Monday, February 06, 2006

Forging Ahead

We've had mostly rainy days since December 18. Today, the sun shone brightly and the children drifted outdoors and promptly began digging in the dirt behind the deck. I think the hole may now be large enough to bury a small animal. They came back inside with dirt in the creases of their hands and mud caked on their shoes and faces glowing.

My husband sent the 12-year olds outside with orders to sweep the Douglas fir needles from the driveway. We own no Douglas fir trees, but the neighbor does and those trees shed as if it's their job, which they take very seriously.

The boys did not take their job very seriously and my husband remarked, "Those boys have a terrible work ethic!" And I tried not to take it to heart, this criticism, so I just glanced his way and turned my attention back to the little ones. I told myself he was not talking about me and then thought, I must google "teaching children work ethic" even though I think it's something "caught, not taught," which is further proof that I am a horrible role model and human being and someone please stop me from this destructive train of insane thought.

Later, I stepped out the front door and the boys appeared, red-cheeked, clutching brooms. "Do you think this is good enough?" Reluctant Student asked. I said, "I don't know. What would dad say?" And then the other boy piped up, "This is child abuse!" and I said, "No, this is good parenting."

I am in uncharted territory as a mother. My own mother left her children when we were younger than twelve. (My dad had primary physical custody and we had no formal visiting agreement but I'd see her from time to time and during those visits, my siblings and I would struggle for her sole attention.) For the most part, I have shrugged off my family of origin and its dysfunction, but in other ways, I can feel the gaping wounds, the missing spaces where a functioning family would have simply passed on traditions by osmosis. When I was my twins' age, I was waking myself up in the mornings, foraging for my own breakfast, riding my bike to school, dealing with peers, babysitting, studying, going to church by myself. I sequestered myself in my room after school if I were home. I had virtually no interaction with the adults in my family.

I wonder if I'm broken in some fundamental way or if the brokenness healed and left me crooked or if everyone is like me, damaged from something or another. I forge ahead--I'm good at facing the right direction and moving along--but I feel desperate for a map and assurance that I'm doing okay at this parenting thing. So much is at stake and I'm raising boys with a terrible work ethic and a daughter who thinks I'm gorgeous when I roll out of bed in the morning which can only mean that she lacks not only judgment but good taste. And perhaps she should see an ophthalmologist.

On the other hand, my husband and I have been married over eighteen years, which is nothing to sneeze at, and our children have no idea who Brad Pitt or Jessica Simpson or Kanye West are. We must be doing something right.

16 Comments:

Blogger Amie said...

Yeah, you must be doing somethign right, but I am with you, your 12 yo self sounds very familier. For me I think that it is the broken and healed alittle crooked. I might have a limp but I keep up with the best of them. At least taht is what I keep telling myself! :)

12:59 AM  
Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I think I understand you a little better now. It seems you became a womderful woman and mother in spite of your parents "parenting".

Sometime 12 year old boys just goof off at a job they seen no relationship to their lives. It is no judgement on you. They are a bit young to read Max Weber's book, "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism". They will eventually learn by your example and gentle prodding.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Great insights.

My husband had no father. His grandfather, the only man in his life, died when my husband was 5.

Yet, my husband is a terrific father. I've thought about this a lot, and there is much to applaud about picking things up by osmosis.

But, I believe my husband keenly felt what he was lacking, and set about to remedy that with his children.

THey never had to wonder if they were loved.

Can a child ask for more than that?

6:06 AM  
Blogger tab said...

Both dh and I were raised in what would be called (back then) a traditional happy married homes----yet we both sometimes wonder how "well" we're doing this parenting thing. Were's that dang owner's manual that was supposed to come w/these kids?

I do believe that children learn best by examples and how you lead your life. Eventually they do "catch on" (or at least we hope).

6:08 AM  
Blogger weorwe said...

Work ethic is hard to measure. I think most people will work hard at something when they think it is worth working hard at. When something's not important to you, it doesn't mean you're lazy.

Maybe it's not so bad that your kids don't think a clean driveway is supremely important.
--
Someone once told me never to trust anyone who doesn't walk with a limp.
--
If you find the map or the volume knob for the reassurance speaker, will you let me know?

6:14 AM  
Blogger portuguesa nova said...

You're doing okay.

I wonder if this fear is second place to body image issues amongst women?

I don't even HAVE any children, yet there are times when my husband says stuff to me...little, tiny, insignificant comments in passing that I completely misinterpret, and I feel as though sometimes literally hear as "You will be a very bad mother."

In high school I interned at our local newspaper and the head of the student intern program was the wife of a Minnesota senator. This was before pro-wrestlers and vampires made their way into Minnesota politics. They were such genuinely wonderful, educated, good hearted people. Their two daughters and son were all wildly successful, and called and stopped into the office quite frequently.

