Thursday, November 22, 2007
Talking in the Dark
My mom wasn't one to entertain us children. She did not structure her day around our play or making every moment a "learning" opportunity. I remember her getting up before us and sipping on hot tea in her robe. There was always a warm hug inside that purple robe to greet me on those cold winter mornings. When we were dressed and fed we were sent off to play on our own. We read a lot of books, practiced the piano, played Atari, dressed up dolls, caught toads, hoed the garden, rode bikes, shot basketball in the driveway or played babies with the kittens. Of course, there were always chores to be done. We quickly learned to never look bored lest we be roped into some extra work.
She spent her days working around the house, taking care of Grandma, preparing Sunday school lessons, talking on the phone, going to "Jessy's family food market", preparing meals, helping neighbors and harvesting the garden. Her days were busy apart from me, yet I never felt neglected. She didn't seemed stressed when I came to ask questions as though I had somehow kept her from the all important "to do list". There was a strange security in seeing her do the same things everyday and knowing that she was there for the emergencies. She seemed strong and in control. I don't think that I really longed for her "one on one" attention to assure me of her love. I didn't desire her to be my playmate because she was my mom.
Occasionally, Mom entered into our play in the form of hitting softballs for us to chase, reading us books, playing a piano duet, singing in the car and even shooting basketball. And often she invited us into her world to cook, shop, ride on the lawn mower, visit the elderly and sing in her church children's choir. I remember all of these occasions with great fondness not because I was particularly entertained, but because I witnessed another side of her. She was interesting, fun to be with and she made it known that she was glad to be with her children, too.
Of course as I grew older and the world expanded past the back yard, life got full of activities. No longer was I at home day in and day out with my family in the routines that provided a pleasant rhythm. For the most part it was a monitored coming and going that came to define life then. But as I look back, I now see that my mom in her own way continued to keep herself available. She did this not by micromanaging my calendar or working her way into involvement with every activity. She did one simple thing. She kept her door open.
Each night when I would come home my parents would likely be in bed reading or laying in the dark. Their door would be wide open and as I would walk by I would hear them say, "Monica, come and talk to us." They would make a spot for me in the middle and the talking would begin. Sometimes they asked questions and other times they would just listen. Laying in the dark, I felt as though I could share anything. I would tell tales of my teenage trials and woes. I would philosophized about life. I would tell ridiculous stories until we laughed so hard our sides hurt. I usually stayed only a few minutes or until my Dad made it apparent by his snores that my time was up.
I look back on these talks in the dark as one of the major ways that my parents held on to me during my final years at home. I knew the routine. I knew the door would be open. I knew where to find my mom when I needed her or just wanted to ask a question. We related not through activities, but through sharing.
And so here I am today. As I now have become a mother to seven children, I am often concerned when I consider whether or not I am really connecting with them. It seems as though society gives mixed signals to moms. On one hand, we are expected to be routine, list driven, organized home managers, yet scorned if we are found at home doing the same thing day after day. All the while, we are encouraged to create the perfect atmosphere of spontaneity for our children's development taking them into the realms of the unknown to explore their most recent interests. Falling short means that we are depriving our children of the best.
Being upset by interruptions in the schedule or being frazzled by a whirlwind of activity is not the connection that I want to have with my children. The kind of connection that I desire is found in relationship. It is defined in the security of routines and boundaries in which children do thrive. It is defined by the natural interactions that center around work and play that occur when a family lives at home. It is defined by an open door and talking in the dark.