Loving & learning
6 moms reflect on their survival — and success
By CAROLE E. BARROWMAN
Special to the Journal Sentinel
Published The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 10, 2008
We've endured tantrums, toilet training and the terrible twos. We've survived broken windows, broken bones and broken hearts. We've outlasted adolescence, a handful of misdemeanors and more visits to the emergency room than we care to remember. We're mothers with grown children.
There are six of us: Jenny Barcelona, Donna Engelmann, Kathy Lake, Chris Miota, Kathy Zeit and me, mother of two (20, 17). Among us we have 18 children, ranging in ages from 35 to 14. The boys outnumber the girls. (In our world, raising girls was harder than raising boys, so it evens out). For the most part, we've known one another since our children were infants, and in some cases since before they were born.
Donna, Kathy L. & Chris Jenny, Kathy Z. & me.
Kathy Z's children might describe her as "a nurturing and fun mom." Jenny suggests "warm and genuine," and Kathy L says "always supportive of their choices." Donna describes herself as "someone her children can talk to." My two might say "realistic and hard to dupe," and believe me, they've tried. Chris says her children would say "incredibly sophisticated, thin and youthful - if they
know what's good for them."
Our paths have taken varied routes - two stayed home full time before returning to careers, four enjoyed careers where parenting fit well - but our journeys have been similar.
We raised our children to be independent thinkers, even when it meant ours was the authority they challenged. We taught them to treat others the way they wished to be treated (yes, child, that means your siblings), and we continue to believe it takes a village to raise a child. As Chris, our Obi-Wan because she's the mother with the two oldest (35, 33, 27), reminds us, "We are that village."
In honor of Mother's Day, we gathered to celebrate our milestones. We wanted to give ourselves a name, like MADD or GLAAD, but we're really too exhausted to think of one. Chris suggested, "Yo MaMa" because "it's fun to say," or "Hoosier Mommy," but we'd need to move to Indiana. In the end we decided we're just MOMS.
Have we learned a thing or two over the years? Let me tell you.
Graduations and weddings
Graduations are milestones, but the "realization that after my two oldest graduated from college and we had to buy them health insurance," admits Kathy L, mother of three (25, 23, 19), "that was huge." Kathy Z's oldest was eligible for health insurance with his new career, but "he forgot to sign the forms." Even as adults, they need a nudge from mom.
And then there are the tensions when adult children return home. Rules need to be renegotiated and children reminded that we don't care how many appliances fit in a socket in a dorm. In our house, seven is too many.
"Your child goes off to college," says Kathy Z, mother of two (28, 19) and "you're sad. Then you decide to clean his room and you find an empty raspberry vodka bottle at the back of the closet."
At some point, when you have adult male children, adds Jenny, mother of five (24, 22, 20, 17, 14) and our hero, "there's just too much testosterone in the same place." Jenny's oldest son graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in December. "Part of me was saying, 'Come home until you know where you'll settle,' " she explains, "and part of me is like 'Gee, I don't know if you should move home again.' "
Weddings, like graduations, can also be fraught with friction. Jenny's oldest daughter was married last summer and Kathy Z's oldest son last spring. Jenny recommends massages. She and her daughter had one before the wedding. "We were so calm. No last-minute squabbles about seating arrangements."
Kathy Z's son reduced any future friction when he took his mother-in-law-to-be shopping to narrow engagement ring options because he knew it would be important for her.
The importance of love, laughter
Milwaukee poet laureate Susan Firer, in her poem "For My Daughters," writes, "demand to be more of yourselves than anyone will willingly want you to be," and that's been an attitude we've nurtured in our children. When children exceed even our expectations, it makes mama happy.
"I've always felt like a real deliberate kind of a mom," says Chris. "I thought about it, I think about it, and I still think about it even though my children are launched. I didn't do it . . . with reliance on prayer or good fairies - although some of them have been instrumental in our children's lives." We allagreed we've nurtured a sense of humor in our children even when it means irony and sarcasm are family values.
When Chris's oldest son graduated from law school, "I was so proud," she says, "especially when he walked across the stage to a fake middle name."
Kneading bread and being brave
Nikki Giovanni writes being a mother means "to bear the pleasures as we have born the pain," and each of us in our way is trying to live up to this.
"My son bakes," exclaims Donna, mother of three (27, 26, 23). "Who knew? He calls one night and asks, 'Mom, how long do you knead bread?' " To have grown children means relishing these quiet moments of pleasure. Because, Donna adds, they are evidence "that we've made it through the trials. We're on the other shore."
Chris remembers her daughter calling her from the open door of an airplane right before she was about to sky-dive. Explains Chris, she just wanted to say, " 'I love you and if I can I'll call you from the ground.' "
If I can! Chris sat at the phone for 17 minutes not breathing. "What're you going to say?" Chris says with a laugh. " 'Sit down, young lady, and buckle up!"
Listen to your mother
17th-century poet Anne Bradstreet wrote, "Make use of what I leave in love." She hoped her children would remember her words of wisdom after she was gone. The following is our collective wisdom - to other mothers and to our children. We may submit them to Hallmark . . . or The Onion.
"There's a pride in knowing that you've done a good job, but it's a crapshoot," says Kathy Z. That's why, adds Donna, "remind yourself constantly that you're not the only influence in your children's lives; otherwise, you'll go nuts."
"My mother died years ago," Donna says, "and I'm still trying to please her. I hope as adults my children are liberated from me."
"When our children were young I gave them long ropes," states Chris, "that way if I needed, I could tug back." With grown children, you have to put down the ropes - but keep them within reach.
"Marry a plumber or a car mechanic," says Kathy L. "Marry up."
We don't want to live your life, but we do want you to call occasionally and let us know how it's going.
We'll never give up on you, and no matter what, you can always come home.
When you turn 21, we don't want to hear all the things you did in high school or in college. We did most of them ourselves.
We can't always be equal, but we'll try to be fair.
We haven't raised any serial killers, but if we have it's their fathers' fault.