When Life Gives You Beans…

My nest is empty.  Again.  These days, they come home just long enough to eat my food, use all of my clean towels, pack  their cars and return to lives far more interesting than the one we live around here.  When they are gone, the house is still and it takes a couple of days to get used to the quiet again.  I remind myself of the advantages to keep from missing them too much. Like the fact that I can take bubble baths without first having to scrub the tub in the bathroom my two messy birds share when they are home.  It’s not much, but it’s something.  So it’s all good.  I set out to raise two adults.  These days,  I’m fairly certain that I did.

Back when they were toddlers, I had no idea what I was doing.  Who does? There were days, weeks, and even one month during those years when I wondered if we’d all make it out alive.  If you are mother yourself, you are nodding right now, remembering your own Worst. Month. Ever. with toddlers.   For me, the month was  February in 1995. The temperature hadn’t climbed above zero for a week. My normally cute and cuddly kiddos  were sniffling, sneezing, crusty little creatures.   The type of toddlers my wise and funny Sister regularly referred to as “Glazed Doughnuts” back then. The type you think other people have but never believe you will until you do.  They were crabby; I was crabbier.  Toward the end of Hell Month, in a moment of what I can only describe as Divine Inspiration, I went to the garage, found their empty wading pool and dragged it into the kitchen.   The very act of doing this quite improbable thing made my two sticky toddlers and our huge Black Lab stop whining long enough to stand, shoulder to shoulder, awestruck by the sight of a wading pool in the house.  It was as if all three of them were thinking, “We have finally made Mommy insane!  But we have a swimming pool in the kitchen!!! We ROCK!!!!!!!”

Going to the pantry, I took out every bag of dry beans I had ever purchased with the intention of making soup (I think there were twelve bags…don’t judge…) which I used to partially “fill” the wading pool.   Two wooden spoons, some Tupperware bowls, an egg beater,  and two toddler bottoms  filled it the rest of the way.  The dog, realizing that this plan wasn’t what she’d initially been hoping for,  still managed to amuse herself by eating at least a quarter of the beans over the next two weeks.  She was bloated and I found beans on the living room carpeting until May that year, but it  kept the Glazed Doughnuts busy.  Who knew that beans would save us all from February?

Being a young mother was hard.  I think that older mothers need to say that to younger ones a lot more than we do.  It is frustrating and isolating and draining work to raise adults that other adults will actually want to live with some day.  It is a job with lousy pay and a sketchy benefit package.  Society does not give mothers the credit they deserve for raising human beings.  This is true whether women stay home full-time to raise children or work outside the home in addition to raising their children. The “village” that our own mothers and grandmothers had for help has all but disappeared.  I think that this has made the job even harder for many women.

The best advice I got didn’t come from a book or a parenting website. It came from relatives and friends with children older than my own.  It came from friends and colleagues who knew me and knew my children and were invested in seeing us all turn out okay.   Looking back, I realize that most of it was common sense.  Ultimately, I still had to trust my own instincts when it came to the best ways to meet the needs of my own kids.  I’m happy to report that  as of today, they have both survived having me as a mother.  I’m hoping this trend continues.

The thing about raising a child is that you really don’t know how you did until it’s too late to do anything about it.  If you’re lucky, they leave you with the skills necessary to thrive, meet goals, and live with strangers who don’t love them nearly as much as you do.   They learn to clean up their own messes and brush their teeth and do both tasks regularly. They pay their phone bills.   If you’re really, really lucky, they actually come home to use all of your clean towels once in awhile.

When your nest is empty, that’s the best you can hope for.  At least until they tell you that you’re going to be a grandmother.

I can wait.

In January

The day I left for college, she gave me two gifts. That was thirty-five years ago.

