Tag Archives: parenting

My Mother’s Daughter

Long before ever having children, I made myself a solemn promise.

I would NEVER turn into my mother.

I remember developing a mental list of the many things I would do differently when I had children of my own. I would be a modern, enlightened parent. Not the old-fashioned kind of mother I was raised by. I mean, my generation had books telling us “What to Expect…” which explained everything I could possibly need to know.

My mother thought it was kind of silly. “You don’t need a book to be a good mother,” she said. “It’s the most natural thing in the world.”

When I talked about a birth plan, she was bewildered by the concept.

“You go to the hospital,” she said. “They know what to do.”

“But, mom,” I replied. “It’s 1992. Things are different now.”

I thought I heard her mumble something to the effect of “No. Babies still come out the same way,” as she walked off.

I reaffirmed my solemn promise.  “She just doesn’t get it.”

When my firstborn arrived, I developed a false sense of confidence. He was an easy baby. He slept through the night at 6 weeks. He stayed clean all day in his color-coordinated outfits. He was potty trained at 19 MONTHS. I remember one day thinking “This is easy. And so much fun. I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” My mother must have had a hard time controlling herself back then. My husband and I rolled merrily along with Baby #1 for nearly three years.

One easy child. Two modern, enlightened parents. We had it covered.

The firstborn was inquisitive and curious. He asked a lot of questions. A LOT OF QUESTIONS. Most days I answered them patiently, giving him all the facts. Encouraging him to ask me more questions. But that one day, when his baby brother had kept me up half the night – the day he wanted to know how the clouds stayed up in the sky – my patience was waning.

I had gone through the explanations of tiny drops of water hugging together to make a cloud. That the drops were so light and tiny they didn’t fall to the ground until enough of them had gathered together to turn the clouds gray and then make rain. I thought it was a really good explanation.

But he couldn’t wrap his 3-year old mind around that, and he pushed for a more plausible explanation. After a few exasperating rounds of this, modern enlightened mom gave up.

My mother’s daughter spoke instead.

MAGIC,” she said.

Magic?” he questioned.

“Yep. Magic.”

That was something he could wrap his 3-year old mind around. And the questions stopped. I felt a little guilty for taking the easy way out. But something about the simplicity and effectiveness of that strategy stuck with me.

My mother’s daughter had won her first round.

As time went on, and I had more children, my mother’s daughter spoke more often.

She had entire categories of phrases stored up somewhere in her subconscious. The very ones she swore she’d never utter.

“Because I said so,” came out every now and then, when she was just too tired to explain things.

Because I have eyes in the back of my head,” she would say while driving.

Which was often followed by “Don’t make me pull this car over.”

Some phrases were used when she wanted to avoid explaining something, or when the truth would be over their heads.

She would say “Life isn’t fair,” when one of them was having an existential crisis.

Or “Someday you’ll understand,” when the real explanation just couldn’t be offered.

And some just made no sense at all. Like “Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.” And “If you break your legs doing that don’t come running to me.”

My mother’s daughter had plenty of advice for social situations. “If everyone else jumps off the cliff, are you going to jump to?”      And “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want plastered all over the internet.”

Every time my mother’s daughter rose up in me I realized that with every annoyance I spoke, every facial expression I mimicked, every cliché of hers I took on, I also acquired a little bit of my mother’s grace – and her wisdom.

As I grow older, and the lines in my face deepen, I see more and more of her in the mirror, too. The silver strands I now wear seem to make her big green eyes stand out on my face in a way I never noticed.

June, 2005

At my cousin’s wedding in 2005, a photographer snapped a photo of me and my mother side by side. It was the last photo of the two of us ever taken. When I look at it now, and I see her face on my shoulders, I can’t help but smile.

The transformation is complete. I have become my mother in every way.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

This essay was one of 11 stories read live on-stage at the 2016 Listen To  Your Mother: New Orleans show.

. lisha-at-ltym-2016

CLICK HERE to see my reading, or CLICK HERE  to see the entire LTYM: New Orleans playlist.

