When I chose the name Tales From the Motherland, two years before I ever started blogging, I did so because I’d begun to realize that my entire life is informed and influenced by having raised my children. My role as mother has spread tentacles into nearly every aspect of life. Though there are plenty of things I do without my children, especially as they get older and are off living their own lives, they are rarely far from my thoughts. How I see things, what I do with my time, what excites/angers/appeals to/worries/thrills/ me, generally does so as I rapidly process it through my mother filters. Oh, Principessa would love this… Middle Man would love to try that… Little Man would be so excited to see this… Thoughts like these run through my mind virtually every day. If you follow this blog, you know that this is the topic I write about most: my kids, or being their mother.
A lot of my thoughts and emotions, over the past six years in particular, have revolved around aging as a mother. My two oldest kids have left and gone to college. My daughter has been out of college for two years, and has been living in Israel; while my middle son graduates from college in two weeks. He spent half of this past year in China and then Taiwan– my chicks tend to fly far from the nest. I’m happy to see them do it; I’m proud of their accomplishments. It isn’t always easy, and I certainly miss them, but mostly I am excited to watch them spread their wings and discover the world. I love to share that with them.
Over this past weekend, and through to the first weekend in June, I will experience some of the highest highs and the biggest emotional dips, as a mother– as my daughter returns home for a while, on Mother’s Day; my middle son graduates from college in less than two weeks, and my youngest graduates from high school in a month. These events will all herald big changes in my world. These are exciting times, but I also understand that there will be a lot of bittersweet to swallow.
These are not the only big events coming our way. In addition, there are some changes that involve not only my own children, but a few that I love as my own. I truly believe in the African saying: It takes a village, to raise a child. My children have been very fortunate to have a village of good friends, teachers, and close family ties, there to support them through their lives. I have been blessed to be a part of other villages, outside my immediate/nuclear family. I have wonderful in-laws, siblings with nieces and nephews, and close friends– who have often been like family. One of the most important villages I live in, is with my brother’s children. Over the years, they have become like my second family.
Many years ago, when my brother and his wife divorced, I quietly vowed to make sure that their three kids would not grow up without us, even though they were in Florida and we were in Chicago… then Michigan… and for the past 14 years, Washington State. We have never lived in close proximity, and I knew it would very easy to slip from each other’s focus. My father was killed when I was ten, and we lost close ties to his family, for many years. The reasons are complex, but the end result for me was years of longing and wishing to connect. For many years now, they have been extremely important in my life, but it took many years to really reconnect. Early on, I became deeply committed to not allowing that to happen between me, and my two nephews and niece in Florida.
We have always made it a priority to visit them in Florida; it’s much harder for them to visit us. Then, several years when they were quite young, my nephews would come out to WA and stay with us for 10 weeks each summer. I would fly to Florida, pick them up at the airport and then fly home with them– never leaving the airport, it was the ultimate turn and burn. They would leave the West Palm Beach area– with its palm trees, beaches and miles of concrete, and come to the land of ferns, mountains, ocean, recycling and sledding in summer. The two worlds could not be more different, and the adjustments were not without some tribulations, on both sides. They were picky eaters; I was a stern disciplinarian at mealtime. Their world was entirely different from ours, and they debated things with their cousins (my kids) and us, just as we debated with them. But they were plucky and excited to explore, and we loved them. Despite the challenges, the kids grew up knowing that we were always here for them, and I felt deeply connected to them, and their wellbeing. We have long joked that they are my other babies, and in fact my children often felt like they were an integral part of our family. When we planned vacations, my kids would often question why their cousins were not going with us.
There were other challenges. I have not been close to their father; our relationship has often been mired in conflict, or bursts of reconciliation– the kids caught in the middle. I have been very fortunate that my sister-in-law never let the divorce impact our ties. She has always included my husband and I in their lives, and we have made sure we see them at least once a year, more often when they were younger. My brother and I may always be searching for rapprochement, but his children will always have a home in my arms.
As the boys got older, their summer visits (sadly) came to an end. They had summer jobs, girlfriends–other things to do. My niece has never spent the summer here, alone, the age gap just big enough that it has become a trick to make it work. It is a source of enormous regret for me. My older kids were gone, by the time she was getting old enough to come on her own– gone are the days when I can manage a turn and burn, and her mother has not been comfortable sending her on her own. Adding to the challenge, is the fact that my youngest son and she would not have the same things in common as the older cousins did. I see her each year when I visit Florida, and I stay in touch with email and FB, but it’s been different, and I wish we could change that. (Summer visit 2010)
I’m lucky that I share a close relationship with all of my nieces and nephews (9 in all: 6 nephews and 3 nieces). I’ve worked hard at it, but I’m lucky because our families have nurtured that. Knowing that we would always be geographically far apart (our job choices having taken us far from our home in New England, and my brother’s kids always have lived in Florida), it has required extra effort, but has been well worth it.
