Absent Without Guilt (AWoG)

Life With Their Girls

Life with my 2 girls sometimes means life with just a bit less of me. Inherent in the reality of the “sandwich generation” is an understanding that sometimes the top slice needs a little more attention than the bottom. This degree of wisdom is not easily nor unilaterally achieved. There’s a transition that occurs over time in support of this new reality whereby the bottom slice is finally able to handle multiple layers on its own – an open-face sandwich of sorts. My teenage girls have done that so beautifully and warmly these last few months.

I like, love and appreciate my two girls for so many reasons, with unconditional understanding of my evolving priorities and direction placing extremely high on that list these days. There’s a selflessness they show in ways that others would not necessarily note. Without surprise to me, it’s not so much what they say or do that has highlighted their enormous capacity for understanding and compassion; it’s what they don’t say, imply or suggest that makes the balancing act an artful challenge rather than an exhausting struggle or losing battle.

The beauty of maturing love is seen and heard so differently and with such greater clarity through the actions and voices of my daughters. Simply overhearing my baby return from school and confirm with our visitor, the man I have adored since I was a little girl, the one who has consistently taken care of any needs or requests, that she’ll be in her room and to get her if he needs anything elicits a feeling of joy that can’t be adequately described. Watching my oldest walk through the door and head directly to him with a smile, greeting and hug that overflows with genuine warmth and concern, I’m nearly moved to tears. Having dinner in a crowded restaurant, the outsider at a table of three, I observe the hilarious interaction between the silly young one to whom I gave birth and the silly older one from whom birth was given, recognizing how much that laughter is needed by her this day, nearly as much as the food and water. There is no option but to join in the infectious and comedic insanity of the conversation.

With pride I can firmly establish that through these months, there have been no complaints when the environment is changed or altered, no arguments, denials or attempts to bargain, no sad faces in response to a request or decision…and the pinnacle of all potential reactions…no lavishly poured out guilt about any real or perceived impact. No guilt at all in fact. It is such an overwhelming experience to watch your children ascend to a position of greater maturity, recognizing that the needs of others, especially elders, will often supersede their own.

There have been and will continue to be moments that necessitate my absence. Without fail, my beautiful teenage daughters will confirm that His love, mercy and compassion reside in their hearts…but not guilt. To God be the glory.

 

 

 

 

The Love Connection

It’s the seemingly insignificant moments that often have great meaning in our lives when we allow ourselves to see them in that way. Our hearts and minds are so easily lured to instances of grandeur that we sometimes miss the simple, yet breathtaking beauty of a single act of love shared right before our eyes. A spontaneous hug. An unanticipated answer of yes. A small sacrifice. A willingness to help because there’s a need.

As a mom, the breadth and depth of true love has become so clear. I had read about it, heard about it and sometimes thought that I saw it in others, but never with full understanding. My mom, my friends, even colleagues would describe how there is no greater love than that of a parent for a child. In fact, as a Christian, I knew that the greatest expression of love and sacrifice was that of God the Father for His Son….and for each of us as His children. What I didn’t know was that perhaps one of the most beautiful expressions of earthly love is a single act of kindness offered by the children you adore more than life itself to the parents who continue to love you more than life itself. Therein lies the love connection.

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Family Work Crew

There’s no remarkable story to tell here that defines that connection, just the beauty of the word “yes”. Yes, I’ll come with you as responded by Emma who rarely turns down an opportunity to enjoy her grandmother’s comfort cooking. (She’s made it very clear that no matter how hard I try, I can’t cook like her MeMaw.) It was followed by a yes from Olivia when I explained the trip was a mission of help and love which meant the possibility of work, even though I established no expectations of that, sharing that she could probably go in the lake while I worked. There was even a yes from my husband, followed by questions about what tools he should bring and a borrowing of our neighbor’s weed trimmer. Yes can truly be a beautiful thing.

Upon arrival, the girls could see how hard their grandparents had been working around the gardens, harder than they should have, with leaves in small piles, in need of two healthy young girls to finish bagging them. And they did, followed by assisting their dad in another area while I planted a few shrubs around the fountain. Their assistance wasn’t without sisterly arguments, fights, and scream-filled chases all across the lawn and around the house with Sprite coming out of one and on to the other. (Can there ever really be an “Olivia and Emma” story that begins and ends without the requisite drama that defines who they are?)

