I Speak Mom

I have never struggled for word choice in the English language. My mother was a quiet woman and a master of the understatement. She often said to me when I was young, “My, you are verbal.” I don’t think it was a compliment, even though I took it that way. I relate to people by talking to them.

I especially enjoy conversing with people when I travel to non-English speaking countries. This is a bit of a dilemma because I don’t have any conversational competency outside of English. Yet, I enjoy this aspect of travel more than site-seeing. If I can’t get a café eye-level view of a city, I don’t feel like I had a good visit. I always attempt to have a conversation, whether I know the language or not.

My children laugh at my badly-mangled mixed use of Italian, French and Spanish. I know a few phrases of Russian and Chinese too. I pretty much throw in the kitchen-sink. But, it seems to work. I certainly get points for trying. I savor the moments of conversing with a street vendor, learning about people’s everyday lives and hearing about their views on the world.

I do though have an experience that transcends language — motherhood.  While adult-only travel allows for unstructured serendipity, kids serve as a universal ice-breaker. Their presence makes it easy for people to bridge language barriers. By using hand gestures and a few words I can have a meaningful conversation with any mom anywhere in the world. I can say “hello,” “please,” “thank-you” and “I have four kids.” I know how to ask for coffee, wine, beer or a chocolate crepe. I can count to 10. I know all these words in 5 languages. What more would I need?

Parenting is a universal experience. The look in our eyes says it all. No matter where in the world we live, we all want the same thing for our children – the opportunity to live a happy and healthy life. It doesn’t take an extensive vocabulary to communicate this sentiment. It makes the world a smaller, friendlier place.

I experienced this feeling on U.S. soil a few days ago when I took my second oldest to college. My son and I arrived at his new dorm room nearly the same time as his other two roommates and their mothers. The tiny room that will be home to the three boys for the next nine months is smallish and was designed for two people, so quarters are tight. We exchanged hellos, the boys divvied up the space into thirds and then the mom army got to work. We helped make beds, unloaded suitcases and carted out trash from the 9×12 space.

One of the moms was from Ireland the other was from Korea. While we all spoke English, very little was said during the 45 minutes or so that we shared the space. It was our final opportunity to get our 18-year-olds “set.” Our final push for order and then we needed to let go. When we bid our goodbyes it was apparent on our faces what was going through our minds. I think we looked something like the three wise monkeys. We hope, we worry, we dream. No words needed; we speak Mom.

Three Wise Monkeys at Barceloneta Beach

Three Wise Monkeys at Barceloneta Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Language (mindagainstheart.wordpress.com)

Zigging and Zagging through Life

As my second son prepares to leave for college this week, I feel happy that he will pursue his dreams and goals at the school of his choice, and I know that on many levels, he’s more than ready to leave the nest.

He has done his best to soil that nest over the past few months.

However, I’m also filled with final-hour words of wisdom he won’t stop to hear, and the fear that 18 years of values, morals and role-modeling haven’t left their mark.

photoCAMXJ4D9You see, a few days ago, I moved my oldest son out of an apartment near the university where, exactly two years ago, we installed him with feelings of anticipation, pride and excitement.

Let’s just say that although he loved the school, made great friends and grew in wonderful ways, overall it was a failed experiment, filled with a mixture of heartache, disappointments, missteps and unexpected drama. He is now transitioning in a new city, where he will get a fresh start at a different university.

So, forgive me for being a little jaded on the “it’s so exciting to head off to college” thing.

Like most kids, I was taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That we should take the quickest route home from school, a friend’s house or work. That Cliff Notes (I know, they’re called Spark Notes now) can help us get through novels faster, flash cards will prepare us for graduate-school exams, the right attitude, outfits and long hours might help us advance at work, and a two-week, guided tour of Europe will show us all the highlights we need for our photo albums.

Unfortunately, most of our parents, teachers and bosses didn’t tell us to take our time, to enjoy diversions and to smell roses along the way.

