A Mother’s Love

IMG_0167Today I celebrate my firstborn child’s birthday. Seven years ago today, after 19 hours of an uncomfortable labor (not painful, just uncomfortable), Isidoa Branch III came into the world. I had waited so long to become a mother, and I was not about to mess this up! I spent the first several weeks feverishly recording his feeding and sleep patterns, trying to establish a schedule for both. To this day, I still have the little blue notebook filled with the notes and scribblings of a frantic mother. But in all my concern, I did manage to enjoy every minute with this new little life that had been entrusted to me.

Today he is an enthusiastic, sensitive and intelligent young man with a big heart. He is my little protector and comedian – always ready to make his Momma laugh and smile. I wanted to share these two pieces with you that echo my feelings as a mother. The first is an article I read from a local New Jersey newsletter. The second shows how the love and support of a mother helped this young man get through a difficult situation. I was impressed by her calm demeanor and obvious pride in her son.

Happy Birthday Izzy – Momma loves you!!

Article: From a Mother to Her Son, on Mother’s Day

Video showing a mother’s love!

(#31WriteNow Challenge: Day 11)

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What a Wonderful World!

Satellite image of Hurricane Sandy over the East Coast, courtesy of Discovery.com

For the past two weeks, the Northeastern United States and parts of the Caribbean were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. A few days later, a Nor’easter hit an already overwhelmed and hurting New York/New Jersey area, leaving anywhere from a few inches to over a foot of snow. During the hurricane, over 2 million people were without power (many are STILL without power), and the Nor’easter knocked out more power, and in some cases, knocked out the power in homes that had already had their power restored!

Fortunately, both storms were kind to my immediate family – we never lost power and did not sustain any damage to our home. Our children were out from school for the week after Sandy hit and at worst, we all suffered from a bit of cabin fever. Last year, when Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast, my family and I had just returned from our vacation and came home just in time to prepare for the pending storm. Because we were hearing last minute news, the children were not exposed to days of storm previews on the news. Clearly Sandy was much worse than Irene and the New York/New Jersey area experienced much more devastation as a result. So the television news was full of pictures of families without homes, shelters and soup kitchens being erected. I am always mindful of what my 4- and 6-year old watch on the news, so I was concerned about balancing the reality of the news with comforting my children so they would not worry. I wanted them to understand what was going on, teach them that sometimes storms can devastate communities and disrupt the lives of many, all while helping them to be appreciative of what we had survived. On a more humorous note, it was often a delicate balance, especially when they wanted to know why I had to interrupt their Power Rangers marathon in order to watch the Mayor’s press conference!

Photo courtesy of coolmomtech.com

What made me reflect on the effects of the storm on my children was a quick blog post I read earlier today on Cool Mom Tech, where the kids’ music download selection of the week was the Louis Armstrong classic, “What a Wonderful World.” Its imagery serves as a reminder to children and adults alike that despite last week’s dangerous weather, and even more dangerous political climate, we do live in a wonderful world.

…Because I Said So!

Growing up, I was not one of those children who vowed to not be as hard on her children as my parents were on me, in part because my parents meted out a fair amount of discipline, mixed with more love than discipline. Secondly, as I became older, I reflected on their parenting practices to help mold how I would one day raise my own children. Fortunately, my husband was raised in a similar household to mine, so our general thoughts on parenting are in synch, even if our approach may be slightly different in specific situations.

The idea from this post came out of my Facebook status earlier this evening. On the way home from school, I cautioned my son Izzy to not shuffle his feet in the snow that had suddenly fallen. Actually, I had already explained to him that I didn’t want his ankles to get wet, but he wasn’t listening to me (go figure), so when he asked me why he couldn’t shuffle in the snow, I simply answered him with the parental mantra, “…Because I said so!” Now generally, I don’t make a habit of using this phrase as often as our foreparents did. I do communicate quite a bit with my children, sometimes ad nauseum, using every opportunity for teachable moments. Child psychologists probably admit that explaining the ‘why’ to a child encourages them to submit to their parents’ request, instead of allowing them to blindly ‘do as I say do, not as I do’ (another parental classic!)

When I was pregnant with Izzy, I made a point to NOT read parenting books, although I did peruse parenting magazines for fun, just to see what kind of New Age foolishness was out there. Admittedly, there is a lot of value to some more modern aspects of parenting, but I’ve found that many of the classic styles are still tried and true. I remember when Izzy was a toddler, my mother came to visit and she offered to stand back and watch how we handled him, to see how us ‘new parents’ deal with situations. Was she serious?  Although I appreciated her desire to be respectful of our ways, I told her that much of what we did was predicated upon our upbringing, and that she should feel free to dole out the Grandma discipline at her discretion! I assured her that she would find we were not too far off from how she and my father had raised me.

So yes, maybe we can do without some of the extreme measures that were used when we were growing up, and there is some merit in modern parenting, but sometimes it’s just not that deep, and it is what it is…because I said so!