The first was a Granny Square afghan she’d spent the entire summer crocheting from scraps of yarn.  It kept me warm on winter nights in a drafty dormitory then and holds a place of honor on the sofa in my sunny home office even today.  The second gift was a cutting from a grape ivy plant she’d had for years.  She must have thought I’d need a little greenery for my dorm room.   The cutting in the tiny terracotta pot sat on the windowsill growing full and strong that year.  The next year, it  moved with me to my first apartment.   When I married it continued to grow (and move) with me from house to house.  There have been a couple of close calls and one near death experience for the plant in three decades.   The plant that began as a single tiny cutting has lived in eight different houses.

A couple of years ago I decided that it was time to pass parts of the plant down to other family members in the form of little slips.  It was time to cut it back and give it new potting soil anyway since it had become leggy and overgrown.    When my daughter left  for her first year of college, a tiny part of the  plant went along with her to her dorm room. My siblings and cousins got their own, too.   It makes me happy to see the plants growing and thriving in the homes of other people.  I like to think it would make my grandmother happy to know that something she had nurtured was still being nurtured by others.

It is January in Minnesota.  The time of year that is too cold and too dark for my taste.   The snow squeaks beneath my boots as I trudge down our long driveway to get the mail.  I long for the first signs of spring even though logic dictates that nobody with any sense should be thinking of such things just two weeks into the new year up here in the North.

The plant sits on a shelf next to the fireplace.  Today I noticed that it is putting out new shoots, reaching toward the light from the window directly above it.  It reminds me that even when the whole world seems to be hibernating, important things, like growth, are happening.   Right below the surface.  Right under our noses.

This is true for old plants with very deep roots.  And some people, too.

If You Give a Loon a Lifejacket


Do one thing every day that scares you.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

    The people who know me best (and love me anyway) know that I like to play it safe.  I have even, from time to time, been called “sensible”, which in my extended family means that I have common sense.  I think.   After I became a mother, I earned a new nickname. The Fun Sucker.  This is usually muttered in disgusted, hushed tones that certain people think I can’t hear.  It usually follows a conversation in which I have determined that something they think would be really, really fun to do is either, a. unsafe, or b. just plain dumb.

    You say you want to ride a roller coaster called The Vomit Comet?  Go out for dinner and eat weird, unidentifiable, slimy things?  Bungee Jump? Hang Glide?  From CLIFFS??  Really?  I’ll pass. You have a “Bucket List” and want to know what’s on mine?  Not a clue.  I don’t like going fast, high places, or pain, and C’mon….let’s be honest. A lot of the items on those Bucket Lists involve at least two of the three items I’ve just listed. 

    I have often wondered if being this cautious is the result of growing up in a small town where everyone knew everyone and living in mortal fear of being caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to do.  Or perhaps, it has to do with being the oldest child and being told (often) that I had to set a good example.  Or maybe, just maybe, it is part of my Scandinavian DNA.  I have a really hard time imagining my grandmother strapped into a parachute, ready to leap from an airplane.  At least, not without a fight.

    When I was growing up, if I wanted to do something because “everybody” else was doing it, the reply was usually, “If (insert Friend’s name here) wanted you to go Uptown to jump in front of a grain truck, would you do that, too?”  I should add here that, for the record, nobody I was friends with ever did that. At least, as far as I know.  I was at HOME.

        Moms are the original Transformers. Our hearts expand in proportion to the number of children we are granted.  Mine’s a double wide. We grow eyes in the backs of our heads and have better hearing than most dogs.  At least, our kids think we do. We convince ourselves that we are essential, irreplaceable, necessary…while the Universe smiles knowingly, sighing at our arrogance. Waiting for what is to come.

   Because these children we would happily stand in front of a hundred grain trucks to protect grow up and start to transform into creatures that resemble adults. They begin making plans to hang glide into their lives, their futures. We stand there at the foot of the cliff from which they are about to jump, terrified and yelling, “Wait! Let me get this net just right! Where’s your HELMET??  Are you out of your MIND??” They jump. And soar. Ready.

Take more risks? Live a little?

I am a Mother.

Loving my children desperately is the riskiest, most terrifying thing I will ever do.