Chosen

At night, when I tuck my kids into bed, we say affirmations.  It goes something like this:

Me: Repeat after me.

Kid: Repeat after me.

(Years of doing affirmations and they still laugh at the ‘repeat’ thing.)

Me: I am brave.

Kid: I am brave.

Me: I am kind.

Kid: I am kind.

You get the idea.  A few more generic ones, and then I deviate according to the kid’s personality, something we struggled with that day, or something silly.  I love to make up songs on the spot and they enjoy my goofiness as well, which I know won’t last forever so I’m soaking it in.  We always end with “I love myself, I’m proud of myself, and I can do great things.”

I love myself and I’m proud of myself were not part of my original formula, they came to me a couple of years ago when I was thinking about how to have the kids’ validation come from within, rather than from others, including their parents.  I’m not of the opinion that me arriving on Earth earlier makes me any more of an authority on how to be human, it only makes me responsible for their care, safety, and guiding them with things like manners, potty training, and when it’s acceptable to yell “Go Dawgs” at strangers. (Hint: Always. It’s always acceptable.)

Some nights I thank them for choosing me to be their Mama when they were souls preparing to come to Earth.  I feel so grateful and honored that they chose me, knowing they’d be vulnerable and I’d be so very … well, flawed.  Human.  Ill-prepared for the task.

When I was young enough to have a bedtime, Bonmama tucked me into bed most nights.  My mom worked late nights as a radio DJ, so she was usually gone and Bonpapa was downstairs working in his office or occasionally asleep in his recliner in front of an episode of Dragnet.

We walked down the narrow hallway, Bonmama and I, feet scuffing on the vintage green carpet (it had odd sections that looked a lot like the tops of cauliflower to me and I liked how it felt underfoot) until we reached her bedroom.  I had my own bed in my own bedroom across the hall, but didn’t sleep in it because it was big and I was small and afraid of the dark.

So she had an antique bed brought in from Lacanau – her mother’s home – and squeezed it beside her bed, the foot of it nearly touching her delicate dark wooden vanity, and that bed, pushed back into the corner of her room, is where I slept every night.  That was our room.  Bonmama, Bonpapa, and me.

[[Side note:  Eventually, I acquired an ugly gray radio/alarm clock and I was allowed to listen to the public broadcasts each night until one of them came to bed.  It helped me to sleep and not feel alone.  Usually, my choices for night time listening were the grainy audio from some mediocre stage production of Macbeth, or an opera with commercials interspersed.  I always chose the opera.  It’s so romantic, dramatic, and while I couldn’t ever understand what was being sung about, I could tell it was earnest and urgent.  As an idealistic young dreamer, I loved the sounds of catastrophe, climax, and resignation.   If Bonpapa chose the station – which he sometimes did – it was Beethoven.  I still listen to music when I nap, usually Italian opera or Beethoven.]]

I climbed into my little bed, nestled amongst my “menagerie” of stuffed animals, including a mangy-looking white Persian cat and its equally scruffy black sibling, and Bonmama sat beside me arranging pillows and blankets around us.  Once I was still, she prayed with me, beginning with the Lord’s prayer in French, and sometimes invoking Archangel Michael to watch over me.  “You are special to Michel,” she’d say.  “You’re named after him.”  There was something about the way she said it.  I believed the fiercest of Heaven’s warriors might actually have taken time to check in on me as I slept, if I asked him to.

Some nights she rubbed my back or chatted with me about the day.  Every night without fail, she said to me and I repeated back to her:

Bonne Nuit,

Bonne Reves, and

Je t’aime beaucoup. 

Those are French for Good Night, Sweet Dreams, and I love you.

Not exactly affirmations, but no less affirming to my heart and soul.

It’s been a hard week, mostly due to missing her, and today was a welcome reprieve. I spent all day with my boys, just the three of us.  We began with breakfast, then painting.  We went to the field and kicked the soccer ball around, threw a football, raced, and fell down and laughed with each other.  We shared a pizza for dinner, and they played video games while I sat in my big chair and read a book.

Forgive me if my writing is scattered.  All of these thoughts are strung like twinkling patio lights in my head, a web of love and comfort and tradition.  Tradition in the sense that no one is really gone as long as you remember, and echo, and say their name and – here’s the important part, the reason I’m writing this tonight – pay their love forward into new hearts.

A lightning-strike realization. Another revelation.  They keep coming, unexpectedly, as I think and overthink my life and hers and that sweet spot where they intersected, and I wonder if this isn’t another unrecognized stage of grief:

Epiphany.

Honoring Bonmama is not just about saying her name or making her bread.  It’s about the love she’s given me, that can never be divided, only multiplied, and pouring that devotion into my children so that they meet her, and know the best parts of her, even if they don’t know it’s her they are meeting.

I felt like a good mom today.  A Bonmama – type of mom.  At the end of the day, my kids knew without any doubt just how treasured they are.  Cherished.  That’s a word she liked to use.  I like it, too.  (As I type this, my boys are asleep in my bed, surrounded by 15-20 of their “favorite” stuffed animals. This is the kind of history I don’t mind repeating.)

What I’m thinking about over and over as I listen to them gently snoring is, I am so grateful for the choosing. 