Homework Helps

Hello TTWC family! As many of you know, since March 2012, I have been writing a weekly column for the online publication, MortarNBrique, entitled The Mommie in Me. Most of those columns were either reblogged to, or posted in their entirety on This and That With Calandra. Last week it was announced that MortarNBrique will be on hiatus until the new year, in order to revamp the publication. I do not know the future of The Mommie in Me, but I am using this “break” to continue writing weekly motherhood/parenting articles and sharing them here on TTWC. Look for them under the category “Special Features – Motherhood.” Having said that, here’s my first installment, which will hopefully offer tips on how to deal with homework issues. Enjoy!

In doing research for this article, I decided to reach out to my Facebook parents, asking them what challenges (or successes) they have had with doing homework with their children. I was excited by the answers I received, and even found some tips to follow myself. I decided to let the article write itself, based on their responses. I love that I have FB friends who are also wonderful parents. Here’s hoping you pick up some tips as well.

“One of my challenges is having the procedures I’ve put into place at home followed when she’s away from home.” (SD, New York)

“While I am doing my work in my home office…or cooking dinner or whatever I am doing… I have my son to sit right across from me to do his homework. If he is in his room at his desk doing his homework, I will sit with him in his room and read, fold clothes or something. I do this to make sure that he is focusing. I require that he read everything aloud and then, before he even gets to what the real questions are, I ask him if he understands what he has just read and how it applies (depending on the subject). After he explains it, THEN we get to the real question. I ask him what answer he is going to provide. Whether he answers correctly or not, I ask him whether or not the answer that he has given is correct. He has to prove to me why the answer is correct. Does homework take an exorbitant amount of time? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes” (MW, Washington, DC)

“When my children were younger, I used to turn on the Closed Captions feature on the TV, so that my children would be “tricked” into reading while watching their favorite programs – which I only allowed on Friday and Saturday nights. They are currently both in High School and what we do now is read current event articles every week, and write a synopsis of the article and an alternate way they would have solved whatever challenges presented themselves in the article.” (IJ, Michigan)

“My son not paying attention. When I help him with his homework he expects for me to give him the answers without even trying. I get frustrated and he knows how to push my buttons.” (JB, North Carolina)

“[We] constantly go through changes regarding homework directions, proper grammar and writing. Once I lose my religion to make her understand the big picture then we are able to sit down and have a little fun doing her homework assignment. She is very argumentative at times, and it drives me crazy. Sometimes I’ll take her work and get some scrap paper to show her how she should do it.” (MK, New York)

“My biggest challenge… Is having patience when dealing with my child when she is being “under the table” lazy. Maybe it’s her way to prolong homework so we will spend more time together, or maybe it’s the Florida school system that treats 5 year olds like they are 3 year olds academically, or maybe it’s because my daughter was with me until she started school. Her language and academic skills became more advanced than that of her peers, which essentially made school “boring” to her.” (SG, Florida)

“I was a professional tutor for a number of years, and always found it easier than teaching my own kids. Buttons get pushed 🙂 One of the most useful things I’ve realized is that people have a lot of anxiety about writing, and the issue of how to start becomes an obstacle to getting anything done. In such cases I just tell them to start writing down ideas, and then to build around them. The introduction can actually be the last step!” (DL, Florida)

“I find the attention span an issue… But as for my daughter she is ok as long as I stay patient. It’s hard enough for them to be in school all day then come home to hours of homework at such a young age. I take breaks with her, have her pretend she’s the teacher teaching me. That helps both of our frustration because she likes to be in charge and it shows me how well she knows her work!” (MR, New York)

“I cheer when they get the right answer. I push them a little harder. And I try to give them a couple more questions than the actual assignment. Math is my class.” (DW, Maryland)

”Considering my girls were ADHD, it was always a challenge. I found when they were learning their multiplication tables, we sang them.” (SW, Pennsylvania)

“A set place and a set time works well!” (CT, New York)

“I think the main problem we dealt with about homework is taking the time to do it and not rushing right through it. We always remind [our daughter]  to read each problem or question, make sure she understands what they are asking and then answering it correctly. That also goes for studying for an exam – practice and review.” (RN, Massachusetts)

“The rule is no fun computer stuff until homework is completed. That has worked for us.” (WL, New York)

What homework challenges/successes have you had with your children? Please feel free to comment and share!

Changing Seasons

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m not talking about Christmas. I am celebrating my favorite season of all time, autumn. No other season conjures up awesome childhood memories like the fall. There’s just something about all the things that this season brings – fall foliage, air that’s cool and crisp, apple cider, pumpkins, sweaters, grey skies and brisk winds. I think about walking home from the bus stop as a child, sweeping my feet through mini-piles of leaves on the sidewalk, and hearing nothing but their crunch under my feet. I can remember enjoying the quietness of the chilly but still autumn air as I would walk across campus after evening classes while in college.  I think about rainy Saturdays, when my mother would make a pot of Great Northern beans with smoked turkey wings and cornbread. Somehow the smell of that “pot” would help make the morning chores go faster.

