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Posts Tagged ‘Parenthood’

Our Family Grows

Just a few weeks ago our family celebrated something most wonderful and momentous. (Oddly, that which is so very special to us, happens in the world four times every second of every day!)

My daughter in law and my son have a daughter.

My daughter in law has done all the work so far, but for both of them their journey is beginning now.

After a difficult pregnancy, my daughter in law has fallen in love with her daughter. Nothing prepared me for seeing my son fall in love with her too. He has always been good with young children, and when he was little he and his brother played with and cared for their much younger sister. Still, I am proud of the way he takes care of and loves his daughter.

Unlike I was, my daughter in law is expecting sleepless nights, tortured days, exhaustion, having to deal with the unknown. Women are now perhaps more open in talking about the times of frustration and despair as well as the times of utter joy and ecstasy when holding a contented baby. Still, nothing really prepares us for the roller coaster ride of being a new parent. The highs, the lows, the mundane. Women also have to cope with a new identity, one that describes us primarily as a mother rather than a lawyer, accountant, manager ….

But the greatest, most responsible, most fulfilling, most awe filled, most wonder filled work of all, is that of being a parent.

I thank my son and his wife for bringing into the world a delightful little person, and for including me in their lives. And I thank my daughter in law and her parents for including us.Our families are forever linked.

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My daughter was married on Saturday. 

Some highlights:

* As we waited for my daughter and her father, my husband, to arrive I was surrounded by our family. Next to me were our sons, and behind me were my daughter-in-law (wise, warm, an essential part of my life for so many reasons) and my future daughter-in-law (with a radiant smile that embraces and spreads joy). How blessed to have such a family. They make me complete.  In this moment I know my cup brims over.

* The man about to marry my daughter watched her slowly walk toward him and as he smiled it seemed as if, for him, this was his entire world. He took her hands in his, looked into her eyes, and was moved to tears. In this moment I loved him more.

* As they exchanged their vows the sun came out and it was as if the universe smiled.

* The mother of my new son-in-law gave a wonderful speech. She was funny, witty, and, best of all, her words embraced her daughter-in-law.

* In mid sentence my son-in-law said “my wife”, chuckled, paused and smiled as he again said “my wife”. 

* The first dance together as husband and wife was spectacular. It was a mix of romance, drama, fun and action, and moved easily into everyone joining them on the dance floor. Even me! Young and old rocked on together. Everyone stayed on the dance floor for hours.

* An atmosphere of happiness and joy pervaded the ceremony and celebration. It was tangible and touched everyone. The high spirits, emotions and energy of this couple lifted me up and made a magical celebration for everyone. They dismissed every potential stress, and their calm and focus on what was truly important soothed me, and I laughed and shared their joy.

But the moment I most remember is at home, minutes before we left. I stepped into the living room and saw my daughter,  a bride. In that moment, every memory I have of my daughter flashed before me and merged into this vision of beauty. I saw the baby lying asleep on my chest as we lay on the couch in the afternoon sun. I saw the toddler jumping off the stairs into a bean bag. I saw the little girl who wriggled into a space beside me to be as close as possible as I lay immobilised in a tilt bed in the spinal unit. I felt the arms of the little girl who placed them around my neck as she sat as close as possible as we wheeled on the prone trolley months later. I saw the little girl who never saw the wheelchair I sat in, only seeing her mother whose lap she wanted to sit in. I saw the ballerina, beautifully serene and beaming as she waited to dance as a unicorn. I saw the little girl who looked after her crippled mother and elderly grandmother when we flew to Melbourne – lifting luggage the size of own little body off the carousel, and making us cups of tea in bed. I saw the little girl arriving at Wellington international airport having flown alone from Sydney. I saw the girl who rode horses ten times her size. I saw the tomboy who climbed trees and was fearless. I saw the public speaker, confident in every situation. I saw the athlete who ran, cycled, swam. I saw the young woman who has seen so much of the world, determined, overcoming challenges. I saw the young woman who took me on road trips to Mt Maunganui. I saw my brave, loving, kind, strong daughter. I saw my best friend. I saw a goddess standing before me. I saw my wonderful daughter on the happiest day of her life … and I burst into tears, my heart so full love for her, and joy that she loves and is loved.

I saw my friend and daughter who had included me in her wedding preparations. Who the evening before had included me, with her bridesmaids, in drinking cosmos, eating pizza, and watching Moulin Rouge, laughing and reminiscing. My generous daughter who opened our home to her friends and family on the morning of her wedding, to share her happiness this day. Her happiness was infectious and as we all scrambled to get ready at the last minute, we laughed as we found ourselves  sharing space, three or four people in every room.

As we waited for the bride, I watched the groom and thought of my son who two years before had stood waiting for his bride. I remembered his nervousness. I remembered the smile and joy as he watched her come toward him. I remembered the happiness that she reawakened in him when they found each other. I turned to my future daughter-in-law and she smiled at me, reassuring me. Sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, friends and more. I, and my grown up children, are truly fortunate to know love and be part of loving, caring, growing families.