 

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The Man


Photo courtesy of Amy Konieczka Photography.

Photo courtesy of Amy Konieczka Photography.

The other day, a man walked into my house.

He was driving my son’s car. He was wearing my son’s clothes. He even called me “Mom.”

But I had never seen this man before.

He bore a vague resemblance to a boy I dropped off at college not long ago. But the boy I remember was smaller. He held his hand out for me to hold when we crossed a street, or stepped onto an escalator. The man towered over me, putting his arm across my shoulders with ease.

The boy had an innocent face and sparkling, curious eyes. The man had a strong jaw, and a confident look. He even had facial hair.

The boy asked me questions when he wanted to learn about new things. The man talked about graduation, and about applying for jobs in California.

The boy didn’t want me to kiss him in front of his friends, and squirmed when I said “I love you.” The man hugged me tightly, and when he did I felt his love.

As I stood there watching the man – and remembering the boy – another image came to me.

The man stood in the west coast sun, with his arm around a different woman. A woman with a softer face and brighter eyes. With a smile that lit up when he entered the room. I recognized the look on the man’s face. It was the same look the little boy had when he got a new toy, or made a good grade. When he was happy.

The man stood close to the woman, so close it appeared they were one. And his hand reached out to a little boy. A boy whose eyes looked very familiar.

At that moment, I understood what my job had been all along.

When he was little I thought my job was to teach him to count and read. To cross the street safely. To say “please” and “thank you.”

I thought my job was make sure he brushed his teeth and did his homework. And wore deodorant.

But it turns out my job was to prepare him for his life without me.

In another place.

With another woman by his side.

As I returned to the moment at hand, a wave of nervousness flooded over me. And the words I’ve been contemplating for two decades came to my mind.

Roots and wings.

I gave the boy roots. That was the easy part. That was teaching him to read and cross the street and to brush his teeth and kiss him mama.

But the wings part, this was hard. But the time had come and I now had to step back and give him room to take flight.

I hope he lands somewhere special, and finds the woman with the bright eyes. I hope he remembers to say “please” and “thank you” and to wear deodorant.

And I hope he remembers his mama loves him. 

On May 3, 2015 I read this essay on the stage at the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge as part of the cast of Listen To Your Mother 2015. It was one of the top ten days of my life. 

You may view the entire LTYM: Baton Rouge 2015 show by clicking here.

To learn more about Listen To Your Mother, visit their website or YouTube channel.

 

This time last week I found myself in the midst of an existential crisis. The kind where you cry and drum up all the reasons why your life is terrible. It went something like this.

“I can’t do it all.”

“Something has to change. I can’t keep doing this.”

“Everyone else’s needs are being met but mine.”

“When is it my turn?”

If this sounds familiar, read on. If not, you should probably find something else to do. And count your blessings while you’re at it, because you’re a lucky soul.

For those in the first group, let’s continue.

My initial interpretation of the feelings I was having was that I was unhappy. I was crying, after all. I must be unhappy. “My house is a mess. My yard is a disgrace. Life is terrible. Etcetera, etcetera.”

After my melt
down, I tried to put emotion aside and sort things out in an analytical manner. Working from emotion had given me swollen eyes and a stuffed up nose, which wasn’t helping the matter. So I did what my mama taught me to do. I looked inward.

My perception: “The house is a mess.”

Reality: My house is not a mess. The dining room is where we do homework. The kitchen counter has
a pile of papers on one end. The refrigerator needs to be cleaned and the dog needs a bath. Not a crisis situation.

My perception: “The yard is a disgrace.”

Reality: The gardens need to be weeded. I didn’t get around to thinning out the liriope before it got to be a gazillion degrees outside, so that will have to wait until fall. The grass is brown in the sunny spots, b
ut that happens every August. And now that I look around, every other yard on the block looks the same way.

My perception: “I can’t do it all.”

Reality: I decide what I do or don’t do. If I’m obsessing over something trivial, it’s my own doing. I choose what I do or don’t do.

My perception: “My life is terrible.”

Reality: My life
is enviable.

