Writing this blog has given me more joy than I ever could have imagined. I have been able to reflect on some very dear memories of times that have gone by in a blink. Part of it has been to go through some old family photos to use as little visuals that help to paint the images of these captured snapshots of my life. Sifting through can be painful if you are going through a difficult time. It can also be a delightful reminder of happier times, especially if you are in the throes of teenager madness. Something that I have noticed in flipping through 50 years worth of photos is the fantastic documentary that comes to life. To say the least, being a new mother just short of forty was a rude awakening. Who knew how demanding and stressful parenting could be? I had years of babysitting under my belt! What else was there to know? I had the adult thing down pat, but parenting??? Holy Cow, Batman!!!! To create a perfect storm of tension in my early years of motherhood, my husband worked out of the house (still does), and he had two children from a previous marriage. I loved his children dearly and was thankful for the segue into what was soon to become the biggest responsibility I had ever known. We had visitation every other weekend and one night during the week. On those weekends, we would mix it up with having family game night, catching the latest kid flick, and sometimes it would be eating fondue or pulling homemade taffy. It was for the most part a “fun” environment on those weekends. Creating rules and structure in blended families can prove to be quite difficult, especially if one house believes in a more stringent code of conduct than the other. Therefore, our efforts at discipline were mostly focused on merely instilling table manners. It was ideal for me, because I felt exhausted and stressed a large part of the time. With a first child, a new mother doesn’t know all the tricks of the trade like those who are more seasoned. When Grace would cry, I would go through a mental checklist: Diaper? Check! Hungry? Check! Why is she still crying? I felt extra tension because her nursery was only a foyer and a flight of stairs away from my husband’s office. As if that didn’t create enough angst, when our daughter Grace was a year old, we decided to throw in a rambunctious, VERY SMART Portuguese Water Dog puppy, Jax, to befriend MY child from a previous marriage: a loveable 14-year-old, deaf, blind Shih Tzu named Scooby. At times, I wasn’t sure if there was enough Chardonnay to get me through such a blissful stage! Yikes! The doorbell would ring, the dogs would start barking, it would wake the baby and she would be crying, my husband would be on an important conference call looking at me with blood squirting from his eyeballs…sip, sip, gulp, ahhhhhh! “Is it really only 10:00 a.m.???? Darn, this wine tastes good with coffee!!!!” Just kidding! I never had to resort to that, but you get the picture! I think it would be safe to say that I am not the first parent to lay awake at night wondering if I handled this situation right or feeling that I was too stern handling that situation. I have questioned myself many times, especially now that I am in full correcting mode of a “tween”. Am I squashing my child’s spirit by making her be too responsible or too accountable? “After all”, I tell myself, “She is only ten.” Shaking that doubt from my mind, I quickly snap back into reality. When she exhibits greater signs of responsibility, I feel affirmation in choosing to take the firmer path.
The years have whizzed by, and I look back and remember myself not being a very relaxed mother. My memory is of Grace not being a smiley child because of my feeling stressed. In my search through all of these old pictures, a different story is told. I honestly and tearfully said out loud, “She was a smiley baby!” It was so comforting to see that the images that I had wrongly painted in my mind weren’t anything like those before me. The same applies to teenagers. Teenagers don’t like to have to adhere to rules of any kind, especially if there is a path of least resistance to which they can turn. Family pictures often show such a smiling, happy, cohesive family until the teenage years. What changes? Do fathers and mothers morph into unbearable, unrecognizable monsters, or do hormones cloud a teenager’s reasoning? With great certainty, having been a teenager, I say the latter.
I have often said that if I had had a second child, I would have been much more relaxed. With additional experience and motherly wisdom, I would have realized that all those little stages are only temporary; each one offers a unique perspective of selflessness and even an opportunity for gratitude. Nowadays, in the early morning hours when I am lying awake and full of second guesses, I have a new reel of smiling photos flashing through my mind that brings a smile to my heart and gives me determination to stay the course. That…and the sweet sound of a ten-year-old’s lilting voice as now that baby’s cries have been replaced with a lovely, indistinguishable melody (my guess is that it involves a mermaid).