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New Life around the Fountain

While their contribution in the grand scope of lawn maintenance was small – raking and bagging what was left of the leaves – their willingness to do so yesterday was one of the greatest and yet most simple acts of connected love. They knew my parents could use the assistance. I think they also knew how much it meant to me. As we were leaving, I observed Olivia watching my mom, protectively trying to intervene and assist her in holding the leash of their very strong 2 year old Basset Hound “Sophie” as the three of them came outside to say goodbye to the four of us. While she may have exacerbated the excitement more than actually helping to control Sophie, her expression of love and concern for the two people I love so very much was the perfect manifestation of the love connection.

I Am Her; They Are Me

You’re driving along in the car with her, heading to school or coming back from an activity. Perhaps she sends you a message or text. (Don’t worry Emma, the one you sent the other night remains our secret.) Maybe you simply walk in during one of her conversations with someone else.  You’re not mistaken. You did hear it. Well, not “it” as much as you…or me.  Me, myself and I…and her. Something said with seriousness or completely for comedic purposes validates in that very moment that she lives in you, you live in them and sometimes they seem just a tad bit more advanced than you ever were. Of course, in all fairness, we didn’t have the Internet.

The Dirty Dancing Main Stone Lodge

I’m reminded of a brief mother-daughter exchange from a scene in the movie “Dirty Dancing” that has remained with me over the years for some reason. It’s the summer of 1963 and the Housemans have just finished dinner that evening after arriving at Kellerman’s Resort, the fictional getaway in the Catskill Mountains reserved for affluent families.  Recognizing the amount of food left on the table Mrs. Houseman says “Look at all this leftover food. Are there still starving children in Europe?” Baby replies with a tone of correction “Try Southeast Asia mom.” So why am I reminded? Well, it’s typically not for reasons of social justice. And not even because it’s one of my all time favorite movies. No, I’m reminded simply because my daughters, like Baby Houseman, can respond so quickly to the errors made by their mother, as I’m sure I often did to my mother. But, I’m also reminded that my influence, while failing to meet its objective at times, is definitely making the journey to within, just as hers made to me.

So how does that play out in 2014 as opposed to the fictional 1963? Well, it’s been an unusually cold winter, as we’re all aware. As such, this perpetually cold mom prefers to have her driver’s seat warmed before braving the cold to bring Emma for the 3 – 5 minute round trip to and from school. During those frigid mornings (yes, it’s New Orleans, I know, get over it), I had taken to asking my sweet angel to run out into the cold, start my car, turn on the defroster if necessary, and of course, engage the heat and heated seats to full power! Emma prefers to get to school early so I used the warmth as my bargaining chip. You see, it’s REALLY hard to get me out of bed into a cold house, much less a cold car. Well, a couple of weeks ago I walked outside and noticed the car wasn’t running. I thought perhaps she had warmed it and then turned it off. I got in, noticed my seat was cold and stated with somewhat believable indignation “My seat’s not even warm!”. The social justice was then unleashed. In response, with utter disbelief in Anarctica Mapexpression and tone, my baby girl retorted “Some kids in Antarctica don’t even have warm. Don’t be rude and greedy Mother!” She didn’t even crack a smile. We continued our journey to school…in the cold.

While the comment was rooted in sarcasm…I was there. I was definitely there.  How else would she have known to compare my situation to that of the imaginary freezing children of Antarctica? Where else would she have heard countless considerations of other children over the course of her short life span? They are me. And I am her.

As my 12 year old baby girl and I often say…Indeed!

Life Before My Two Girls…Way Before!

Life with My 2 Girls does not exist in a vacuum. It’s not the story of my life with them, or theirs with me. It’s intended to offer a glimpse of who we are together as a family, and that story begins with who I was as part of my family. Life with My 2 Girls is an inclusive family forum, weaving in bits and pieces of those who have most influenced who I am. The “those” to which I refer are my mom and my dad.  Any articulation of who I am as a person, as a parent, or even who I still strive to be, will always be reflective of who they are as parents to me. Through these pages I introduce the two people who have most influenced and inspired everything I have as a maternal offering to life with my 2 girls.

...and then there was 4

…and then there were 4

My childhood was as eventful or uneventful as I chose it to be. You see, my parents already had their girl and their boy. They were happy, settled and balanced when 3+ years later came *accident #3, and another 3 years later, *accident #4 – that’s me.  My sister and I were given much more latitude and freedom than my oldest sister and only brother. I guess by the time we were in the teen years, my parents were parenting professionals and figured we didn’t need as much micro-managing as the others. Or perhaps the late 70s/80s were less worrisome than the early 70s. Not sure. I do know that this freedom we enjoyed was a coveted benefit, and one that had to be exercised with much responsibility…which it was for the most part. I can’t remember either of us, well, none of us actually, getting into trouble or hanging with the wrong crowd. It was all good.