In an effort to break it down I started a list. In a matter of minutes I had a two page list of things to do. Tasks that would address my perceived deficiencies. Get it all done. But nowhere on the list were all the things I do every day. Empty the dishwasher. Feed the dog. Balance the checkbook. I looked at the list for a few minutes and started to sob again. I could spend entire days, weeks, months constantly in motion, and never get all of this done. The list would be constantly growing.

Constantly outpacin
g me without ever reaching any of my goals.

I felt overwhelmed.

So I made a new list.

I made a list called What I Want.

I’ll share a few items with you so you can get the gist, sparing the really personal ones for another time.

I want to support my son with his homework.

I want to be more faith-centered.

I want to have a clean house. (I surprised myself by acknowledging that.)

I want to make time for friends and family.

I want to finish the 1st draft of my novel.

I looked at both lists, and considered how many things on my To Do List supported my What I Want List. That was an epiphany for me. I was perceiving everything on my To Do List as time and energy suckers. When in fact, many of the things were supporting or accomplishing the things I said I wanted.

I felt like I had cracked the code.

We all get overwhelmed. Some days it feels like it’s just too much. But understanding the difference between feeling unhappy and acknowledging that you’re overwhelmed can be the difference between divorce and marriage, between joy and meltdown, between giving up or living to fight another day.

I’ll never again confuse overwhelmed and unhappy. When it feels like it’s just too much I’ll check the list and make sure the things I’m doing support the things I want. And I’ll remind myself that I don’t have to do it all. I choose what I do. My life is enviable. And I am grateful for it all.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  

Are you one of the lucky folks who has never felt this way? Or are you also familiar with the Big O?

Having Good Cancer

I studied the painting on the wall of the cold exam room. A jazz musician playing a shiny saxophone. I’d seen it before, but never gave it much attention. Today, though, I needed my thoughts to be focused on something other than my reason for being there.

My mind flashed back to a day nine years ago. I sat in the same room, paying no attention to the artwork. Probably planning the rest of my afternoon. Not knowing what would come next.

That day, when the doctor entered the room with a serious face, I didn’t notice. When she sat across from me, I thought nothing of it. Not until she spoke the word “cancer” did I have the faintest idea there was anything wrong.

“But this is the good kind of cancer,” she said in response to my shocked expression. I had no concept of good or bad at that moment. All I heard was “cancer.”

She said a few things I don’t remember. The words “surgeon” and “pathology” were the only ones that stuck. Her assistant would call me with more details. I figured I would ask questions then.

I just wanted to leave.

In the stillness of my car I cried. “Good cancer,” she said. I’ll focus on that. She didn’t have a sense of urgency getting me to the surgeon. That was another good sign. I’ve heard stories of people being sent straight to the hospital. I was going to wait for a phone call. I tried to convince myself that it really was “good.”

I don’t remember how long I sat there. My husband was out of town, so I picked up the phone and called one of my nurse friends. She repeated what the doctor said, that it was the good kind of cancer, and that I was going to be OK. But isn’t that what anyone would say to a sobbing friend?

My mind raced through so many different scenarios. What would happen to my four-year old son if I died before he grew up? He didn’t yet know what cancer was, so he wouldn’t understand what was happening. But at ten and thirteen, my other boys would. I would have to hold myself together, even though what I wanted to do was to curl up in a ball and cry.

“Please, God, let this be a mistake,” was the first stage of processing the news. But my conscience intervened. “Lisha, people get cancer diagnoses every day. Why should you be spared?”

“Then please, God, don’t let it be bad. No chemo, no disfiguring scars on my face.” My conscience again piped in. “Lisha, people have to go through chemo every day. Why should you be different? As for scars, vanity has no place here. This is about your life.”

I hung my head a little lower.

“Then God, just please don’t let me die. I want to grow old. I want to grow old with my husband, watching our sons grow up, playing with the grandchildren I dream about.”

Waiting.

Waiting.

I decided at that moment that I would not ask God for terms. I would pray to grow old. An old woman with scars to tell her tale.