This past weekend, my oldest nephew graduated from college at USF (Univ.of Southern FL) in Tampa, FL. He is the first person to graduate from college– in his family, on his mother’s side, or amongst his immediate family. It did not come easily for him; he worked harder than many. He had very limited funds, challenging barriers, and it was not something that came easily for him, academically; and yet, this past weekend, he graduated from college with a solid 3.0 GPA. He faced all of the challenges and prevailed. As his aunt, as his “other mother, “ I could not have been prouder, as I watched him, along with his girlfriend of 5 years, take his place in the auditorium. In the huge stadium, I watched from far up in the bleachers as he searched for us in the audience, his face lighting up when he found us. We waved our hands enthusiastically, and I burst into tears, for one of a dozen times over the weekend. I sat side by side with my sister (his other aunt, on his dad’s side), his proud mother, his sister (my niece), his Tia and Abuela (on his mother’s side). We all cheered when he and Erika walked across that impressive stage (side by side) and took their diplomas. We waved when he looked up at us, degree in hand, and beamed back at us. I cried again. It was an amazing culmination of years of effort, sweat and, yes… tears. It takes a village!
After graduation, Erika’s parents graciously hosted us all for a wonderful night of dinner and celebrating. It was truly a village affair, as we toasted the Grads and shared our pride and happiness. The day after graduation, my sister and I let Scott show us all of the places that mean something to him. We toured his campus, seeing all of the places studied and learned. It was one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them! We took lots of pictures of him and us with him; we laughed and played; we celebrated his accomplishment, and watched him glow in our pride. He took us to see where he worked at the Tampa City Planning offices, showed us around the old Cuban area of Ybor City (a post in itself!), and drove us all over Tampa, to show us all the sites.
My sister and I spent a long day, alongside his mother, and family, and then another alone with him for day 2, cleaning his apartment. We helped him organize his things into piles to donate, throw away or keep, as he and I talked about the issues of letting go, moving on, what’s important. We forged through piles of yucky college-age messes, and I tried to convince myself that my shower never looked that foul in college. Mostly, I reassured him that he is not foolish for having bought half a dozen football cups, all of which must go now; or cute USF items; piles of baseball caps; furniture that he couldn’t recupe his losses for; or endless bottles/packages/ piles of things he never really used, but he and his roommates thought they needed.
Our last night, he told us that he wanted to take us to a fun place on the beach. We learned this week that nothing is close by in Tampa; people drive for ages to do things! But drive we did, and we had the most wonderful dinner on St. Pete’s beach in St. Petersburg, FL. We ate with our feet in the sand, as we watched the sun set. As he’d promised, the sand was the silkiest, “baby powder” sand I’d ever felt, and the night air was the perfect cool, after a long day of work. We gazed at constellations and talked about what will come next for him, and I felt my emotions well up over and over…
Countless times over these past four days, I was moved to tears. Tears of joy, tears of pride, tears of gratitude and love– tears as I watched this wonderful young man, who I have loved since he was born, pack up and get ready to move onto the next enormous phase of his life. My nephew, having fought tooth and nail to get his college degree is packing up and heading to grad school in the fall– in all likelihood, only five hours from where I live! He is still waiting to hear from one school in California, but is it increasingly likely that he’ll be in Washington State. He has traveled very little, and until now his most of his world has been anchored to his hometown of West Palm Beach. This is a huge step for him! If you had told me just three years ago that he would be doing this, I might have wondered about your sources… but today, my money is squarely on him. His passion, his drive, and sheer mojo led him to a coveted internship with the Tampa City Commissioner this past year, which included major contributions to future city planning, meetings with Disney executives, and an open invitation to return when he’s done. He’ll study city planning in grad school and is on fire even as he faces his fears and prepares to turn his world upside down.
This next month will be powerful deluge of emotionally charged events. In less than 6 days I get to greet my girl at the airport and know that she is here for a while. We can take our time, and not feel the pressure of another goodbye. Then, four days later we’ll join her younger brother and celebrate his successful completion of college, before he goes overseas for a year. Then, one more graduation to round out a monumental spring of celebrations, as we watch our youngest along with our German exchange student (who is now another family member) get their high school diplomas, and start this next journey. My heart is bursting! I feel a mother’s love for each of them; I feel a mother’s pride. Of course, I boast; I brag. But isn’t that what comes of a mother’s love? They may not all be my children by birth, I know my role; but, if it takes a village, I love where I live!
What’s your village look like? Are you a parent, and do you have children that are yours not by blood, but sweat and love? Tell me what’s important to you.
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