Yes, yes, I missed Resolution Tuesday again, but I was so enjoying - and inspired by - the comments on this post that I didn't want them to end.
To revisit Resolution Tuesday: this
is was the day I check checked in with my New Year's Resolution to "mother less, but no less than necessary."
Two THOUSAND one hundred and nine.
Or, put another way, 2109
Or put yet another way, ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?
How would you feel and what would you do if you found out your fourteen year old son racked up 2109 text messages in one month?
I'll be back tomorrow to tell you what I did...
This morning, a mouse (eeek!) emerged from Middle's room at a full tilt, rounded the corner into the kitchen, his back legs drifting like a race car's wheels, and disappeared under the stove.
Said mouse used to be a lot smaller and has heretofore been confined to the kitchen.
Clearly, he has found greener pastures.
Another installment in my endless quest to mother less, but no less than necessary.
First, the bad news:
This is what Middle's room looks like now that I have decided that part of mothering a 17 year old less is not nagging him about cleaning up his room or lecturing him on the impossibility of having a clear mind when one's environment is polluted:
Now for the good news:
I actually heard the following words flow, unbidden, out of his mouth: "I have got to clean my room."
Not that he has done it yet.
The other night, at 10:30, I peeked into Youngest's room. It was dark. I stepped in to give him a kiss good-night and stopped when I saw a glow under the covers. Could it be? Could it possibly be? Could my Youngest actually be reading in bed? I mean, I did that all the time when I was 14.
That bluish glow? Cell phone.
He was texting. At 10:30.
I reached out my hand.
"Hand it over."
"It is 10:30. Way past bedtime. Say 'good-bye' and give me the phone."
He turned back to his phone.
Minutes went by. He studiously ignored my loudly tapping foot.
"WHAT are you doing?"
"Just wait a second. I'm saying good-bye."
"A simple "g-n-i-t-e" would suffice."
He glared at me, finished the message and handed me the phone.
"Don't you dare read this," he ordered me sternly as I turn to leave.
"I know you're tempted."
In line with my plan to mother less, but no less than necessary, I have decided it is pretty much completely unnecessary to ask a child how he did on any kind of test.
A year or so ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a mother of a competitive swimmer, about Middle's rowing and the importance of the erg time. Bottom line, he who rows fast on the erg gets recruited.
Her son, the swimmer, knew the time he needed to hit in order to be recruited to swim at a Division 1 school. He could hit it in practice, but he never could make it in competition. As a result, he wasn't recruited at the highest level. Looking back, she thought she had made a mistake by paying too much attention to the time he needed, the shockingly low number of seconds he was allotted to swim a length of the pool. She was convinced that the added pressure of her investment in the outcome may have been too much for him. "Do not," she counseled emphatically, "repeat, not, focus on the number. Leave that to his coach, his teammates and him. Your job is to love him and be supportive."
Since this seemed like eminently sensible advice, I have made a habit of following it - though it is HARD. Erg tests are a big deal in our house, We all know when they are coming. The morning of an erg test, Middle eats a big carb-loaded pancake breakfast. I order him a Godmother from Bay Cities for lunch and have been known to pick it up and deliver it to him at school. He goes off to practice.
And I wait. I know that by around 4:30, he has finished the test. The results are in. I wait. I hope he has done well. I worry he has not. When he doesn't call me as he is walking to his car, I try to remind myself that that in itself is not meaningful. He often doesn't call. It doesn't necessarily mean bad news. He is not SUPPOSED to use his cell phone in the car. He has, however, been known to call and even then I don't ask. I wait. I talk about other things. I am casual. I wonder if he really thinks I am that relaxed about it all.
I don't ask because I really believe that, good or bad, the experience is his to own. I want him to be in charge of every aspect of it, including the telling of the news, good or bad. What he does in rowing is really remarkable. He works tremendously hard, is focused, dedicated and ambitious. I don't want any of that to be because he feels he must do it in order to be loved by me. Too much interest on my part in his success might make him feel that he must succeed for me, that if he does not, he has failed me, and that somehow in the calculus of children, that must mean I love him less.
So, I have gotten in the habit of not asking and though it is hard, ever since I heard my friend's hard-earned advice, I have held my silence.
So you'd think I would know enough by now, be adept enough by now, to NOT ask Middle how he thought his US History SAT II went last Saturday.
You'd be wrong.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't not ask. And the interesting part is, in that context the question, "how'd it go?" has no meaningful answer. There is no way for him to know how he did. He won't get the score for weeks.
I hate it when anxiety wraps me up in its elusive tendrils and drags me far away from the mother I want to be.
My pal Zig sent me the abstract of a report today called The Importance of Family Dinners IV (you can download the entire report here).
The report tells us what most of us intuitively know: family dinners are a good thing. More specifically,
"frequent family dining is associated with lower rates of teen smoking, drinking, illegal drug use and prescription drug use."
After reading the report, I found myself doing some rapid, panic-tinged calculations. How often have we been eating together? I figured that we eat together on average four to five nights a week and was reassured. That said, our family dinners are often quick affairs during which food is wolfed down in a mini homework break. We often sit around the fire and not at the table. The food either take-out or frozen pizza at least once a week and many more times it is, shall we say, uninspired.
I looked through the report for their definition of "family dinner" and couldn't find it. Do our family dinners, I wonder, count?
And what about the many awkward and silent family dinners I attended as a child in other people's houses? The ones like this?