What my parents did for me is allow me to be who I was supposed to be. They didn’t force me to be this, or do that, or get this grade or be in this club. (Besides, if I wanted a certain grade on something, I just asked dad for help and he usually took over the project and I went about my business doing the fun stuff a child does while he finished it.) I had to make decisions on my own about who and what I would be, and then be accountable to those decisions. Okay, so maybe allowing me to decide not to stay for the remainder of the 2 weeks at Camp Fire Girls’ Camp Wi-Ta-Wentin 3 hours away, requiring them to leave the rest of the family behind on July 4th to come get me because I was “homesick” was a bit much in the “freedom of choice” category, but you can have hamburgers any day of the week and I couldn’t handle 1 more day with the swimming/camp dictator making me do laps (otherwise presented as “homesickness” with sobbing for extra drama). That’s just responsible parenting!

Dad who drove 3 hours to Camp Wi-Ta-Wentin

Dad and me

As I reflect back, the only conclusion to be made is that I truly had a fun and love-filled childhood. There was never a summer without a family vacation. There was never an event that one or both didn’t attend. If a team needed a coach, mom or dad helped out.  Our big Christmas Eve party was such an anticipated event for me and others each year as they hosted family, friends and neighbors. We never missed Mardi Gras parades or Mardi Gras day – Dad had an amazing collection of doubloons. They introduced me to country music concerts in the Superdome as I got older.  They have always been young at heart, enjoying many activities with us and continuing on into their empty-nest years, like riding their bikes to the French Quarter or City Park via the ferry boat across the Mississippi River. They represented the best of middle-class, family-fun entertainment and togetherness. I still love every moment of time I get to spend with them. In fact, our friends enjoyed our parents as well and still do. They did their absolute best as parents…and still do.

Were they perfect? Absolutely not, and neither would allow me to ever profess such a statement. That’s just not who they are , but writing about imperfections serves no purpose for any of us beyond taking up valuable space that can be better served by sharing how those same imperfections allow us opportunities to fail so we can learn and grow and become that much more awesome. There are many things I do differently than they did simply because those decisions are aligned with the person I’ve become, which ironically, is built upon their many influences. My parents were very unobtrusive – I’m all up in the girls’ business, but because it’s how I show my love for them and concern for their well-being, just as my parents did, with a different approach. They rarely offered unsolicited advice or opinions – I must have received their combined supplies of both, but I still call my mommy and daddy exclusively with certain questions. They didn’t scrutinize my performance or grades – Olivia and Emma, quite unfortunately, are not shielded from such scrutiny, but no one shows more pride and celebration of my achievements than mom and dad ever did and still do!

3 Generations

3 Generations

What I most want to share about my my mom and dad is how incredibly appreciative they are of everything or anything they receive or have, always placing little value on material things. What they have consistently valued above all other earthly things is their relationship with their children. There is no better or more vivid image of unconditional love than that which my parents have unselfishly lavished upon each of us over the years. Olivia and Emma, for that characteristic that was graciously passed on to me, you can each thank your grandparents.

Always there for the girls

Always there for the girls

(Note: The term “accident” was replaced by my husband several years ago with the term “surprise” after he noted with great compassion how offensive the former sounded as opposed to the delight incited by the latter. It’s also important to note that the compassion was not directed to me, but to our daughter Olivia. Before my conversion, I occasionally referred to my dear first born child as an “accident”, but with no ill intent, which of course never negates the resulting impact to the person. I may have even made her aware that the “accident”, now known as a “surprise”, resulted from a sticker mixup in the Catholic sticker book.)

“You’re a Pain in my Ask!”

My girls are such creative thinkers. You just never know what their beautiful amazing minds will produce next. In fact, they recently came up with a new phrase for sharing their most heart-felt, intense feelings for each other. Struggling to keep it within age-appropriate boundaries, they somewhat successfully established a new pre-war response for those special moments, the ones that are indeed indicative of a pending battle…. “You’re a pain in my ask!”

With sadness I must share that they really don’t care for each other on occasion. Actually, they despise each other a good bit of the time, and during those times, the commentary can be quite sharp and rather cutting. I don’t know about your kids, but mine find ways to hurl the most sarcastic, brutal and insanely mean insults at each other on a fairly frequent basis.

The Loyde Café Sarcasm Served 24 Hours

Service with a Smirk

I understand the origin of the sarcasm (with great regret I must add).  In full transparency, there wasn’t a snoball’s (NOLA spelling) chance in #$!! that either could or would grow up in this household and not reap the benefits of socialized sarcasm. Interestingly, or not, my psychoanalyst once told me that sarcasm is a form of anger. If you dig deep enough…you’ll see it. So don’t dig. Just call it humor with an edge for now.

