Sunday, September 20, 2009

On the Other Side

In 15+ years working in education, I've often lauded the value of switching "to the other side of the desk" -- meaning, I think teachers ought to take classes and pay attention to what if feels like for students, to better inform teaching practices, to build empathy, to have "aha" moments.

Perspective. Forever it seems like I'm learning new lessons about perspective. Apparently I'm a slow learner on this topic, but an avid and engaged one at least, fascinated by the topic. Most of you readers learn much faster than I do, and I turn to you for the lessons I crave, so perhaps you will find zero enlightenment here. But on the off chance I have something to share with you, I'm going to recount my most recent lessons learned on the other side of the whole mother-daughter thing.

So I took Peaches with me back East. Last weekend, we celebrated my 20th high school reunion, the arrival of my dear old friend's baby boy Noah, and my mother's 65th birthday and upcoming retirement. For this trip, the mother in me planned, organized, arranged, packed, purchased, drove, flew, coordinated, carried, clean, cajoled, coerced, comforted, apologized, pleaded, interpreted, explained, commanded, reprimanded, disciplined, educated, entertained and medicated in order to schlep an allergic three year old on a trip that lasted 45 hours and covered 3,000 miles, 4 airplanes, two cars, several houses, and almost NO SLEEP. The trip? Well worth it to me, full of meaning, and lots of fun. But I confess to you that a week later I am still very worn out, physically still limping along, yawning, yawning. You know I'm not stoic! I am not mother of the year. I complain. I find motherhood, and my two kids in particular, challenging. I sometimes feel like I'm shouting into a black hole.

Now, how about the flip side?

I flew the coop early from my mother's home, and headed West in 1993, fresh out of college. For 16 years, my mother has called me before my trips to visit her, reminding me what she wanted me to pack, cautioning me not to bring "that ratty sweater I hate and those God awful shoes..." Different sweater and shoes each time, but the same theme -- I am not the fashionista daughter my mother wanted. Each time I arrive, she reaches in her purse at some point, and pretends she is about to apply lipstick. Then, she looks at the tube, frowns, and says, "Damn, I bought the wrong color. Oh well, you can have it -- it'll be great with your complexion!" It is almost always Toast of New York. I always complain that I don't wear makeup, but then I put it on to please (or silence) her. She drives me to the hair salon, and though it is actually walking distance, she drives the long way so she can remind me again how much nicer I would look if I just cut it "a few inches shorter this time."

On this trip, things were different. I brought along with me the fashionista daughter my mother always wanted -- Peaches. She merrily acquiesced to giving countless fashion shows. She trilled in ecstasy at all the new clothes waiting for her. She twirled. She applied lip(chap)stick artfully, often. Yes, she told anyone, you can "do" my hair!

No one offered me Toast of New York lipstick.

And you know what happened, right?
I missed it.

I didn't feel jealous not even a drop. Oh, I loved seeing Peaches and Grandma in their element. I loved having the pressure off me to be someone I'm not. I loved wearing jeans and not feeling like the disappointment of the ages. No one kvetched about my hair.

But I realized that I like my mother's attention, too.
Oh, I still got attention. In lots of ways. It was GOOD for me to realized I missed the Toast of New York, that's what I'm saying. It was a both-sides-of-the-desk good epiphany. I needed it.

At one point, I'm standing in the shower while Peaches plays with Grandma and Grandpa's dog, Grandpa watches a little of The Game, and Grandma fusses around the kitchen. I realize I forgot to borrow a razor (and I couldn't pack one since we only did carry-on). I know where one is, though; I know I can grab a towel, make a dash, get a razor. I also know that I can call out, "Mommmmm! MOM!" If I do this, I will sound just like Rooster and Peaches so often do. I do not wish to sound like them. I do not like it when they do that. It makes me grumpy. I am standing there, staring at my hairy calves, 38 years old and NOT lazy (though very TIRED), and I am sure you know that of course I call out. My mom doesn't grumble and snarl, "WHAT?!!!!! WHAT do you WANT?!" She just brings me a razor. She might even be thinking (though I doubt it), "Once a year, it's kinda nice to be shouted to for this or that when my kid comes to visit!"

No deep, surprising revelations here, but for a slow learner like me, the good lessons on the other side of the desk -- er, shower? -- include these:

  • Things I do for my kids now that they seem to resent or find annoying will some day possibly be appreciated.
  • Things my kids do that annoy me now, I will probably some day miss.
  • Attention from your mother feels good. Everyone needs some.
  • The rituals and scripts of each family weave into our identities. They have layers of value and meaning.
  • Grandmas are wonderful.

Oh, wait, I ALWAYS knew that last one, always hold it fast in my heart. I should close by saying that this, my first trip home since my grandma's funeral, made me miss her very, very, very much. It also made me feel her presence as well as her absence, because she is such an integral part of who I am. I think she was whispering the lessons of this trip in my ear. As much as Peaches is the fashionista daughter my mother never had, I was the school girl daughter for my grandma who took pride in the same bookishness that made my mom a little queasy. But my Grandma, too, loved fashion, and how dearly she would have treasured seeing Peaches strut around in her fancy skirts on this trip. Peaches has her twinkle.


Niksmom said...

I totally, totally get it. I'm glad it was a good trip for you. You needed the time to recharge, to have "normal" for a little bit. And I hope you let your parents pamper you, too.


jess said...

sounds like a delicious trip.

and yes, it's all perspective, isn't it?

one of my favorite songs EVER ...

phenry said...

I feel like I made the trip with you. I saw photos from your reunion on FB and admired you and your friends. I'm glad you went, and I'm glad you had a great trip (albeit exhausting).

Stephanie said...

I totally let my mom be the mom whenever she is here. She sort of complains, and then sort of asks me what I want for dinner. So I get it.

pixiemama said...

love you. love, love you.