That Bonmama chose to be more to us – and give more to us – than she was required.

That my sons chose me in the “before”, and that they continue to choose me every day despite my shortcomings.

Grateful, too, that I am choosing and choose in each moment to show up for them, to be better than I might have been, to give more than I sometimes want to, to try again and fail and apologize and cry and keep working at it.

The words are a comfort and certainly, we like to say them.  I want to hear the words, repeat the words, have fun with the affirmations.  But the love – the evidence and proof and depth of that love – exists, I think, in the choosing.

How to be the Best Mom

It’s not a competition.

Wait… is it?  Motherhood is, and should be, a deeply personal and private experience.  How we choose to raise our kids, feed them, discipline them, etc., varies by individual.  We are all different in our beliefs, cultures, and heritage.  So it stands to reason that there is no one “right” way to be a Mom.  In these days of social media and over-sharing, though, it feels much more like a contest.  Those of us “less than” moms – I’ll call us the “non goops” – who don’t always have our shirts neatly pressed or dress our kids in coordinating lobster-print boat shoes for sushi day at the prep school, it can be overwhelming.

There are innumerable blogs, websites, and articles out there on the grand ol’ internet about being a mom.  How to be a better mom.  The things we should be doing, but aren’t.  The things we are doing but stop doing immediately or face ruining our child’s existence forever.  The things we didn’t even know were things, we are so far behind, but we need to buy for our kids, make them by hand or from scratch, avoid doing or our kids might die, continue doing or they might die, things to teach them, tell them, make sure they know, make sure they are aware of, sign them up for, keep them away from, feed them, bathe them in, sing to them, DIY for them, protect them from, and so on…

I have been killing myself the past couple of days trying to keep my son occupied.  He is 5 years old, and not in school yet because he has a late birthday.  So I decided that we would do “projects” every day to learn.  Along with projects, we have meals and snacks and karate (or “ninja school”, he says), lego building and swimming and church activities.  Our routine up to this past week has been more relaxed.  I keep reading articles that make me feel pressured to deliver, so I am trying to step it up.  I don’t want to be the one mom at carpool whose son isn’t already counting in 3 languages and taking Chinese calligraphy lessons from a certified master.  My days have been PACKED.  So much so, that I barely got to eat yesterday, did not work out, and did not nap.  Yes I know naps are not a necessity but I could have really used a nap yesterday.

Today, I took a different approach.  We got up, ate (non gf, non organic, very tasty) breakfast, got dressed, and went to a playground.  The weather was gorgeous.  I sat on a shaded bench, reading a book while he ran around and sang songs to himself.  Do you know what happened??  Nothing.  He did not die.  He did not fall down a black whole of insecurity because I was ignoring him.  Seriously.  He was delighted.  I was at peace.  It was great.

In that moment I was reminded of my own childhood.  I was raised by grandparents, mostly, (mom worked a lot) and I remember thinking that they were the best ever.  Literally.  No kid was as lucky as me and my brother.  We had it all – a house to live in, food to eat, clothes, and on Fridays (grocery day) I got to eat a treat from the grocery store.  WOO HOO!  I was living the high life, and life was GOOD.

The funniest thing about all the best days will those ‘best’ people, is that at no point did they make me feel like I was the center of the universe.  The sun, I was assured, neither rose or set out of my bum.  I did not get brand-new clothes (lots of hand-me downs and hand-sewn dresses), I did not eat fast food, there was not much tv, no video games, no DIY projects to keep me occupied.  It was more like, “go outside until lunchtime.”  So we did.  We are better for it.

After the playground today, I made homemade french fries (method at bottom) and reheated some leftover pork chops and broccoli.  While we ate together, my son  talked about life (5 year olds have deep thoughts!) and then suddenly, out of nowhere, he looked up at me and said “Mommy, you are the BEST Mommy there ever was.”  And you know something?  He meant it.

As adults we don’t remember the outfits we wore (less the tragic, embarrassing ones) but we do remember words of affirmation.  We don’t appreciate eating twinkies as much as we appreciate those days in the sun laughing with people from our own tribe.  Lobster-print boat shoes?  Forget about it.  I had my step-mom’s old high-top Reeboks.  To me, they were beautiful because she was beautiful, and because she loved me.

My point is, competing with other moms is silliness, when we won’t know them in 20 years anyway.  Enriching our kids’ lives has nothing to do with what other moms are doing and EVERYTHING to do with how much of ourselves we pour into them in every moment.  Loving words.  Homemade meals.  Story time.  Making up silly songs.  Praying together (he always spontaneously hugs me).  These are the criteria for “best mom”, and how wonderful that it’s an honor we can all achieve.

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Homemade French Fries (super simple)

prep time: 5 mins cook time: 25 mins  total time: 30 mins

Select 2 medium red potatoes.  Rinse.  Cut into slices or squares.

Place potato pieces in a bowl, drizzle with sesame oil (a little at a time – it goes a long way!)

Add salt as desired (again, a little should do), mix with hands.

Spread out on aluminum foil on baking sheet

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes (depending on how thick the pieces are) or until tender.

Serve plain or with ketchup.  Pat self on back. Receive hugs.