Thursday, November 09, 2006

Trading places

My grandmother ("Nana" to me) wrote a letter prior to my departure this summer to share a message which had been weighing heavily on her mind and heart. Essentially, she wrote that she knew my being away from my family for a time, while painful, would ultimately create the possibility for our success in this new venture of a high-profile working mom, a low-profile working some dad, and two still-fabulous growing kids. Matt previously held the work position of family priority. Sick child? Mom is home. Vacation from school, but work still open? Mom is home. Waking in the middle of the night seeking comfort? Call for Mommy--she'll wake first. Of course our circumstances weren't as pure and divided as this, but I did have the flexible, part-time job. And my grandmother knew we had made a choice to very intentionally change this. She said, "I want you to know that I do not see it as all bad if you have to go to Hartford alone for a few weeks. You are going to have to realize that your relationship with your children must change to a certain degree, and this would offer you and Matt the chance to teach Kyra and Lucas that you are going to have to LEAVE them at certain times--and BE WITH THEM AT CERTAIN TIMES." (I haven't yet asked if she regretted sending the letter as a few weeks expanded into a few months....) The emphasis is hers, and I suspect it was chosen with great intention. She could see that we couldn't change our instincts and our behaviors nearly so quickly as we could change jobs, homes and circumstances. Wise, isn't she?

For my first week in Connecticut, I asked Matt each evening what the kids had eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks.... By my second week in Connecticut, I was handing over birthday party planning responsibilities. Make sure we have a cake, confirm the reservation, who remains to RSVP??? By my third week in Connecticut, I asked more open-ended questions--How was your day? Who did you see at school today? When three months had passed, I was no longer concerned about food intake or sleep cycles, any responsibilities handed over went from Matt to me as he now had full control of the kids' day to day lives, and I managed to completely forget the kids' doctor and dentist appointments. And you know what? They still made it, and Matt handled the scheduling, the remembering and the getting there just fine. He was never incapable; rather, I was inserting myself into the control seat for virtually every choice, decision and event in their lives. More often than not, this is what mothers do. And in mother/father families, this same behavior sometimes translates to criticism of the father's lack of attention, involvement and ability. I've been guilty of the same.

I realized in my time away, these patterns are learned. While biology might influence our gendered behaviors--after all, I did have nine extra months of individualized attention to my growing child's every need--it needn't determine how we function. Of course the feminist in me understood this rationally, but I certainly didn't live the part. I know there are mothers in my circle who would be offended to hear their children cry for "Daddy" with each bruised knee or unusual sound in the night. I continue to delight in this cry. I know their affection for Matt in no way limits their affection for me. Rather, their attachment to him frees me....and this was just the change we were seeking. There are still squeals of delight when a parent walks through the door at the end of the day--but they are now for me. There are still hugs to hold them and hands for brushing away tears--but often these are Matt's hugs and hands. We are a better family for our time apart, and for the new way we have constructed ourselves. I'm certainly a better woman, and I hope Matt and the kids find themselves to be better, too. Again to Nana's letter...."Do not expect to be the same mother you are now--that will never be. But you can become known as a mother who knew how to put it all together." I hope I'm on my way.

Well, Nana, when you're nearly 90 years old, I guess you have ability to look at life with a wide-angle lens. When I couldn't see clearly myself, and I was struggling through the day to day separation, it helped me to know there was this greater perspective supporting me, guiding me and praying for me. Thank you. Later in the letter, you advised me to "put finding a good babysitter high on your priority list." I'm off to work on that....

9 comments:

GRAMPA PETER said...

Your words, Jennifer, paint pictures of feelings, and allow me to share in this important aspect of your life. You and Heather, and your family, have endeared yourselves to "nana and father" because you have listened not only to their words, but to their feelings and given a most precious gift - your time, and your love. You and Matt have a special relationship and marriage which has me bursting with pride and love.
Your mom is so very proud of you, and Heather, as well.

Carmen San Diego said...

Thanks for sharing you life with me. It's great hearing about the letter from your Nana. I agree with her go get a great babysitter and go enjoy some quality time with your hubby and later kids of course. Glad to see you blogging again. I missed you while you were away in CT.

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