Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Adventures in Real Parenting: The Generational Trekker

Source: Facebook page creeping
Twenty years ago I was hugely pregnant with Chloe and pretty much scared out of my head because I hadn't a clue about what I was going to do with a baby. She was one of those things that sounded good in theory, but as the reality drew near, I wondered how I could have ever been so arrogant to think I could raise a child. At the time I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me I would eventually help raise three. "Yeah, right," I would have said. "Now hand me that diaper, I have to practice folding it before this baby arrives."

While I waited for Chloe to arrive, I hid my fears by having Big Ideas. I would speak to her in French. We were going with cloth diapers. None of those nasty landfill cluttering disposables for our little cherub's perfect bottom. She would be as unfamiliar with McDonalds as a child born in 1850. Every day would be a new opportunity to expose her to rich language, images and music that would set her little synapses on fire, high culture. Television? Obviously not. I was going to make her baby food when she started eating solids. I was going to nurse her until she was old enough to speak in a full sentence to ask, "Mother, may I have some coffee with this milk, please?"

The big day came. She was born at exactly 1 p.m. which was when As the World Turns came on in Chicago and so I wouldn't get to see it that day. Dang it. After suffering the indignities of being cleaned and measured, the nurse deposited Chloe into my waiting arms. Instead of that picture perfect, tears springing to your eyes moment, all I remember is thinking that when she cried in my face, her breath smelled like my favorite turkey with mayo on rye.

By the time she was two weeks old, we'd developed a mother/child rhythm that included lots of lying on the bed while she alternately dozed and nursed and I watched a lot of Designing Women and old movies on AMC. I never spoke French to her and breastfeeding ceased well before she spoke in full sentences. When Chloe was six months old, we moved in with MathMan's sister Mary and her family and suddenly Chloe's circle of influence exploded. She began clicking through the milestones so fast I could barely keep her baby book up to date. It wasn't just Mother and Daddy celebrating the firsts. It was a roomful of adults and two adolescents. Chloe found her first audience.

Although I'd failed to follow through on speaking French or daily visits to some museum, library or opera, I did manage to shield my precious darling from the evils of fast food. Her babysitter Joan introduced her to McDonald's and I only found out when we were driving by the Golden Arches and Chloe chirped from her carseat in the back "Frenfry Coke!"

Recently, as I was cleaning out the garage, I found the Rubbermaid container holding all the Happy Meal toys we collected over the years. Big ideas.

The only synapse stimulating happened when MathMan, who worked horrifically long hours at a Radio Shack back then, took Chloe on his lap and read to her from his college Trigonometry and Calculus text books. I was teaching her that the cow goes moo and Daddy was teaching her about sign and co-sign. I'm not even sure I typed that correctly, but the hell with it. MathMan can't spell definitely correctly so we're even-ish.

And now she's turning twenty. I am so proud of this girl who, despite my housecat-like mothering skills, has grown into an intelligent, thinking, creative, beautiful and funny woman. She's now blogging so you might get glimpses of her side of things. I read her posts and I'm quite blown away by her writing skills. I'm also a little miffed that she refers to me as Mother, but then the truth is she does call me Mother. She's embraced the southernism of calling her father Daddy, and I am Mother. It's a little weird. My mother always called my grammie Mother. I suppose Chloe could call me much worse.

When Chloe was little and still an only child and MathMan was working those long hours, she and I spent a lot of time together. We played together or she played alone near me as I did things around the house. We played lots of dress up. Well, she did. I applauded her quite a bit.

Every once in a while, I ask her if she remembers something specific like when we would go to the beach in Evanston where she would play on the shore and we'd build sand castles and then she'd run back and forth from the water to me where I sat on a folding lawn chair sometimes smoking and reading books like Anais Nin's biography. To me the memories are still so fresh. To her, they're fuzzy although she remembers that I used to hold Barbie on the steering wheel of our car and let her drive. Maybe she remembers other things? The sentence usually ends with an upward inflection. That's okay. I remember for the both of us.

It's still hard to accept the fact that Chloe is going to turn twenty on Friday. We talk about political systems and Jane Austen characters. We look for lost books and laugh at the same scenes in Upstairs Downstairs. She recommends books to me. She still falls down and I hug her - oftentimes now, figuratively -  and try to make it better even when I can't or shouldn't. I'm learning to balance holding on and letting go.

I can't help but think that at her age, I was working full time and going to school and living with Craig and sorta kinda lying to my parents about it. Within five years, I'd be a mother. Now that's a scary thought.

I've made it clear to our kids that, given the opportunity, I intend to be the best grandmother ever. However I am in no rush to get there. Thankfully, Chloe seems to be on a different life timeline than I was at her age. She has plans that don't include getting married and having babies. I've heard noises about a dog and cat and a nice Jewish boy who plays football for an SEC school and will be making bushels of money when he gets out of school (does he exist?), but no serious talk of marriage and babies.

For that I am grateful because I still have a lot of growing up to do myself.


  1. OMG so much has happened, I miss you Lisa....I really do....boy have i got some readin' to catch up on :)

    But I'm back, and I'm quite serious about that xoxox

  2. I only ever had one child who's also May born but now a generation older than Chloe. The first time he was introduced to sugar was when a friend brought her daughter to visit carrying Easter little baskets for both of them. They ate the candy and chocolate and proceeded to run around for 2 hours after which they both went to sleep. We imagine how we will mould them before they're born but the most amazing thing of all is that children arrive with much of their adult personality already fully formed. They teach us well and always seem to be a step or two ahead of us.

