Saturday, July 19, 2008

Taking Note

As you know, I had the blessing of spending two weeks visiting family and old friends this month. Upon returning home, I have been reflecting on all the things I learned from the mothers with whom I visited. With some of them, I have had many opportunities to observe them mothering their children. Others I had not had the chance to spend much time with since they became mothers. I am so grateful for each of these women and the things that they taught me about how to mother my own. I know that none of them are perfect (they would be quick to protest such praise themselves), and I try hard to dispel the myth of the perfect mom, but we can take note of their strengths and try to make them ours as well.

Angela, my sister-in-law, reminded me (without saying a word to me), of the importance of quiet discipline. Angela is so wonderful when her children misbehave. She gets down on their level and firmly but lovingly discusses with them the bad choices they are making. There is no question that her children feel safe and loved even when they are in big trouble. This is a concern of mine when I yell or harshly scold. I want my children to feel safe and never doubt my love for them. Of course I already knew that I should be doing this, but watching Angela in action made me resolve to do it more often, and not just when I can tell that the old lady in the grocery store is watching!
Lindsee, another SIL, makes fun and relationships a priority over her to-do list. She doesn't let a sink of dirty dishes stop her from taking time with her children when they need it. She thinks that this is a weakness, but I see great strength in her ability to be a Mary when I tend towards Martha. The dishes will always wait patiently, and although they must eventually be washed, the needs of our children are so much more vital than a clean kitchen. Lindsee also gets involved in the fun, not worried about getting dirty or being uncomfortable. I have made a note to walk away from my chores more often and have fun with my kids when I could be doing housework.

Molly, our new(ish) step-cousin, is another great example. I mostly know Molly from reading her blog, but we've met a time or two before, prior to her being a mother. Molly has two daughters, a three year old and a three month old with some special needs. Molly is a wonderful example of having a cheerful heart and a can-do attitude. We got to spend some time together at our family reunion on the 4th of July and Molly wasn't flustered and stressed out, even when her baby was fussing and being needy. She wasn't feeling sorry for herself that she was missing out on all the fun while most of us were out in the orchard enjoying dinner and she was inside trying to calm down Alice. And when I sat down to talk with her, she didn't fill my ear up with how hard it is to have a child with special needs . . . she was upbeat, happy, and full of light. I loved visiting with Molly and holding precious Alice until she went to sleep. And I remembered how often I tend to stress out when things aren't going just the way I expected them to. I'm a control freak that way. And I want to chill out and be more like Molly--willing to go with the flow rather than trying to control everything and falling apart when I can't. (I didn't take a picture of Molly, but here is her dad, Tom, with baby Alice.)

Being around Bec, my cousin, reminded me of something that I'd noted when I'd been to visit her in Washington, DC last fall. It's something so little and yet I have tried to change my ways with Bronwen because of Bec's example. Here's what I learned from Bec: she lets her toddlers feed themselves messy foods. On a regular basis. Okay, this may not seem strange to you. It isn't strange. But as you can already tell from the earlier lessons I've mentioned above, I'm kind of a controlling kinda girl who is striving to loosen up. My independent one year olds? They tend to eat foods that won't make a big tremendous mess. Until I visited Bec, it didn't even OCCUR to me to put milk on the cereal of a child under four. I know that it ridiculous, but it's the sad and honest truth. But I am a new woman. I give spaghetti covered in sauce (not plain) to my baby now, cereal with milk and a spoon (knowing full well it will get dumped on the floor,) yogurt in her own cup . . . I am finding that it is so much easier than feeding her myself, plus she is so much happier to be feeding herself these messy foods. I'm also thinking that it may help her not grow up to be as picky as her older brothers, who were fed less messy foods (and thus, less variety) at her age. Bec, you may think that this is a silly non-lesson, but it is clearly one that I needed to learn. And watching Brandon eat a bowl of cereal and milk on the ground at the parade reminded me of it. (See how his baby brother, Trevor, wants in on the action?)

Heidi has been a friend of mine since we were teenagers. We used to go to stake dances together, toilet papered many a house together, and played a few practical jokes one year at girls' camp. She was a year younger than me, went to a different high school and ward, so we spent time together in spurts until we were roommates for a couple of years at BYU. I had really only seen Heidi a couple of times since she became a mom five years ago, and those times were at events like weddings when I didn't get to really watch her in action. This time, Heidi's mothering really stood out to me because she was so relaxed about letting the kids be kids. I know Heidi well enough to know that she likes to control things around her as much as I do, but she was so low-key about kids coming in and out of the backyard with grassy, wet feet, kids leaving the sliding door open when it was 25 degrees warmer outside than in, kids spreading toys all over the family room floor while sitting on the carpet in their damp (or soaking wet) bathing suits. Now don't get me wrong--Heidi's house was not a mess. It was clean and neat when we got there, and I'm sure that she keeps it looking nice. But Heidi's mothering reminded me that the kids are more important than the clean house or the electric bill. She was happy that they were having fun and wasn't going to spend the hour and a half that she had to catch up with Alli and me nagging her kids to close the door and wipe their feet. Her house felt clean and neat enough, but it also felt homey, lived in, and comfortable. Just the place you'd want to be. And the fresh brownies, hummus with french bread, and chips and salsa (all of our old foods) that were waiting when we arrived added to that homey welcome. Because she was relaxed, I was relaxed, and didn't worry about my kids being perfect either.