On an intellectual level, I know that the zigs and zags and bumps in my older son’s journey have made him a stronger, more grounded and better-balanced individual. The fact that he has suffered some setbacks doesn’t mean that he is a failure.

I need to remind him that Thomas Edison made something like 1,000 attempts in his route to inventing the light bulb. When a journalist asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

My kids should know that they can take as many steps as they need to find success and happiness on their own terms.

I hope they understand that when we’re in too much of a hurry to get from point A to point B, when we believe the road should be straight and flat, we miss a lot of lovely details, excitement and learning opportunities.

“Life is never a straight line, it is full of twists and turns,” writes Warren T. VanderVen (I have no idea who that is, but I like the quote). “The way to lead a happy life is not to avoid them but to embrace them; to find the happiness in them.”

And so, I shouldn’t worry about #2 son when I leave him at school next weekend.

He’ll probably love the school he chose, but then again, he may find it too small and stifling.

It’s possible he’ll chose a major he’s excited about, take stimulating classes with interesting professors, and find a job in that field. Or, he may graduate, have no clue what to do next and move back home for a few years.

He could form a close bond with his roommates, but also, they might clash over music, noise, cleanliness and overnight visitors.

He may fall in love with a classmate, experience the thrill of young love in a college setting and end up spending his life with her. However, it’s more likely that he will experience ups and downs in several relationships, and suffer a broken heart or two.

The point is, if his journey is less than straight and trouble-free, it’s okay. He will learn from his mistakes and snags and bumps and hurts.

After all, life is a marathon, not a sprint.

My hope is that both of my college-age boys – as well as my younger kids — will realize that the unexpected turns, the distractions and the diversions could be as important as their perceived, immediate goals.

I hope they’ll give themselves permission to embrace the zigs and zags and bumps in the road as part of life’s amazing journey.

Linda Williams Rorem, 19 Aug. 2013
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Dog Days of Summer

I love summer.

Summer feels warm, tastes like watermelon, smells of sunscreen lotion and sounds like splashing water. The days are longer, the “to do list” is shorter. People smile more. The pace just seems to be slower and easier. In summer I read the newspaper less and trashy novels more. Unplugging from everyday news allows me to think that everything is going much better in the world. It probably isn’t, but at least I don’t know about it. Ignorance is bliss.

Most of us thrive on structure and routine, however, summer allows us to let go a little and feed our “inner child” an extra scoop of ice cream. As Fall approaches, the air turns crisper and the atmosphere shifts. Like squirrels stashing nuts, people seem to have their head down more and the pace quickens. Just like a great vacation, though, I want to hang on to my summer euphoria a little longer in the dog days of summer.

Before September closes in I plan to:IMAG1257

  1. Eat ice cream
  2. Take a favorite hike
  3. Visit a beach and track sand through the house
  4. Ride my bike
  5. Mix and drink Ginger Beer Lemon Mint Medley
  6. Spend a lazy Sunday wandering through my local farmer’s market
  7. Eat a dinner of hamburgers, corn-on-the-cob and watermelon
  8. Make s’mores
  9. Go to a baseball game
  10. Take a short road trip

The simple pleasures are truly the best. If I work my way through my list one more time, I can move on to back-to-school mode with a little less remorse. Then when the days are darker and shorter, I can revisit my “summer state of mind.”

Here is the recipe for the Ginger Beer drink, which can be made alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Either one tastes great!

Ginger Beer Lemon Mint Medley

Ginger Beer Lemon Mint Medley

Ginger Beer Lemon Mint Medley
1/2 lemon squeezed
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
mint leaves
3 slices fresh ginger
Muddle first 4 ingredients
Fill glass with ice
Pour ginger beer to top and enjoy

Dear readers, what would you like to do one more time before summer slips away?

Carol Lewis Gullstad August 12, 2013


Permission to Love Swag

Nothing can kill the “had a great time out with my girlfriends” buzz better than returning home to a mess.

