I must have been the worst mother ever

I love cats. They fill crevices in my heart with warmth. But they’re animals. I’m not really their mother.

So why do I worry about them more than I remember worrying about my kids?

Case In Point

We planned our week away several months in advance. And I contracted someone to stay at the house with my three little fur babies.

When the sitter cancelled a month before our trip, my first response was, “I’m not going to be able to go on this trip.”

My husband looked at me like I’d grown an arm out of the middle of my forehead. “We’ll get someone else.”

But there’s no one.

Because I really want this person to adore cats as much as I do. And I want to be comfortable imagining them alone in my house.

Am I expecting too much?

Needless to say, I don’t recall ever thinking I would cancel a vacation to stay home with my kids. Maybe if they had been sick.
But one time, my youngest had a bad fall and got stitches two days before I was supposed to leave to join my husband in Washington, DC.

My mother was keeping our sons. She insisted that I go on the trip.

I’d like to say she really had to twist my arm. But she didn’t. I wanted to be convinced it was fine for me to leave my small children.

But these cats?

Plan B

“They do so much better when someone stays with them.”

It’s true.

I love cats for their independence. And my cats are as snooty as any Egyptian god or goddess.
But when we left them for a week and had my father-in-law check in on them daily, they pooped on the chair, destroyed a few items and sprayed my husband’s shoes.

It made coming home an instant relaxation reversal.

Another time, we had some neighbor kids come over and sit with them for a couple hours every day.

This time it was the bed that got used as a litter box. And the television and lights were left on. For how long we’ll never know.

So my husband’s plan to have the neighbor stop in daily to feed, water and clean their box wasn’t looking very pleasant.

Thankfully, my adult sons live nearby. Although they’d rather stay at their own place, they know and love the cats. It’s not too unreasonable for my youngest to commute from my house rather than his. He can even bring his cat (she loves playing with my cats).

As relief floods my chest when this plan comes together, I wonder, “What sort of person am I?”

Who worries more about leaving their cats alone than leaving their kids?

Although my kids were always with grandparents or other responsible adults.

Shouldn’t I want the same for my fur babies?

Maybe the relief I feel has more to do with coming home to no unwelcome presents.

That’s what I tell myself.

That and “You’re the best cat mother ever!”

What do you worry about when you go on vacation?

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A Mother’s Life

When you’re writing your mother’s obituary, it occurs to you that sometimes words fail. A life is more than education, residence, employment, awards and surviving family. All the column inches in the newspaper can never hope to capture the full story.

My mother’s life conceived mine. If she had listened to the obstetrician who told her pregnancy and her body didn’t mesh, I would not be here to write these words.

My mother worked hard to make sure I had what I needed. She taught me the value of hard work as a means of reaching beyond the necessities of life into the pleasures. Did I appreciate having to scrub the toilet twice a week? (Make that six times if the first attempt didn’t meet her specification for cleanliness.)

Episodes of raw fried chicken and undercooked potatoes aside, I can prepare tasty and healthy meals because my mother taught me how to use a stove. I started drying the dishes at the age of five (lucky older sister got to wash). I recall stirring jam until I thought my arm would fall off, being hypnotized by the valve on the top of the pressure cooker and sending raw venison through the meat grinder.

My mother taught by example as much as by direct instruction. She loved to read. She sat in the chair with my sister on one side and me on the other, reading aloud to us. When we were old enough, we took turns reading the stories to her. She sang along with The Carpenters as their 8-track played on the stereo. She took us to church on Sunday and helped us learn to recite the books of the Bible.

As much as I grumbled about keeping my room clean, I knew what a clean room should look like. Our house was spotless. No need for a “five second rule” in our kitchen. Go ahead and eat directly off the floor; it’s as clean and sanitary as the counters. No joke.

My mother worked at the bank when we were younger. When we were in high school, she returned to college to pursue a nursing degree. She taught me that a person is never too old to pursue a dream.

I resented her determination to get high marks in college. She spent too much time studying, I thought. Of course, when I returned to college as a 40-year-old, I couldn’t settle for less than an “A” either. She had passed her perfectionism on to me – by example as much as admonition.

I wanted to make my own choices. I deliberately chose things she disapproved for my life, claiming it demonstrated my independence from her. Most of my regrets were decisions I made simply because I knew Mom wouldn’t want me to do it. Can anyone say “stupid”?