I remember once, completely out of nowhere she said, "I feel like the mistakes I've made as a mother have ruined my children's lives forever."

It had quite an impact on me. I still remember the moment with great clarity thinking, if she thinks she's a bad mom, then EVERYONE must think they're a bad mom.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Wash Lady said...

Do you think that you parent your children the way that you do to compensate for the way that you were parented?
Perhaps you facilitate your children remaining less independent because you were forced to be independent before your time?
Perhaps you take on everything that you do because you fear your children will look at you one day as you look back on your mom/parents?
Perhaps you desire subconsiously that your children can fill the void that your parents left with you?
These questions are certainly not a criticism, just superficial thoughts of mine to initiate some thoughts of yours :)
Do you think your boys are lazy/not responsible enough/immature/etc/insert word.......because of the way that you parent or perhaps its because of their age or a combination of a multitude of things that are very overwhelming when taken on all at one time.
that's probably enough for you to chew on. I admire you. do you know that?

8:14 AM  
Blogger Julana said...

I have some of the same feelings about parenting a child with a lot of special needs. You're not alone, in feeling you're forging new ground.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Kismet said...

It sounds to me like you are doing a fabulous job. I know it is hard to parent without a good role model, but I also know it can be done. And ALL mothers at some point in their parenting life ask themselves these "What have I done?" questions. Those of us mapping our own way just have to ask the world instead of our parents. That niggling worry never really goes away, but it doesn't mean you aren't doing a fantastic job.


~K!

8:46 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

My map stopped being relevant quite a long time ago, and mine is only three!

It is interesting how consciously or unconsciously we bring our past into our parenting present. Since we were all forged in the past, it just can't be helped.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Vashti said...

I feel like I am messing my kids up daily. I wonder if every parent feels this? Oh well...I just stay in the trenches, roll up my sleeves, accept my mistakes, and do my best. It's hard not to get down sometimes. Hang in there.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

I think we all in a way "mother" by instinct. We could have the best roll models and do everything right, and our kids still fall prey to all the eveil in the world. Don't beat yourself up about it. I 2nd guess myself all the time, too. We are going thru major issues with my 19 year old daughter (I blog about it on the surface, but it runs way deeper) and even though we have done everything "right" she is still a wayward soul. We are all in the same boat here, and we need to reassure each other constantly. Mel, you are a great Mom.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Wow...that's a lot of deconstruction about a couple of 12 year olds.

Click your heels three times and repeat after me...

They're 12, it will get better
They're 12, it will get better
They're 12, it will get better

No offense, I know you love him and I don't even know him but when your husband says a dumnbsh*t thing (see how I respect you, I used a *) like that you need to turn to him and in your best George Bush style say, "If you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem."

And then, just to bring it all home, "If you're not part of the solution, then you're with the terrorists."

Badda bing!

6:30 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

sounds like you're doing GREAT to me Mel!!

8:08 PM  
Blogger MommieDoris said...

When we're young we aren't aware of how our hurts play out in our life. Now that I'm turning 40 I realize how much they do affect my daily life.
When I was 9 we received a phone call that my Dad had died in an accident. Even as a teenager I hated talking on the phone. NOW, I get it! Bad news by phone as child = adult who will not answer phone and sees all voicemails as bad news, and takes 31 years to come to that realization.
It reminds me of the commercial where everyone's identifying thought is writen on their forehead as they are all walking around with " thinks she has no worth", and " has low self esteem". I love that I'm at this point of self discovery in my life. I feel like I'm starting to get "it"!
Great post as usual Mel !
Amanda

8:23 PM  
Blogger MissKris said...

Sweetie, the more I read your journal, the more I believe we're kindred spirits. Not only do we share living in the gorgeous -- ok, admittedly DAMP! -- Pacific Northwest but it sounds like we have a lot of similar issues from our childhood. Keeping my blog this past almost-year has helped me exorcise so many 'demons' from my past, I can't even begin to tell you. As I read this post, I know what you mean about motherhood being uncharted territory. My mantra growing up was, "When I grow up I will NOT be like this" or "do this" and I stuck to my guns. I was determined to have a happy marriage, happy kids, and a happy life. I think so much of how each individual life turns out has an awful lot to do with mindset. I have one brother who chose not to have children at all because he was so insecure about what type of father he'd be, he didn't want to risk bringing kids into the world. I have to admire that 'coz I think a good portion of humanity ought to take heed to HIS way of doing things...I know from where I speak 'coz I was a middle school lunch lady at a school with 1000 kids for almost 7 years and I saw the results of a lot of crummy parenting out there. Anyway...kids just need a lot of LOVE...that's where the answer lies. They don't need trips to Disneyland. They don't need every doo-dad that comes out on the market. They need time and attention, two things we adults seem to have so little of any more. And our kids are suffering for it, believe me. Goodness, girl...you sure know which buttons to push with me, lol! Great post, btw.

5:48 AM  

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