    Chloe is a wonderful young woman and I hope you'll tell her Happy Birthday from another friend and admirer.

  3. Happy birthday to Chloe, and to you, Lisa. <3

  4. yes, happy birthday to both of you.

    oh the things we say we will/won't do when we're mothers. "my children will not sleep in our bed," is one of my a favorite pre-birth announcements. we wake up more mornings with both of them laying long-ways between us than in their own beds.

  5. Happy Almost Birthday to Chloe!

    What a beautiful post.

    I was putting my boys to bed tonight and my 6 year old asked me if he was going to the sitter's tomorrow.

    Somehow we got into a conversation about how when he was a baby (before I had to go back to work) it was just him and me. For once, he was all ears. I told him how I cried every day on the way to work, because I didn't want to leave him with somebody else, and I left out how much we had been through with his colic etc.
    He asked me if I still cried and I told him no, well, maybe every once in awhile because I miss him.

    He's a quiet guy, but when he hugged me goodnight and smiled, it occurred to me that this was the first big kid conversation we had ever had. It also occurred to me that he needed to hear how much I'd rather be with him than anywhere else.

    I hope one day to have what you and Chloe have. You are a great mom, my friend.

  6. You decided to keep your kids instead of selling them for a six-pack & a hoagie? All these years, I thought it was a well-penned hoax. Strange bird, you are.

  7. Great post Lisa. Chloe sounds like a very smart young woman. I'm not surprised considering the parents that she has.

    As for "a nice Jewish boy who plays football for an SEC school and will be making bushels of money when he gets out of school" tell he she needs to follow @PhillyLutz43 (Phillip Lutzenkirchen) on Twitter. Great receiver that plays for Auburn. He's from Marietta (went to Lassiter HS.)He'll make big bucks in the NFL.

  8. That picture is awesome. :) glad she lets you Facebook creep. My mom and I were just us until I was almost five. I remember all the little things we did together often. Its special that first girl and mommy.

  9. Ah yes, the "I will nevers" - I still break them.

    I had a quick peek at her blog - love the idea of be selfish at college. And Cambridge??? Wow

  10. Birthday greetings for Chloe!

    I still remember going to the beach in Evanston when I was only 3 years old.

  11. Awwwww.....

    Happy 20th Birthday to Chloe!

  12. Wow, the writing talent runs in the family. Happy birthday to Chloe. (Though I do resent having another blog addiction, when I should be gestating my own big idea.)

  13. Oh, the best-laid plans of mothers. Yes, we were going to provide a childhood of cloth diapers and home-cooked meals and every parental perfected decision.

    And then, real life stepped in.

    Looks to me like Chloe managed just fine, in an *imperfect* world.

    And probably all the better for it.

  14. What a beauty she is. You done good, little lady.

  15. Thank you so much for these lovely comments. I've passed your good wishes on to Chloe who has a birthday tomorrow (Saturday), not Friday as I wrote earlier. Doh!

  16. Parenting lesson number one: tumble dry low on delicate cycle to prevent shrinking. Parenting lesson number two: there are no plans. Only reactions.

    Happy Birthday to your beautiful girl, Lisa!

  17. Lovely post. Happy 20th to Chloe!

  18. Parenting is what happens when you are making other plans. We did do the cloth diaper thing, except for rare road trips. But when the reality of parenting & juggling multiple kids sets in, you do what you have to to get through it. I bribed one of the kids re potty training... poop in the potty & I will give you cookies (desperate times called for desperate measures!). I always loved that expression "they take you by the and & they take you by the heart."
    Still the shock of all those bodily fluids, how did one little person produce so much laundry (as a result of all those bodily fluids!). That first year knocks you socks off when you realize your life will never be the same & you may never be able to do the same amount of stuff in the course of a day ever again.
    But then in a blink of an eye, they move from elementary to middle to, before you know it they are graduating from high school- the gateway to adulthood!
    Enjoy your baby girl's bd & Mother's day.

  19. Growing up is something we imagine other people do... I say "imagine" because it's a fiction. That used to bother me - now I rejoice that it's so.

    Who our children become seems to me a miracle. We had a hand in it, but it's not easy to see exactly what that hand did and what happened for other reasons. For me, if there is love between us when it's time to go out into the world, then we've perhaps accomplished the most important thing.

    The rest is now up to them, as it has been for decades for us... That's what I can't get used to.

  20. Wow. They grow up fast, no? Congrats to you and Mathman for raising three fantastic kids. Ok, two kids and one adult.

  21. This was a very touching post, Lisa. But, I do have to say, the post where you went into graphic detail about your last pregnancy was/is my favorite.

  22. The young girls I know aren't even talking about marriage and babies until they're at least 30. I was an old maid at 20 when I was single with no prospects. Times they are a changin'... My neighbor's daughter got married this weekend (age 37), and my 30 yr old daughter (also Chloe, by the way) just called off her July wedding. She says she's not ready, may not ever be ready, not sure that marriage is for her.

    I have to stop writing now. My own words are making me feel so old.


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