And then I read the following, which is not in the report, but in the accompanying statement to the report: "there are no silver bullets; unfortunately, the tragedy of a child's substance abuse can strike any family. But one factor that does more to reduce teens' substance abuse risk than almost any other is parental engagement, and one of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in teens' lives is by having frequent family dinners."
"Ah, HA" I thought to myself, with that lovely sense of satisfaction that comes from having ones own beliefs confirmed by an expert. In the end, the dinner is not what matters. What matters is the parental engagement. This makes sense. This I can try to do.
Note to self: try not to be like the Annette Benning character in American Beauty, who emphatically tells her her daughter. "I'm so proud of you!" only to follow up with "You didn't screw up once!"
I've got nothing against family dinners but I hate it when journalists pick up studies like this and write articles like this and this and focus on the dinner, on the thing that parents are supposed to do.
And so parents who cannot, for whatever good reasons they have, make family dinner a priority feel that they are being bad parents. This makes me crazy. A family dinner spent fighting or in awkward silence is not going to protect against anything bad or help bring about anything good. The dinner is not, after all, the point.
The point is finding a way to be in an ongoing relationship with your child. The only thing that matters is the quality of the relatedness you have - not what you do but what the relationship is.
Dinner, if it is good and someone else cleans up, is just, well, gravy.
To recap: this year's resolution is to "mother less, but no less than necessary." Back on Resolution Tuesday #1, I described how hard it was for me to not put Middle to bed even though it was the middle of the night and he was asleep on the garage floor. At the time I wrote, "and so I realized in the middle watches of the night that putting my children to bed feels like love to me. That is why it was so hard not to do."
But I have realized something else. There is little on this earth that makes me feel safer than having all three of my boys in their beds, Mate breathing deeply next to me in ours, and Mutt curled around herself in the chair she has claimed as her bed in Youngest's room.
So yes, it feels like love when I put my boys to bed, but it also feels like safety.
As a mother, I sometimes see myself as a swimmer fighting against an undertow of worry. If I act as a mother, do as a mother, I can make myself feel that things are more apt to turn out right.
My shrink makes the excellent point that anxiety and worry are not the same thing. Anxiety is a feeling. Worry is a mental activity. It is in the service of alleviating the feeling of anxiety. It doesn't work.
When I act as a result of a feeling of compulsion, I think those are actually moments of enacted worry. Though they might feel like love, I don't think they are love.
Which brings me back to an old New Year's Resolution of mine. Tolerate uncertainty. Mothering less is an exercise in tolerating uncertainty.
To revisit last year's resolution: "connect with something larger than myself."
I have been trying to make a daily habit of this (along with yoga and writing). For a couple of months I donated 600 grains of rice per day.
Lately, I have been making calls for Hillary Clinton.
Today, in some quarters, like right here at The End of Motherhood?, is Blog for Choice day.
I am tired of the injustices that accrue, on a daily basis, to women throughout the world. I am tired of a world that "offers women very little public space." I am tired of a world where young girls suffer genital mutilation. I am tired of a world where women in developing countries are often responsible for 60-80% of the production of food staples, and yet they are denied access to the essential tools necessary for their work, "including land, credit, information, training and the power to take decisions."
Women desire, deserve, and require the power to take decisions in all spheres of life. That power begins with our own bodies and extends out to the caretaking of our families, communities, countries and our wide, shared earth.
Reproductive rights are at once essential and only the beginning.
Last year, I used Tuesdays on my blog to check in with my New Year's Resolution which was to "connect with something larger than myself." Today I got some help with that one from Two Square Meals, courtesy of whom picked up this amazing little number that will show you how you are connected to the mountains in Appalachia being destroyed by an utterly pernicious form of mining. Go on...enter your zip code whydon'tcha?
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Now, on to this year's resolution which is to "mother less, but no less than necessary." I know we're only on week three, but I gotta say I am feeling good about this whole project and I am going to tell you why.
On Sunday, I often do laundry. Loads and loads of laundry.
Also on Sunday, we often watch football. Loads and loads of football.
Usually, I fold everyone's clothes neatly and stack them carefully. Usually, the boys come and rip their clothes from the stacks, scattering the remaining clothes all over. Last Sunday, I decided to skip the whole - what's the word? - oh, yes, the whole meshugas. Instead, as each load came out of the dryer, I dumped it in an ever-growing pile on the couch - the same couch my boys were sprawled across watching the playoffs. I told them they needed to pick out their own clothes and take them to their closets - not their beds, their desks, or their floors. Their closets.
The pile of clothes disappeared with only a few stray socks left, like crumbs, on the couch. We all settled down to watch the last quarter of the game. Later that evening, I gotta say my curiousity got the better of me. I just HAD to find out what Middle had done with his clothes. Middle is famous for pulling a tshirt out of a neatly stacked pile in precisely the right way to disrupt every single tshirt left in the pile. With some trepidation, I went into his room. No clean clothes in sight. I stepped gingerly into his closet and what to my wondering eyes should appear but stacks and stacks of neatly ordered tshirts. I was stunned. I went to find him. "Middle," I demanded. "Your closet looks amazing. How did you do it?"
"Well,Mom," he replied with an eager gleam in his eye, "I used the Japanese tshirt folding technique."
"Which Japanese tshirt folding technique is that, might I ask?"
"Well a couple of years ago at camp, someone told me about it and I tried to do it but couldn't remember how, so today I looked it up on You Tube."
So, courtesy of Middle, I now give you the utterly, amazingly, fantastically successful, more-than-a-technique-it's-an-art, Japanese tshirt folding method:
I am so loving this New Year's Resolution.