Leader of the Pack

Dear Kids:

I read a great blog on (Love) Notes to Self, which reminded me of days when motherhood was my job.  Maybe there were times I should have been fired.  May I wish that I had been mature earlier?  That I had known that how I acted meant more than what I said.  That I had understood what damaged you and what you could be brushed off with an “Oh, Mom!”    Would that have made me a Super Mom?  Probably not.  In the words of Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

It’s hard to teach what you don’t know, and I didn’t know who I was or what to expect from myself, let alone from you.  There was no Dr. Phil or Oprah in those days.  Even then I read self-help books voraciously, but I confess that there were as many about keeping my husband as there were about raising my kids. Ultimately, I did both, but there were some big gaps for you.

And it was a different era.  You were already in school when “parenting” really came into vogue.  After your infancy I had no idea what to do as a mother or how to do it.  Once in awhile I had an immediate sense that I had made a mistake.  Sometimes I could fix it…sometimes not.  Often I didn’t know where to start on the repair.  Only one time in all those years did we make a decision that reflected success at the moment.  Most of the time I was whistling in the dark.

Happily, in our first neighborhood I met my greatest mentor.  What would any of us have done without Mary?  She’d just had her fifth child when I had my first.  She walked, talked and loved me through my marriage and my mothering.

That neighborhood created the “pack” mentality, though.  There were 42 kids under 18 years of age in one city block.  The toddlers followed the older children from yard to yard without much concern from the parents.  Adolescents knew to watch out for the little ones.  Cars didn’t have a chance as they picked their way through parked cars, tricycles and bicycles.

I loved it.  I could pay a 12-year-old a quarter to watch as you sat in your jumper seat on the front lawn.  You were mesmerized by the activity and I was free.  Did I really think more about how to keep you occupied than how you were occupied?  I’m afraid so.  Moments of personal time were precious.  I loved naptimes and bedtimes.

And I taught you to stick together.  All for one and one for all.  Pity the poor man who tackled the one wearing the Cowboys shirt as the rest of you beat on him and kicked him away.  Pity the poor babysitter who couldn’t break through your solidarity to keep you from building a campfire in the back yard.

Of course I don’t see you as a pack now, but I did then.  I specifically remember telling you to complain to each other, not to me.  I heard you as a chorus of sound.  If you were all laughing, life was good.  If you were all crying, someone might be hurt.  If you were all quiet, trouble was brewing.

How strange in the context of how I see you with your children.  Each child has a voice.  Each voice is heard resoundingly through each family.  I think of you now as people with children who are people.  When you were small we were families with parents who had children.  There is a great difference.

You have all grown to be men and women who move through the world in marvelous ways.  I hope you have transcended your upbringing and are sure of your own voice.  I hope that you can single yourself out from the pack as important and worthwhile in your individual wants and needs.

Who I am now…wants that for you.


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