’s bedroom and climbed into bed with her. My mom opened her eyes, looked at me sleepily and said with pure joy, “Oh, it’s you!” She rolled over to make room in her twin hospital bed, wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close. I began our ritual, asking her which “you” I was (my mother has five “you’s”). She answered in her Viennese lilt and feigned aggravation, “Don’t be ridiculous!” I cajole and remind her that I am her Lisele, just so she doesn’t have to grapple with remembering names. I also remind her that as long as she doesn’t call me Fritz, the family German Sheppard (of course) now long gone, we’re o.k.

But I know she knows exactly who I am to her as she holds me close and kisses my forehead. She asks what am I doing here so early in the morning and I tell her, “Today is my birthday”. She pulls back a bit to see me better and make sense of this. “It is?” “Yup. It is. Fifty-five years ago you gave birth to me. And I’m here so my mommy can wish me a Happy Birthday!”

Which is what she did, the way she always has, in German, “Acchhh, Happy Geburtstag, my dahhling.” She pauses, then asks, “If you are fifty-five, how old does that make me?” When I share with her that she is ninety, she takes that in and responds simply and pragmatically, as she always has, with “Vow….”.

And so, on my 55th birthday, I climbed into bed with my mother and the gift she continues to give me at nearly ninety-one is her unconditional love. This, I have come to believe, is what enables me to mother my daughters with unconditional love, whom I hope in turn will then be able to mother theirs from this same place.

I am struck by the notion that maybe this is what is truly meant by the definition of “Doula; mothering the mother” – teaching love this way from one generation to the next, over and over and over again.