While sarcasm surrounds the predominance of that which leaves their mouths, they can actually be quite entertaining without its use. Truly, you just never know what words of wisdom, humor or oddness might exit at any moment. Feeling a sense of community and sharing right now, let me introduce you to more than just “You’re a pain in my ask!” Feel free to suggest the author in the comment section  – this could be fun.

  1. With eyes pointed like daggers at her sister she says “(Insert Name) always gets what (Insert Same Name) wants.” (apparently this daughter and “Jimmy” are one with the 3rd)______________
  2. Part 1 (Insert Name) those are my cookies. I paid for those with my own money!”______________
  3. Part 2 “…and I’m eating it with my own mouth” (all food in our household is fair game unless branded with a Sharpie)______________
  4. “Karma is a (by eye contact only, knowing her limits). I love her, except when she happens to me.”______________
  5. “mom u cant luse something u dont have haha jk” (comment back to me on Facebook re: loss of coolness)______________
  6. Part 1 “Mom, post this picture. Come on. And put one of your clever comments.” (which I did post of her dressed in my
    Mocking her mother...Bluetooth and all

    Mocking her mother …Bluetooth and all

    clothes with Bluetooth on ear) ______________

  7. Part 2 I’m so hot and professional at the same time. I’m the whole package.” (self-adoring comment made below the picture)______________
  8. “Who sings this song?” (the other sister answers) “Well let’s let them sing it.”______________
  9. “I am mad at her. Therefore I will be mean.”______________
  10. “I’m not obsessed. I’m dedicated and there’s a difference Mother!” (in reference to 1 Direction)______________
  11. “Is that a date?” (mom about the dried fruit on the cheese plate) “Yes.” (confirmed by grandmother)  “That’s something (Insert Name) never has.”______________

With that I’ll close with a note from my senior memory book written to me in 1983 by one of my teachers .

Kerrie,                                                                                                                                                                                                 Best wishes to one always there, whose smile bubbled with cynicism and humor. Remember to let humor stay with you even in the trying times. With this, you will go on. Take care. My special concern goes with you. J.Crxxxxx                                                                                                                                                                                           (Just watch those “comments”. They can cut.)

Goodnight everyone. Don’t forget to tip your waiters and waitresses.

“Is that bad?”

Such an “Emma” moment it was. In fact, few can get away with some of the things Emma does…or says. Even Olivia has been known to pass from anger to laughter in a flash of a moment. On this particular night, I never got to anger. Sometimes, her quick wit eludes even the fiercest of tempers. There’s really not that much to the story. It’s just a good way to introduce Emma. She had asked me to study science with her earlier that evening, when I was finished working of course. Apparently she had a science test the next day. She doesn’t really talk much to me these days, unless she needs something specific, like a study partner. I’m first string for science, but not for social studies. We’re ranked like that – 1st string and 2nd string for various subjects. Her dad is 1st string for social studies as it seems I ask too many questions and point out her spelling errors to which she responds “This is not English mother!”

Tuesday had been a really hectic day for me and I had so much left to do that evening. Having just started a Masters program a couple weeks earlier (and 27 years later than the last time I was in college), I was feeling overwhelmed with class time, reading time, essay research, technology and this thing called APA formatting. Earlier that day, I had remembered that I had forgotten a project team commitment due EOD (end of day – which is quite subjective when you work in a remote environment). I finished editing the final product around 8:45pm. I was so anxious to get started on my 2nd paper, but Emma came in and reminded me about my promise to study with her.  With anxiety, I rushed her into the chair in my office and got us started.

As I’m sitting across from her asking her questions in support of her academic success (she’s quite the smarty), enduring complaints and feedback from her at every turn about the errors of my study partner ways, I notice her head – and eyes – facing downward to her hands, which couldn’t be seen. They were slightly covered by a blanket, which was my first and only clue. I’m a pretty smart mom. I know when someone’s looking at her phone. I do it myself sometimes during meetings. It’s so addictive – you hear that sound that tells you someone thinks you or your answers are critical to solving some world problem at that very moment. Anyway, I look at her with mom’s eyes and a mom tone and ask her what she’s doing. She glances up, looks straight at me with confidence and says “Don’t worry, I’m not texting. I’m on Instagram.”  Seeing the look on my face, she asks and answers her own question in that self-critical, yet not really regretful tone, one that only Emma can employ with some measure of success – “Is that bad? I think that’s bad.”

I started my paper around 10:15pm that night and worked well past midnight. I often do just about anything for my 2 girls. Is that bad? I think that’s bad.