Erin, aka Prudence Pennywise, is Heidi's older sister. She and I became friends when she returned home from her mission and moved in with Heidi and me and some others at BYU. This was a special blessing for me at the time, because it was my junior year at BYU and the year I really needed to decide if I was going to serve a mission. Erin was a wonderful influence on me then, as she is now. I really miss being able to stay up all night talking to her. She has also been a great influence on my love for cooking. Anyway, we got to spend an afternoon swimming with her and her kids, then had a delicious Mexican feast, then talked and talked until it was too late and we needed to be in bed. One of the things that Erin said while we were talking struck me. She said, "You know the kind of family that saves all the fun for the adults, after the kids are in bed? It's all about the adults in those families when they get together." Hmmmm, I wondered. Does that sound familiar? I will admit that I am someone who is anxious to get my kids to bed at night (by 7:30 if at all possible) so that I can have some time without them. Now, my kids are also early risers regardless of what time they get to bed, so I have always justified their early bedtime easily, since they need to sleep. But I don't know if I spend a lot of time making sure that they have plenty of fun when we are together as a family. Sunday nights after dinner we race to get the kids to be so that we can play games with the other adults in the family. I'm not sure yet how I'm going to change this, but it's the mindset that I'd like to borrow from Erin. She knows how to make everything fun--and she'd never dream of denying that to her kids. We (all--not just the grown ups) had so much fun on our visit there that I'm already trying to figure out a way to get back to St. George sooner than later. (Since Erin and I managed to stay out of all the pictures, I'll just have to post some of our children enjoying the food together. And not one of my picky eaters was anything other than th-rilled at the food.)

I'll bet if I thought about it some more, I could name something wonderful that I learned from every aunt, cousin, and friend that I came across on my two week jaunt. I can't help but feel so grateful and humbled that the Lord has surrounded me with strong women of faith, who love their children and are striving to be the best mothers they can be. Their influence on me is a great blessing in my life.


Sea Star said...

I am always watching the moms around me, taking note on things I like and don't like. I too am a bit too controlling on my kids and often have to remind myself they are just kids and that kids do thing differently and on their own schedule. I wish I didn't get so worked up about the little unimportant things. And I really wish I was always the quiet and calm disciplinarian. I know I raise my voice way too often around these parts and get cranky too easily.

As for the food.... My boys wanted to feed themselves from the start of solids and I have been cleaning up messes ever since. But they are good eaters and give most thing a try. Soph loved to let me feed her and I tried to keep her cute bibs clean. But she is very picky now... I wonder if there is some corrollation between that.

Your trip sounds like a like a fun. Catching up on all that family and old roommates and friends.

Yvonne said...

Funny that I should read this post today, because I was just thinking about the ways that I can learn from other mom's. I wish that I had more of them around to watch and emulate, I always learn so much. I think that I would be a better mom if the other mom's in my family were around more so that we could work together. I am debating baby #3 and it is such a hard decision, for many reasons, but one of them being, "Can I handle another?". I yell, I scold, I am not always as patient as I should be. I worry that another might push me beyond my capablility...I know that Spirit will guide me, but in the end, the decision will be mine. Thank you for always shedding light onto this equisite journey of mothering.. I learn from you and for that, I am thankful.

Michal said...

sea star,
i really think that motherhood is a journey. one reason that we can look at older women and want to emulate them (the way i feel about marjorie hinckley) is because they have made the journey. i'm sure that they improved along the way. i know that i have and i look forward to lots more improvement. maybe i'll eventually squash the impatient outburst-prone parts of me and become the patient, quiet disciplinarian that i want to be. if i keep working on it, it might just happen! especially if i allow christ to strengthen my weakness.

Michal said...

yvonne, i know what you mean about wondering if having another baby will push you beyond your limits. that's such a personal decision that i wouldn't dream of telling you what you should do. i do believe, however, that when god sends a baby to parents who are earnestly striving to be good parents, he also endows them with the capability to stretch and make room for the new little life. i'm sure that you are a better mother than you give yourself credit for. we all have those cranky, impatient days.

Molly said...

Thanks for this post. It was exactly what I needed today.

Angela said...

This is your best post yet! Wow- I just learned so many great things from you and your associations. I especially like the quite discipline and the fun ideas. I imagine they learned just as much from you as you did from them! Thanks for sharing!

Prudy said...

Michal, Michal, you are too kind. All of us are trying to learn from you, Superwoman. And besides, after a week away from the kids, I'm wondering if I had it all wrong.:) Send the kids to bed and break out the oreos!

Sonja said...

What an inspiring post! I love coming here because you really do relish motherhood. I loved reading about all those women who influence you and I'm sure they were learning from you too, as I do. :)

mommyofthree said...

This is also one of the things I love about visiting family and friends. It's nice to learn by watching others. Great post!

Becster said...

Let me warn you about the food can create aggravation and doesn't always bring out the quiet and patient disciplinarian! As long as I'm stocked up on stain remover and clean bibs then I'm usually okay. I always keep a good friend's motto in my mind..."only fill the cup as much as you are willing to clean up". If that means I have to refill Brandon's cup of milk 3 or 4 times during dinner, so be it. It was so good to see you in Utah! Come to D.C. anytime!!