Empty nester, Family, Love, Parenting

What Do You Do?

You’d think by now at 57, I could shake it off, those little shreds of shame that still bubble up when I least expect it. We were at a small outdoor gathering and, chatting with a college student, I was doing my damnedest to answer that question you always get meeting new people:  “What do you do?” I’ve worked most of my life,  and even though I don’t have a job now that pays me money, anyone who knows me knows I always stay busy. Most of what I do is take care of things, of people, of pets. And increasingly most recently, of myself.

Our conversation moved into empty nesting, her mother in the same place, wondering what she’s going to do. We talked of the gaps within our generations, technology a big one. Her smile widened when she told the story of her dad who still types www.google.com on his computer when he wants to search something. I chuckled along with her, though wasn’t fond of poking fun of her dad whom I didn’t know, but for whom I felt compassion. While I don’t type out the word Google to search, I did admit to typing the letter g out of habit to begin a search. She laughed the biggest belly laugh, grinning, because we all should know that Google is the default search engine. Has been for years. You didn’t get the memo? This time I was the butt of the joke and the laughing continued far longer than was comfortable, and I was left to sit, smiling along, exposed, found out, in my imperfect nakedness. 

My younger son and IT consultant

I still go to Utilities and find the Bluetooth icon to turn it off and on. Same with Wifi or anything else I need to engage or disengage. My son keeps reminding me I can swipe up (or is it down?) and just yesterday watching me press the home button to ask Siri, “What’s the hourly forecast?”, he demonstrated how with this newest iPhone software update you can swipe left (or could be right) and find your hourly forecast perfectly displayed. All these saved steps. Where have I been? I’ve struggled feeling and being so behind the times with technology, but somehow I’ve gotten by with my go to limited cadre of tools and shortcuts. 

So here we are, another Mother’s Day is upon us, another sunny Sunday where we’ll serve up quiche and cards and mimosas to celebrate these tireless women, some of whom want nothing more on this day than a break. Someone else to do the laundry, weed the garden, respond to bickering children, walk the dog. The commercials and advertisements deceptively feature a beaming well-dressed woman surrounded by her loving family. They’re all getting along, attractive, enjoying delicious foods and fun times. 

My older son years ago who picked these from our yard

Today we celebrate those women who do that “hardest job they’ll ever love,” and I’ve been wondering what it is about this role I love most. Obviously, you get the kids, cute as buttons when they first appear wide eyed and downy soft. Memories of those early years linger — the soft lovely smell of baby powder, the sound of swishing diapers as your little ones first crawl and then toddle around the house. Those sweet baby doll dimples on your baby’s fingers, the small of their backs when they’re sitting up as you dress them, the startle reflex where in an instant their arms resemble orchestra conductors’, the little stars their five fingers make as they begin grasping things or reaching for you. The toys, strollers, bassinets and high chairs that fill your home, the cries, the baby giggles, ear infections and scraped knees. I could go on and on. But I’ll stop with this one, the sweetest memory of all: that they make you their world. You’re their Google, their everything, their portal to discovery. 

Always glad these two were two years apart

The sleepless nights, the endless school forms to complete, soccer practices, teacher conferences, dances, hurt feelings, missed homework, you’re privy to it all. Unlike a job where you might be limited to your role which may or may not interest you, here you can do it all if you want. Give yourself that promotion you’ve wanted, expand your role on a whim. So much you improvise because, necessity IS the mother of invention. Which preschool is best, when is dinner, what’s for dinner? The list goes on and you get to write the script, drawing on your own childhood on what to keep or bury, what you eat, where you vacation, what they wear. 

Soon enough they grow up and compare you to other moms and later discover all that you don’t know. So in so’s mother let’s them stay out later, why can’t we have (insert overly sweet juice brand, tv in your room, bigger car, better clothes). I did it too. There was Lisa in third grade whose mother packed her the most perfect lunches. Shaved ham piled high on gorgeous deli bread, a full bag of chips vs the little baggie with a short stack we got, and some gorgeous enormous cookie. Where is this deli they found? Our A&P didn’t have anything close. I rolled along with my peanut butter and bacon (actually REALLY good if you haven’t tried) or packaged slippery deli meat (I ate it often but OMG not today), uninspired American cheese on white bread (why the mayo, mom?). I’d of course come home and ask, “Why can’t we have shaved ham?” and go into detail about the glorious sandwich Lisa’s mom packs her. Or there was that girl in eighth grade who was super smart, beautiful and always perfectly dressed. One day she appeared with her pressed cords and Sperry topsiders (or were they docksiders? I never could catch up with the right ones). I felt lesser but I knew I’d be in hand-me-downs because it’s just what we did, so I didn’t whine about the topsiders. Actually, looking back on it I was content in my Tretorns.

On the soccer fields way back when

You give birth and, in that minute, you’ve transitioned to a mother. You think on your feet, show up, produce opinions, advice, meals, birthday celebrations, wardrobes, a home, your heart, all of you. We’re all doing our best, but let’s be honest, who really knows what they’re doing? That you’re there is a biggie. Your children run to you in the night when they’ve had a bad dream, or when dinner is ready or when they’ve finished artwork or aced a test they must show you. You’re always there. A fixture, a beacon, a friendly mountain they can climb. You’ve melded into the furniture – the bed, the couch, the kitchen sink. Your presence is felt all over and when they call out for you, you answer and if you can’t, you find someone else to. Whenever a child call’s out “mom” in a crowded room ,we all turn our heads to answer. Even now with grown children, I know I still do.

My mom, Susan, and Lad

There’s no manual on motherhood. My own mother died before I even married, so I didn’t get any advice from her. All these years moms have held their ground, stood firm by their choices amid the whines. Never once when I didn’t get the lunch I wanted did I think any less of my mom. Or think she didn’t love me as much as Lisa’s mom loved her. That love was just there. Always. I think of her often and today being Mother’s Day, especially today. She was always up. I don’t remember her showering or getting ready for the day because that was done hours before anyone woke. The engines had started – the coffee – Taster’s Choice stirred into a Corningware pot with a wooden spoon. Mathis Dairy milk splashed over the top. You see her face your whole life and never once consider that someday you might not anymore. But that day does come, and you’re left trying to repaint her image for your mind. It’s funny, the visage is cloudy but the feelings are still so clear.

So what is it you do? You don’t have to explain. You’re doing it every day. (please see video below) I remind myself we’re all works in progress, and we should loose the shame. Instead we ought to keep giving out our love, saving big doses for ourselves. Hats off to all of you “motherers” who came before, who are here now and who will be here in the future. And big love to you, mom. xoxoxo

2 thoughts on “What Do You Do?”

  1. Now there are tears streaming down my cheeks. You and I both wish we could touch and thank our mothers. It’s only after we became mothers that we understood the strength our mothers possessed.
    As I tell my girls being a mother is the hardest job they will ever have. Love you my adopted daughter.

Leave a Reply