“There is no greater happiness than to love and to be loved in return”

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My children are adults and either married or engaged to be married. As they approach a time when they will have their own families I often think of them with profound gratitude.  I find joy in all my memories of them as babies,  as children, as teenagers and as adults. Most of all though, I am grateful that I find joy in them today and every day.

I hear women talking about how they found it difficult to “deal” with their teenage children, or how little they hear from or see their adult children. My own mother used to say how much she enjoyed us as babies, and how this was the happiest time of her life. I don’t think she realised how hurtful this was (at least to me) to know that she found it difficult to connect with us as people.  Yet she often spoke of wishing she had a better relationship with us as adults.

A wise woman once advised me long ago to find enjoyment and to love unconditionally every stage of my children’s lives. She said that it is too easy to linger in the excitement of watching a toddler learning to walk, the relief of a child learning to read and write, the pride of a child competing in sport, achieving at school, rather than to live every moment with a child in the here and now. Not to look back wistfully, or to look forward unnecessarily, but to enjoy the moment and to explore whoever your child is. She stressed the importance of having a relationship with your child no matter, because when a child becomes an adult, that adult chooses what sort relationship develops with his or her parent.

I have had times when I have failed my children, but also times when I have given my all to them, and times when they have supported me. Whatever has been happening I have seen my children as individuals and continue to love them as individuals. I know I am fortunate. I am fortunate because of who my children have become, and I am fortunate because a wise woman advised me to enjoy every moment of their lives.

What I wish for my children is that they find the same joy and love in their children that I have found in mine.

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The use of labels to describe someone has irked me for some time. I would variously describe myself as womanly, paraplaegic, mother, christian, feminist, humanist, able … the list has changed over the years and I expect will change again.  Some labels seem to be mutually exclusive. Priorities change. Meanings change over time. Perceptions change. We are complex.

I don’t know about others, but I don’t want to be put in a box. I prefer to describe myself in terms of ideals I aspire to, be they noble, frivolous, challenging, or simply time wasting. For one thing the label on the box can mean different things to different people; for another, labels can lead to intolerance, stereotypes, and narrow thinking. Conversely, prejudice, intolerance and bigotry thrives on labels.

If you think this is trite consider this link sent to me by a friend. It’s a cute/tragic post about a five year old boy’s choice of Halloween costume and the absolutely appalling reactions to it. Nerdy Apple Bottom writes in “My Son is Gay”

My son is gay. Or he’s not. I don’t care. He is still my son. And he is 5. And I am his mother. and if  you have a problem with anything mentioned above, I don’t want to know you.”

If you haven’t read this post I suggest you do so now. Read the epilogue too. Her story made me mad, but it also inspired me. I admire and respect her principled and loving stand. If you need any further encouragement to read this post take a look at what she is standing up for:

(I hope that Nerdy Apple Bottom doesn’t mind my reproducing the photo of her son here.)

When did gender stereotyping become an issue for little kids? Why would you want to label a child gay, or use sexuality as a label for a child? One of my sons, when he was three years old, used to stand beside me when I was putting on my make up and practise putting on lipstick. Now that he’s twenty eight perhaps he borrows his wife’s lipstick. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now because he’s always been a funny, loving, delightful, kid, popular with his peers and those around him because he’s so positive and cheerful. My other son used to like wearing pink, he probably still does. He used to collect and play with soft toys. He liked teddy bears. He probably still does. This caring loving kid has become a killer litigator… a label that he’d probably like, but he has lots of other attributes and he’d be just as proud if he were described as a caring socialist.

It’s not particularly helpful to use an occupation as a label either, although in social situations, often the first question people ask is “So, what do you do?”  I’m a lawyer, cleaner, teacher, public servant, secretary, house husband, musician, accountant … only promotes stereotypes. Why do we want to put people in boxes?

I think that labels get in the way of freedom – freedom to choose who we are, to make choices, to be independent and individual. That’s why I prefer to describe myself in terms of the ideals I aspire to. Freedom to choose and to be autonomous are feminist qualities I promote and aspire to, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. The idea of loving others as I love myself is one I fervently believe in; it is at the core of christianity but if I call myself a christian I am likely to be grouped with the judgemental, intolerant “christians” of Nerdy Apple Bottom’s church school, the evil, corrupt “Bush fundamentalists” (christian fundamentalist – now there’s an oxymoron!), or the excessively pious self-indulgent preachers who want to pray over me. Not to mention hypocritical religious clergy. (Who deserve a rant in a separate blog)

Even those things that I am passionate about – freedom of speech, human rights, my children, being creative – can only describe part of who I am. I admire the strength and power with which Nerdy Apple Bottom defended her son’s choice. I hope that I have been as good a mother as she is. But I am many things, and I’d rather not be labelled by any of them.

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