My mind returned to the present as I heard footsteps approaching. I had time for one quick prayer before the doctor entered the room to deliver the results of yet another biopsy.

No terms this time. No conditions. Just please, God, let me grow old.

_________________

Have you been diagnosed with a “Good Cancer?” I’d like to hear from you. 

_________________

I’m in the company of some fabulous writers and bloggers over at Yeah Write this week. Click on over see for yourself!

Hello, my name is…

He stepped into my kitchen and extended his hand. I smiled and greeted him. While shaking his hand I glanced around the room.

My son was surrounded by his friends. Some he hadn’t seen since they all scattered for college nearly a year ago. They resembled the boys he hung out with in the past, only taller, with deeper voices, and facial hair. But this one I had never met. So he introduced himself.

“I’m John,” he said.

“I’m Miss Lisha,” I replied. But the sound of that name felt strange.

I realize that naming traditions and salutations vary in different places, so let me explain how we do it here. In the South, most adults are referred to as “Mister” or “Miss” followed by their first name. “Miss Lisha” has been the name my sons’ friends have called me for their entire lives. It always seemed right.

ImageDuring our years in the military, my husband and I were referred to by our surname, his salutation preceded by his rank, mine my “Mrs.” In those circles, it seemed right.

But this felt strange. What do I call myself to my grown sons’ friends?

This is new territory for me, and I’m not really sure how to handle it.

If I were meeting this young man in the workplace I would have introduced myself as “Lisha” without hesitation. But he was part of my son’s posse, and that made it feel different. In this setting, it almost felt a bit creepy, a bit too familiar for a personal introduction.

Now, I’ve never had any hang-ups about titles or formalities. To be honest, the whole “Mrs. Fink” thing makes me feel either antiquated or pretentious. I accepted it as part of our military lifestyle, but I much prefer “Miss Lisha.” It’s my “mom title.” Which is, after all, how I’ve defined myself for over two decades.

But now, with grown kids, who am I?

Miss Lisha? Lisha? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s time for a cool nickname so I can avoid the whole thing.

I want my boys to continue to use these “courtesy titles” with the adults they have known since childhood. Neighbors, mothers and fathers of their friends, even teachers with whom they still keep in touch. It’s a sign of respect – for them and for our traditions. But what about new introductions?

I guess I’m going to have to give this some time. I should probably take the lead from the kids young adults themselves. It’s new territory for them, too.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

Good riddance.

The morning started like every other school day. Except this one was different. This was the day he was leaving.

As I went through the motions of getting my youngest son ready for his school day, I was preparing myself for my middle son to leave for college.

Amid the hustle of making breakfast and double-checking backpacks, I was trying to think of the little things he still needed to pack, and all the things I wanted to tell him. Time did not permit, however, and we hustled out the door.

But there was still so much I wanted to say.

I wanted to remind him to keep breakfast food in his room, because he likes to sleep til the absolute last minute. But there was no time.

We drove little brother to school in C’s car, with dad following in my packed SUV. Mr. Wonderful let me ride with my boy, allowing me to squeeze in the last few precious hours. After dropping his brother off, we rendezvoused for breakfast.

Once we settled in at a table my husband asked, “What Shakespeare play had that dad who gave the good advice to his son? ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be…’”

“Hamlet,” C replied.

Then he looked across the table with a smirk and said, “Dad, don’t be a Polonius.”

The moment looked a little like this, only at a Subway in New Orleans. (Source: theoldglobe.org)

The moment looked a little like this, only at a Subway in New Orleans.
(Source: theoldglobe.org)

His father smiled back in silent agreement.

But there was still so much more I wanted to say.

I wanted to remind him that I’d packed all the medicine he’d need if he got sick, and that his insurance card was in his wallet. And that if he needed anything, he had my credit card.

Instead we chatted about the campus, and its proximity to the beach. Then we got back in the cars and headed east.

For the next few hours, Slick and I chatted about many things. Some profound, some mundane. Some practical, some superfluous.

But there was still much more I wanted to say.

