Friday, January 27, 2012

Make Way For Ducklings

  • My brother-in-law, Zarko, is the genius behind the design of both my blog and my website.  Sadly, his father, Ilija Jovanovski, passed away suddenly last week.  I decided to take a moment of wordlessness in the blogosphere to honor his memory by delaying this post until now.
    (Thank you Merri, Zarko)

With all the books I’ve read, I should be able to make a more esoteric reference, but Make Way for Ducklings – that classic from my childhood – just gets this whole mommy business like nothing else. All the essentials are there as if it were an illustrated parenting manual, complete with an avuncular traffic officer watching our backs while steering us in the right direction.   

Lucky Mom Mallard has an innate ability to raise fine, upstanding ducklings, and she passes along some solid advice to her non-aquatic counterparts.  Teach your little guys to stick together. Find a nice neighborhood to live in and spend a lot of time hanging out in the park. And most important, let your children have snacks, because snacks are one of life’s greatest pleasures.

With her chest out, she makes her way around the city, leading her crew in an enviably neat row.  Such pride in her waddle! She never doubts herself, and why should she? Her offspring don’t squabble. They listen the first time she says something. They never sass. When challenges do present themselves, she gets back-up from a fine team of Boston policemen.

Over on my side of the river, you’ll hear a lot quacking, but that’s where the similarity ends.  

The seeds of my insecurity were sown while skimming the parenting magazines in the waiting room before my first sonogram fifteen years ago. The bar they set was just too high. Let’s face it. I was never going to look like the glowing celebrity in the designer maternity dress or puree my own organic baby food.

To complicate matters, I drafted my own impossible guidelines. My children would never fight. They’d see eye to eye with their parents, too, even as they approached the dark abyss of adolescence. They would be compliant and easy-going and like every dinner I’d ever place before them. They’d run to do their chores and go to bed in spotless rooms without a peep of protest after diligently completing their homework.   

The reality is that I cannot recall my darling ducklings ever following me in a neat little row. One is always out of line, though the errant one varies, and sometimes they’re all off flying in different directions, poking the nearest sibling with a beak before takeoff.   

From behind the exasperating cloud that obscures maternal confidence, I acknowledge that looking good in that designer maternity dress was more likely than my ever getting this right. On sunnier days, when the view is clearer, I can see that I just have to keep the bar I’ve set for raising my own ducklings a bit more down to earth. 

After all, their spiritedness may well forecast future success and their eagerness to negotiate with me on matters large and small a sign of their ability to swim upstream and think for themselves. By the time they start dating, they will have figured out on their own that shirts are not napkins, and we can always patch up the holes in the walls when they leave for college.

For now, though, I am focusing on what I know I’ve done right. I have taught them to swim and to cross the street safely. I never cower when it comes to watching out for the foxes in the woods or the turtles in the water. What’s more? No matter what lurks beneath, I’m not afraid to stick my beak into the muck at the bottom of the pond to care for them and groom them into menschen.  

As for Mom Mallard, even she allows her ducklings to dine on peanuts – without dining on guilt herself – when fishing yields skimpy results. But she isn’t perfect. If you are blessed with eight children, you probably shouldn’t give them all rhyming names.  And she molts. Need I say more?   

Right now, there are telltale signs that my boys are wrestling upstairs. I put on an apron and my best smile, pretending to hear nothing. I’ll get the blow by blow with laugh track over dinner.

The water’s boiling. In goes the mac and cheese. Right out of the box. 

All’s fair in love and parenting. The trick is to let any expectations of perfection slide off. Like water off a duck.


Friday, January 6, 2012

The Art of Idling

Learning to let go and see the positive
It is a truth universally acknowledged that on the day I have a long-ago scheduled doctor’s appointment or an important meeting or even once-in-a-blue-moon plans for a social activity that one of my boys will awake with an unpleasant, uncomfortable – though, thank G-d, in no way life-threatening – ailment that will require him to stay home from school.

I will cancel my appointment/meeting/frivolous outing post-haste. I will take him to the doctor and, if necessary, the pharmacy. I will allow him, in between naps and for durations unheard of in healthy times, to watch all the puerile television shows I generally prohibit.

Now imagine a gerbil wearing a sheitel, logging miles on one of those little toy carousels. I spend my average day scampering to and fro, getting a million things done, but very little that leaves me feeling accomplished. There are exceptions, like my teaching and writing, and when I turn on the music and shimmy about with my (real) hair up in a pony, doing my crafty-girl thing.

But with sick children at home, almost nothing happens. Time stops, a challenge for someone like me who remains unskilled in the art of idling. Exasperated, I stare at my must-do list, a mountain of tasks

I fear I’ll never manage to climb.

I do a lot of sighing while ministering to the coughing child on the couch.

Of course, I don’t want to see the boys lying there – miserable, febrile, red-nosed. I want them well for wellness sake, but full confession: I also want them well so that we may all get back on the road at our standard mph. They need to return to school and I need to resume trying to do to everything.

Stuck as we are, I gradually begin to see these sick days not as a hindrance to productivity, but as a chance to let things go and take stock of my blessings. Two of my three are old enough to be mortified by my proximity during a public event, but sick, even they allow me – without rolling their eyes – to stare at them longingly like I did when they were very young.

They doze, and I begin to nest. I steal a moment for some housekeeping – straightening up a cabinet, organizing a shelf – and not begrudgingly. I dare say that I come to cherish what I do get done instead of stressing over what I do not.

The television is back on, so I’ll set a pot of chicken soup to simmer and a batch of challah to rise. Happy smells, these provide the olfactory backdrop to our family life, both on sick days and healthy ones. Hopefully, these memories will eclipse the ones of my running around like a chicken without a head when my boys look back fondly on their childhood.

Alas, what happens when it is I who get bit by the stomach bug or the flu or a terrible cold? There’s no nesting, just resting, and in that challenge I find the wisdom of the oracle: Most must-do list items can wait.

The boys are probably taking their favorite shirts out of the laundry to wear dirty when I’m not looking anyway.

There is an art to letting go, too.