Seasons change for a reason – the Earth’s rotation dictates the weather each season. The Earth rotates on its axis at an angle, so there are times of the year when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun  (spring, summer) and times when it is tilted away from the sun (fall, winter). If you think about the differences in weather patterns during each season, you can see that there’s a purpose for everything. Spring and summer rains populate the reservoirs. Winter chills purify the air. Crops mature and are harvested in the fall. Everything has a purpose. So I don’t pout when the weather changes – I think of all the things that happen as the seasons shift.

Fall means back to school for the children, and getting back into daily routines with them. The positive side is that it is an opportunity to take part in and look forward to all they will be learning this school year. Like spring, fall is a season of change, transition and preparation – getting ready for what’s to come. In the spring, we watch the flower and tree buds prepare to open and expose their inner beauty. In the fall, we see the leaves change into gold, orange and brown hues, signaling the pending death and shedding of old leaves. In the fall, we start gearing up for winter – stocking the pantry with canned goods and staple items to avoid last minute trips to the store before a snowstorm. And now that the children are getting older, it’s a time for me to start thinking about fun activities for them. I’m especially looking forward to accompanying them on their school’s apple-picking trip in two weeks. Fall can also be a season of reflection, as we begin the final descent into year’s end. It offers a few moments of peaceful remembrance before becoming immersed into the holiday season. Now a mother of two, I draw from these past experiences with autumn and hope to help my children love this most wonderful time of year as much as I do.

Motherhood Ain’t Easy

I apologize in advance for the grammatically incorrect title of today’s post. But sometimes, you’ve just got to tell it like it is. Last weekend I saw a friend and her two young daughters. She and I were both pregnant at the same time, during both pregnancies, and I had not seen her in quite a while. As she was trying to get her girls to settle down, and I was trying to reel in my children, she looked over at me and said, “They didn’t tell us motherhood would be like this, did they?” I laughed and replied, “I don’t think ANYONE could have prepared us for this!” It made me think of how I could possibly prepare Yvette for motherhood. I realized that I can’t; it’s one of those things you just have to experience for yourself to really understand. There is nothing that can fully prepare you for parenthood. Yes, there is basic advice you can give – a heads up here and there about things like sleep deprivation and potty training. But there is nothing like the real thing!

Certainly, I am not complaining about being a mother. I look at it as a challenge. My downfall is being too hard on myself, as if any “Mommie mistake” I make is going to bring permanent damage to my children’s mental health and well-being. I often joke that my goal as a mother is to keep my children out of therapy when they grow up, or at least limit how many hours they’ll have to spend in it! But one of the cardinal rules of parenthood, and especially ” Mommiehood,” is to not beat yourself up as a parent. Our job is to LOVE, PROTECT and PROVIDE for our children. That, to me, means to do the very best we can, for as long as we can.

Today, I did something I rarely have the chance to do. Yvette was at a classmate’s birthday party and I was talking with some of the class moms. Usually, we are just saying hello in passing when dropping off or picking up the children. It was nice to hear of their similar experiences with their girls. It also made me feel good that they complimented Yvette on how polite and helpful she is with her classmates. One of the moms mentioned that Yvette had stopped to help her daughter open her lunchbox last week. When you hear others speak well of your children, it makes you proud to be their Mommie, but deep down, you silently give yourself a hug for teaching them a lesson they have obviously remembered.

Is it easy being a Mommie? Absolutely not! But it is SO worth it!

Mother to Mother

A few months ago, I started a major project at work and one of the consultants, who is also a mother of two young children, shared with me that she was so glad to be working with another mother. It reminded me of the relationship I have had with my career mentor over the past 20 years, who is also a working mother. It reminded me of the awesome bond that mothers have. How many times have I seen a story on the news about the anguish some mother has suffered? A child abducted…a child killed…a child mistreated…all events that pull at the heartstrings of mothers worldwide. Conversely, I am horrified and angered when I hear of mothers who abuse their position – by verbally and physically abusing their children, by neglecting or taking advantage of their children in order to satisfy their own selfish needs.

I am not the perfect mother – I just try to be the best Mommie I can be. In a MortarNBrique staff meeting, I spoke about what I considered to be a kind of Mission Statement for The Mommie in Me column. Many times, friends and I talk about racism, sexism, and other world evils. My end comment is always the same. I can’t change the world…I might be able to influence a few people along the way. But the ONLY thing Ican do is take total responsibility for MY little boy and little girl. They are the ones God has given me (and my husband) charge over, to raise and nurture them to be the best man/woman, husband/wife, father/mother, loving and caring human beings they can be. Hopefully they will grow to pass on those same values that we teach them, the way my husband and I passed on that which our parents taught us.

This weekend, we celebrated our son’s 6th birthday. From cupcakes at camp to an afternoon of bowling with the family to birthday cake at home, this weekend was chock full of celebration, fun and family. My mother, my sister and my best friend – my “Holy Trinity” of female wisdom and guidance – also gave me encouragement during this time, congratulating me on 6 years of successful motherhood. These three women are amazing sources of inspiration to me, and often bolster my confidence both as a woman and as a mother. Despite our best efforts, we may still feel that we fall short as mothers. I feel blessed to have other mothers who recognize the challenges of balancing work and motherhood, and who can always see through our smiles. It is important for us to always connect “mother to mother.”