And before I knew it, we arrived at campus. We unloaded the car and unpacked his things. We discussed the importance of organization when mom wasn’t there to find things. We talked about the dynamics of living with a roommate. Not ready to separate, we went shopping for snacks and drinks and breakfast foods, and notebooks and pens and extension cords. We had lunch and laughed when he spilled ketchup on his shorts – and I wished I’d bought that stain remover thing I’d seen in Target. Then I remembered doing laundry with Mr. Wonderful in college, and smiled. He’d figure it out. And he’ll have the time of his life doing so.

We returned to the dorm and I felt a quiet satisfaction, knowing he was ready.

It was time for me to go.

Quickly, before he had a chance to see me cry.

I told him again how much I loved him, and how proud I was of the man he had become. And even though there was so much more I wanted to say, I simply said goodbye.

Good riddance, son. I hope you have the time of your life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyLOkbW9yCI
(Click the link, it all makes sense when you do.)

 

Discovering his genius

Since my son’s diagnosis with multiple learning disabilities* four years ago, we have been on quite a roller coaster.

He is severely dyslexic. His ability to comprehend written words is practically non-existent. Oh, he can read. He can make the sounds in his mind or aloud. But his brain processes that information differently, making him unable to remember what he read when he’s finished.

So he learns differently than most people. He remembers by hearing. He masters by doing.

But despite this (or perhaps because of it?) he’s a bright kid, with a great vocabulary and a freakish memory. And while I have no doubt he will be a productive member of society someday, the challenge at hand is getting him out of 7th grade.

This has been on our fridge for years. We speak in terms of bird and fish often.

This has been on our fridge for years. We speak in terms of bird and fish often.

When frustration hits us, we talk openly about his differences. He knows he has a “learning” challenge, not a “knowing” challenge. What’s different for him is the way he learns, not the amount he is capable of learning. And once he masters something he owns it in a way that a neuro-typical learner does not.

He knows his genius is in there.

But it’s hard for the rest of the world to see it. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to see.

Last night, for the first time, I really, really saw it. So  indulge me while I share.

He’s working on a computer assignment for school, and using a program to develop a computer animation. (His school is very tech-advanced.) After school, I heard him on the phone. I stuck my head in to see what was going on, and I saw him with his iPhone propped up facing his computer screen. He was explaining to a classmate how to do the assignment while showing the steps via Face Time. I recognized the classmate’s voice, and I was stunned. He was helping one of the “smart kids” do his homework.

A couple of hours later, I heard him discussing it again. Once more I stood quietly and listened. This time he was explaining the steps to the process in a linear manner – something he has NEVER been able to do. You know, first you do step 1, then step 2, and so on.

This ability – processing information in a logical, sequential manner – is one of the hardest things for a dyslexic to do. (To understand this better, click this LINK. This is the best explanation of how a dyslexic brain processes information that I’ve ever seen.)

The woman in the video is Diana Vogel, The Kid Whisperer from Australia. The first time I saw it I was finally able to understand how this seemingly disorganized brain had an ABILITY, not a disability. That BECAUSE of the way it worked, not in spite of the way it worked, he would be able to accomplish great things. That this challenge was a K-12 problem, not a life-long problem. That my vision of him was accurate, not just a mother’s dream.

In the video linked above, Vogel confirms my theory. “This [dyslexic] brain, if we can get it through school, has the ability to shape and change our world. Whereas this [normal] brain, while also having the ability to shape and change our world, has been trained to only look at the information that was demanded, and not all the information that it contains.”

What I saw last night, the thing I’ve been waiting for years to see, was his genius beginning to appear.

Not long ago I wrote about my longing for the world to see my son the way I see him. Last night I got my first glimpse of it. And my heart soared.

A LITTLE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DYSLEXIA AND FRACTURED THINKING:

For more information on non-linear thinking click HERE: http://www.akidjustlikeme.com/id79.htm

To see a video with dyslexic simulations:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwZLFTW4OGY

*Their word, not mine. 

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Do you have a story to share about someone who learns differently? Do you learn differently? Please share!