When the kids were young, I could literally retrace their – and my husband’s – steps after a few hours away. Sherlock Linda could detect: Dad made pancakes, dripped batter on burners…child spilled syrup on table…child added Nestle Quik to milk (and counter top)…boys used seven blankets to build fort on bunk beds…someone opened 13 video cases to find missing tape…boys learned how to make paper airplanes…toddler “ate” Cheerios for snack, all over house…and so on.

Fortunately, the messes diminished as the kids aged. So, on Friday night, I was shocked to see dozens of small packages strewn across the kitchen counter. And then, upon closer inspection, I realized it was MY stuff.

photo-20Yes, the box of swag I had shipped home from last weekend’s BlogHer 13 conference had arrived, and my daughter had rifled through it for the goodies I had promised.

Every conference attendee received a bag full of stuff – promotions that companies wanted to market to the 5,000 or so, mostly female, primarily aged 35 – 55, bloggers. Other advertisers handed out their wares at alluring booths adjacent to the conference rooms.

Of course, I loaded up on lotions, dog toys, nail polish, lip balm, key chains, coffee packets, almonds, cups and even a T-shirt emblazoned with my daughter’s nickname, “Peapod” (a new grocery delivery service).

When I returned from a GNO on Friday night, Pea and my husband were watching “So You Think You Can Dance” downstairs (one of them CAN dance; the other wants to reincarnate as Gregory Hines). Pea heard my footsteps and shouted, “Mom, your box got here. Dad thinks you have a ‘Free-Stuff’ problem!”

It’s true, I love “free stuff.” And I come by the trait honestly.

My maternal grandmother was the queen of cheap. Although she and my grandfather were financially secure, Nana never passed up a freebie. In fact, she filled the candy bowl in her living room with chocolate covered mints pilfered from their Yacht Club’s hostess stand.

If that isn’t irony, I don’t know what is.

Back in the day, banks offered cool stuff – toasters, dishes, electric blankets – as incentives for deposits. So, my Pop-Pop gave Nana a certain amount of money to move around as the spirit – and swag – moved her. I know that was the source of many Christmas presents.

My well-to-do grandpa wasn’t immune to his wife’s obsession. In fact, Nana and Pop-Pop’s bridge group met in one bank every Tuesday morning for the free coffee and donuts. True story.

After Pop-Pop died, my mom was astonished to discover Nana’s stash when helping her move into assisted living. Apparently, an entire closet brimmed with useless items from banks.

Although the taste for the free treat may have skipped my mom’s generation, it certainly hit me hard. And while I don’t want to “out” anybody here, I can say that when visiting a certain older sibling in Rochester, NY, and Minneapolis, we planned trips to supermarkets known for generous and savory samples.

Here in Seattle, we have Costco. And if you time the trip right, you can enjoy a full free meal. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like or would never otherwise taste the treat offered; if it’s free, you take it.

After that, you buy the multi-pack and watch it grow mold or gather dust in your kitchen cabinet.

Several years ago, my co-blogger Carol and I enrolled our youngest kids in a weekly gymnastics class. Not being the type to hover during practice, ready to advise the coaches on training our budding Olympians, we escaped to the local Trader Joe’s every week.

The class started at noon, so we knew TJ’s samples could serve as lunch. We always circled back for a second helping, hoping the server wouldn’t remember us.

We then purchased the promotional ingredients to replicate the dish in our own homes, and often, at least in my home, that food turned moldy or gathered dust. Even worse, the TJ fare occasionally got pushed to the rear of my deep cabinets and was forgotten.

That is, until the pantry moths started hatching.

This became a multi-month problem, which began with throwing out tons of food (mostly all-natural grains), continued with wiping down the cabinets with ammonia and ended with installing fly-paper like traps from my pest-control agent.

It was probably payback for my “Free-Stuff” problem. However, from the looks of the bag of swag on my counter, I didn’t learn my lesson.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 5 Aug. 2013
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