I didn’t appreciate her advice until I had children of my own. I didn’t understand her grief at my rebellion until my own children stood toe-to-toe with me debating the rules I set for them. The magnitude of her love in the face of my idiocy boomed like a megaphone when I cried over my own children.

How can these sentiments be expressed in journalistic style for the obituary page? In truth, I’ve barely scratched the surface of describing my mother’s life. More experiences lie ahead when the epic boundlessness of her love and sacrifice will be revealed again and again.

A mother’s life is about securing the best for her children and grandchildren. In the absence of financial wealth to purchase this, my mother spent her own blood, sweat, tears, love, wisdom and time to procure success by outfitting us to strive for it.

What words describe your mother’s life or your life as a mother?

Life is Like a Dining Room Table

Life - waiting to happen
Life – waiting to happen

I freely admit I’m no Forrest Gump, but I must say that dragging a solid oak table and ten chairs in and out of the house a few times makes me think. And once you get a writer thinking – look out – an analogy is on the way.

When reflecting on uses of this table, it occurred to me that our daily life and the seasons of our life can be seen in the variety known by our dining room tables.

Daily Life Reflections

Unlike many families in our eat-and-run culture, I ate dinner at the dining room (or kitchen) table. When we were kids, my sister and I also wolfed down our Captain Crunch and Apple Jacks at the kitchen table before walking to the bus stop.

A dining room table is a place for family togetherness. In our home, dinnertime serves as a moment for the four (or three or even two) of us to sit together and discuss daily events.

“How was your day?” The dining room table might reply, “I sat in a dark room staring out the front window. It was lonely until the cat came and scratched one of my chair legs and then curled up on a seat for a nap.” Have you had such a day?

“What did you learn at school today?” “What happened in your world today?” “Are we having chicken again?” It might not be a deep, philosophical exchange but it keeps us in touch with each other.

If you’re like my family, the dining room table is in the dining room and gets used for everything except mealtime. That’s a statement about our daily life, too. What we expect occasionally happens, but most of the time we live in the flux of the unexpected.

Our dining room table:

  • Collects an assortment of junk – mail, books, games and a quick look at my recent garage sale woes reminds you our life resembles this
  • Can be about fun and games – this is where the two, four or more of us gather with cards, Apples to Apples, Monopoly, etc. – life has some fun times, too
  • Invites friends and family to sit and stay awhile – have you ever noticed how everyone lingers even after the food is gone? Some moments of life should be savored
  • Can be covered or bare – some occasions merit a formal tablecloth, while others are happy to see the oak finish. Depending on where we are and who is around us, we might choose to cover our hurts or expose them

Seasonal Comparisons

Needing refinishing: When the boys were little, we had a booster chair that you hung off the side of the table. Needless to say, bowls, spoons and cups became drumsticks on the drum of the tabletop. It didn’t take long until the varnish peeled away.

When our kids are little, time is an elusive imp. There are never enough hours in a day to accomplish our to-do list, not if we want to sleep anyway. This season of life stretched like eternity when I was in it.

Using all the leaves: Whether for birthday parties, game days, dinners, or a hang-out for the neighborhood kids, we needed a table with more than one expansion. This was a joy to me because I wanted to know who my boys hung out with.

This season stretched, like the table with all the leaves inserted, through all the school years. It meant extra trips to the grocery store and a house more cluttered than clean, but it kept the mama table content.

Adding more chairs: Even as our kids aged, we needed more chairs at the dinner table and for holiday dinners. Friends from college or old high school buddies spent time around the table – mostly for D and D or LAN parties. Good thing we had those ten chairs.

Inevitable fact of life: kids grow up. They go to college and move away. They find a special someone to join with, starting the seasons anew. Our table has yet to see brides for our handsome princes, but both of them have serious attachments and those girls have a place at our table.

Storing the leaves: If you pull this beautiful oak table all the way open, there’s room to store one of the heavy leaves. The other one generally leans against the wall in the entry closet. They’re close at hand, ready to host a gathering of family or friends, but most of the time, a more intimate arrangement prevails.

I’ve spent a few posts mourning and delighting in this phase of empty nesting. I’m reminded anew that even though that table is solid oak, it requires attention to stay beautiful. The same can be said for marriage.

Too often we focus our time and energy on the children and our spouse becomes that stranger in the bed beside us. If that’s the case, the close quarters brought on when the table size is reduced can feel uncomfortable.

What sort of dining room table are you sitting at? Think of a benefit for your current stage, it will be gone soon enough (unless you’re an empty nester – we hope that one stretches for another 40 years).