Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

NESTING

At first, I thought the debris strewn all over my front porch came from the gutters, after a soaking spring rain, so I gathered it up and threw it in the trash.  But when more debris mysteriously reappeared the next day, it dawned on me that the mess was the building materials for a bird’s nest.  This time, I left it alone.

My own building project – total kitchen and bathroom reno – was finally completed and, over the weekend, as I was busily putting my own nest back in order, I kept watch from my living room windows as a robin redbreast built her home on one of my porch pillars.

She’s not a very good housekeeper, I thought, as the unruly nest began to take shape.  There was a bit of masking tape and paper weaved into the structure.  They use whatever they can find…  And the nest wasn’t the perfect little basket I imagined, as much of the dried twigs and loose grasses spilled down the pillar.

Once she took up residence, I felt compelled to keep tabs on the expectant mother.  I felt guilty that I’d thrown away her initial attempt at building the nest.  Each time I entered or exited my front door, she grew skittish and quickly flew away, only to return minutes later.  Now my movements are tentative, and I’m careful with the door.  I feel protective of her and of the tiny blue eggs I imagine beneath her.

That robin might not be the impeccable housekeeper that my mom has always been – that she has taught me to be – but she’s guarding those fragile eggs with the fiercest maternal instinct.  With Mother’s Day coming, that little bird has me thinking about what it means to be a good mother.  It doesn’t matter how neat the house is, or if a mom – especially a harried, working mom – gives her kids PBJ’s for dinner.  A good mother gives of her time, she nurtures, and she puts her children’s needs before her own.  Her love is boundless.

To all the moms – and especially to my mom – Happy Mother’s Day.

You are truly amazing!  XOXOXO

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers, Pop Culture

Red Hat Lady for a Day

Have you ever seen a group of women all wearing red hats, and flamboyantly dressed in purple?  These older ladies can be seen lunching and laughing, and generally whooping it up all around town.  Some of them even wear feather boas… Truth be told, my mother is one of them and, on a recent visit home, I crashed the party.  But I did not wear the requisite purple, nor the red hat.   According to Red Hat Society lore, someone my age wears lavender and pink instead.

The Red Hat Society was founded quite by accident by a woman who bought a stylish red hat for herself, then started giving them as gifts to her friends.  The purple attire came about as an homage to the poem that begins, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…”  Now, there are a bazillion chapters all over the country.

On the first Wednesday of every month, when my mother and her friends get together adorned in their whimsical outfits, they remain mindful that everyone is not as carefree and blessed as they are.  That’s why they never fail to pass around an envelope for their donation to a food pantry.

I was expecting lunch to be a quiet affair in a subdued café.  Instead, it was a raucous celebration in a sports bar with Bon Jovi and Led Zep piped through the loud speakers.  The ladies talked about hair and makeup, current events, and their families, just like my friends do when we get together.  And I nearly forgot how much older they were until the talk turned from gardening, to their former careers, and to their numerous doctor appointments.  Save for the arthritis, they were mostly just like their younger counterparts.

So thank you Red Hatters for welcoming me into your circle, and for offering me a window into what lies ahead.  It promises to be fun and fabulous!

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Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

How Do You See Yourself?

A collective groan came from the women in my office – myself included – when we recently found out we had to write a self-evaluation for our annual performance review.  Meanwhile, the guys seemed unfazed.  Why were the men so comfortable when it came to tooting their own horns, while we women struggled to recognize our talents and quantify our skills – let alone engage in anything resembling self-promotion?

So, as the guys retreated to their respective offices to write their evaluations, the women did what women do – we came together – to talk and share, and basically buoy each other up.

We put aside basic competencies and all the long hours we logged in at our desks.  Instead, we thought about who the three of us are when we’re not at the office: a mother to a ‘tween and a teen; a preacher; and a writer.  We looked at all the “life stuff” each of us brings to the table.

Hearing my co-workers’ observations reminded me of the way my mother would often compliment me when I was a girl.  When I dismissed her praise, insisting that she couldn’t possibly be objective, she would reinforce it saying, “I wish you could see yourself the way other people see you.”

In the end, I wrote about my challenges and accomplishments.  We all did.  Because when we saw ourselves as our peers see us, we looked pretty damn good.

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

A Red Swing Coat

She stepped out of the taxi, so vibrant, so cute, in her hot pink woolen swing coat.  Her lipstick was a perfect match.  She opened her vintage black patent leather kiss lock purse to pay the driver.  Then she was on the move.  She clearly had places to go.   It was many years ago, but I still remember that older lady in the bubblegum pink swing coat, and how I thought: I want to be her someday.

Now let me preface this by saying that my mom has not yet reached the age of that older lady in the pink swing coat.  She has a way to go yet.  But during one of our recent shopping expeditions, the topic of dressing one’s age came up.

Me, I’m of the belief that looking fashionable has no age limit.  My mother, however, was concerned that the pair of dress pants she was trying on were not exactly age appropriate for her.  “Are they too trendy?” she wanted to know.

Forget that we were shopping in a store that caters to women of a certain age.

“No,” I asserted.  “They fit you like a glove – and you look great.”

She shrugged, “I don’t know…”

vintage-red-swing-coatJust then, the older lady in the pink swing coat came to mind.

“Do you like these pants?”  I asked, “Will you enjoy wearing them?” and before she could answer, I added, “Then who cares what anybody else thinks.”

I shouldn’t have had to convince her to buy the pants.  It’s a shame that we, as women, are always questioning ourselves, especially about our appearance.

As for me, I’m still planning to wear a lively swing coat someday.  But I’m not a pink girl.  So mine will be red.  And with it, I’ll wear lipstick that’s a perfect match.

red poppy

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Mothers and Daughers

Cookie Day

christmas-cookies

“Gotta stop at the market on my way home and pick up some more butter,” my officemate announced.  “The cookie factory is open for business.”

She was in the midst of a chopped pecan, chocolate chip, sanding sugar, pre-Christmas baking frenzy.  I’ve been there myself many times.  But I’m sitting it out this year.  Because in a little over a week, I’ll be home for Christmas, enjoying my mother’s sweet and delicate holiday treats.

Every year, about a week before Christmas, my mother (picture an Italian-American Martha Stewart) puts on her apron and her favorite Christmas music (cue up Dean Martin singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”) and embarks on a baking marathon known in our family as “Cookie Day.”

Her butter cookies are made with a cookie press and decorated with chocolate or brightly colored sugar.  Her almond crescents are rolled in confectioner’s sugar while they’re still hot.  The thumbprint raspberry linzers and Italian sesame seed cookies are especially labor intensive.  And the pizzelle are painstakingly made one at a time on the stovetop.

As a teenager, I loved assisting her in this holiday tradition as she prepared the various types of dough, then decorated, and baked the cookies.  Once we got into a rhythm, there was no stopping us.  The moment a tray came out of the oven, the next one went in.  Carefully, the oven-hot cookies were set on the parchment paper lined kitchen table to properly cool. When we ran out of space on the kitchen table, I got the idea of using the ironing board, so we lined it with parchment paper, and placed the overflow cookies there.

Since he retired, my dad helps out on Cookie Day.  At least he calls it helping.  But my mother’s on to him.  She makes him whistle, so he can’t sample too many of the homemade Christmas treats.

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Mothers and Daughers

When Mother and Daughter Become Friends

mother-and-daugherWhen I was a child, the constant dialogue I had with my mother took the form of instruction: wash your hands, eat your carrots, look both ways before you step off the school bus.  All else was in some way a teaching moment, like when I learned how to tell time, or asked what makes the leaves turn color in the fall.

The nature of our conversations shifted when I had something to offer in return.  And by the time I was a ‘tween I could tell she enjoyed my company because she’d pick me up from school and take me with her on errands she could’ve done earlier in the day without me.  I remember going shopping with her when she needed a new dress for a cousin’s wedding.  And it was fun.

Once I was in high school, I’d come to know her not only as my mother, but also as a person.  When we sat at the kitchen table sharing a pot of tea, she would tell me stories about her childhood or her courtship with my father.  We’d often discuss a movie we’d seen or a current event.  She’d want to know my opinion.  And I could make her laugh.

I knew I was an adult when she began asking me for advice. At first it was about the menu for one of her dinner parties.  Then she wanted my input on choosing new wallpaper.  But it mattered most when she, as an only child, was the sole caregiver to her aging mother.

Despite living 200 miles apart, not a day goes by that we don’t speak on the phone.  And we Skype every Sunday.  Maybe my mother and I are unusually close, but I don’t think we’re such an oddity.  Because when I look at the women I know – from every race and ethnic group, scattered across different regions of the country, spanning several generations – there’s often a common thread: the profoundly intimate relationship between mothers and daughters.  And it’s not just because they are mother and daughter – it’s because they are friends.red poppy

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Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

Shades of Gray

My mom’s about to celebrate a birthday.  How old is she?  If you ask, she’ll gladly reveal her age.

Mom and me 1961

Married young, she had her children right away, so my mom was always the youngest of all my friends’ mothers.  However, she inherited the “prematurely gray” gene prevalent on her mother’s side of the family, and was coloring her hair by her mid-twenties.

Funny, now the young women that age are dyeing their hair “granny gray” to get the same look.

My mother remained patient as I, an indecisive teenager, was shopping in the junior department in Macy’s Herald Square.  The way the florescent lights caught the top of her head, my mother’s hair no longer looked dark brown, but a rather unnatural shade of olive green.

“Mom!” I gasped. “Your hair looks really strange.”

She peered into a mirror and blurted out, “EXPLETIVE! It’s oxidized!”

A few weeks later, instead of getting her roots touched up, she began wearing a wide headband to cover the gray.  Then she skipped a haircut.  There was a method to this madness, I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

When she finally went to the hairdresser, I accompanied her.  “Cut off all the dark brown, the red highlights, and that other color that defies a name!” she instructed her hairdresser.  “I don’t care how short it is.  I’m ready to be gray!”  Mind you, she was still only in her forties.

Luckily, it was the new wave 1980’s and short asymmetrical punk hair styles were in vogue.  Her new look was chic and dramatic.  She looked fabulous.  She still does.

The “prematurely gray” gene skipped over me.  But as soon as I graduated from a subtle sprinkling of “icicles” to looking as if I’d been house painting and doing a messy job of it, out came the bottle of hair dye.  Like any other addiction, it’s become a nasty habit.  Lately I’ve been thinking about quitting.

Birthday GirlMy mother has always been comfortable in her own skin.  She serves as a model for me on how to age gracefully.

Thanks Mom…

And Happy 77th Birthday!

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