Mommy’s Got Talent

As seen on the Huffington Post

For 13 years I had one consistent role and I performed it well. It’s been my primary area of expertise and with it I have molded social groups and inspired movers, shakers, and decision makers. I’ve given sustenance to the thirsty, hungry, sick, needy and taught the illiterate to read and write. I’ve served as professor emeritus in the fields of Comparative Religion, English, Earth Science, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Ethics, Political Science, Economics, Architecture and others. Without me, there are small civilizations that wouldn’t have thrived. Ok, one very small civilization. Comprised of two people, a king, and a queen. The king has spent these years ruling other civilizations by day. The queen has stayed at home, ruling the one of which I write. And the civilization has thrived in every way the queen hoped in health, wealth, and wisdom.

Until she quit her day job and became a businesswoman.

The civilization, as you have surmised, is my family. The queen is me. The king, my husband. While it’s a woman’s liberated “civilization,” it’s fairly traditional. My husband has been the bread-winner. I’ve stayed home with the kids. Both of us happily so. I love creating teaching opportunities with my children, doing art projects, gardening, cooking, playing games, reading. I’ve been that mother at the kitchen counter with her kids on chairs next to her, hulling strawberries for jam to can for Christmas gifts. I’ve spent hours singing them folks songs, their fingers taking rides on mine as we crawl up and down the piano keys. It’s been what you might call, “an enviable life” in the house of my motherhood. I’ve been deeply grateful for the choice to be at home with my children and it’s fed me like nothing else.

I’m also a writer. I’ve been writing since college, and so I entered motherhood knowing my craft, working during their naps, freelancing to help with family costs, and indulging my greatest personal passion: novel writing. I’ve written many novels over the years — not all good ones; many of them exercises in learning. So while my kids learned to walk, talk, eat, cut paper, use glue… I grew as a writer. All-the-while, I had a dream: to get a book published. To have readers. To speak at bookstores and in libraries across America. To write something that would help people in the same spirit of my motherhood. Only this dream was about my journey, not theirs.

I believed this was a healthy thing to teach my children, when they were old enough to wonder what I was doing in my office. “Mommies and daddies have lives of their own and that’s a good thing.” I’d put my hand on their chests and say, “I’m always here in your heart. No matter what.” And put their hands on mine and say, “And you are always in my heart.” Their knowing nods told me they understood.

Still, after a publishing rejection, I’d say, bittersweet, “Thank God I’m not published yet. How could I justify leaving my kids when they’re so young?” But deep down I was conflicted. I wanted that dream to come true with all of that heart that lived in them and lived in me. It was an inner war I fought every day.

And then in 2009, I got a book deal and everything changed. I had to rethink my motherhood. Suddenly deadlines had me seat-belted to my office chair for long hours, breaking only for meals. Homemade sauces percolating on the stove were forgotten for, yes, Stouffer’s frozen lasagna. A who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-with-my-mother was in order, and I got it in eyeball rolls, dramatic exits, and out-of-the-blue crying fits. But the truth is that dream or no dream, a change in my husband’s career meant that we desperately needed the money. And this was what presented itself in the way of livelihood. I had his total support and my children’s blessing, so they said.

But then the travel began and I became a second-class citizen in my own home. I’d return, haggard after 12, cross-country, back-to-back events in 10 days, and the kids would ignore me. Suddenly it was “Dad, I need you to sign this for school,” and “Dad, where are my cleats?”

I liked that he was such a presence in their daily lives. I didn’t like that I wasn’t.

So I hired a therapist. “You need to tell them this is what career success looks like for now. Things are different. They’re still safe. You still love them. Children are manipulators. You’ve done nothing wrong.” But it didn’t feel that way. I felt that I had done something very wrong. And maybe it was because of the mother I’d been all those years.

Would they have been better off in day care? More well-adjusted, flexible, less reliant on a mother who eagerly pushed them on the swing of life; answered every why-is-the-sky-blue question. Maybe Legos don’t count as Architecture, and lemonade stands don’t speak much for Economics, nor Chutes and Ladders for Physics, nor bedtime discussions about God for World Religion, nor patching up playground-politics-gone-amuck in the way of Ethics. Maybe those efforts feel like a slap in the face when the creator of them is out the door again with her roller bag and a plane to catch.

In all my career dreams, I never imagined I’d lose my power in this little civilization. Or that I’d fail it. And no matter how many hugs I give, or muffins I make, or soccer games I drive eight hours in both directions to support… I can’t seem to redeem myself. Maybe it’s because they’ve had to swallow a sudden bitter pill: their mother is a human being with dreams and needs and talent. Didn’t they know this? Did I sell them a myth in Band-aids and bedtime stories? Did I omit the fact that dreams-come-true sometimes take you far from home? Why must I be the first to break their hearts?

25 Comments

Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Huffington Post Blog Pieces, Motherhood, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

25 Responses to Mommy’s Got Talent

  1. Hey Laura!
    I’m thinking this: that we do our kids a dis-service by attempting to protect them from “life.” You provided “sameness” until 2009, and then provided “difference.” (Much like the “gift” your husband gave you…!)
    The reality of life is that things change, and some of the changes are things we scare ourselves or hurt ourselves over. You kids are experiencing this with you, (as they will anyway…) and are learning to adapt, perhaps occasionally kicking and screaming, to the discomfort they are creating.
    My mom and dad attempted to shield me from this lesson– and then, at age 17 I went off to Elmhurst Illinois for College. I soon had my first, major failure–and was forced to “step up” with no practice. I did, and I remember the lesson. I wish that mom and dad had not shielded me so much.
    So, ass on cushion!
    And recognise that your pain is from the change you see before you–the shift in your relationship with your kids.
    You didn’t break their hearts (you can’t)–you’re helping them to transition into adulthood.
    Now, be kind to you, and choose not to break yours!
    Warm hugs, Wayne

  2. Wow, this is so hard. You articulate the struggle quite well. And I think the answers are 1) No, they didn’t know; and 2) Because they love you the most. It was inevitable.

    No one falls as far or as hard as a mother.

  3. Jan Larson Myhre

    I can honestly say I have had the best of both worlds. Early on when my first born was new to this world I was in the classroom as learner and then as teacher. I loved it. He thrived all the same. When my second son was born, my husband was making enough money that I could stay home. I loved that, too. Neither scenario is either right or wrong only different. I wish you well as you follow where your dream leads you. The kids will be fine.

    • lauramunson

      So much wisdom from all of you amazing people. Thank you, Jan. I really appreciate your take on things, esp having done it both ways. Neither being right or wrong. I think the sudden upset of “normal” is their challenge, but they are having the opportunity to see that it’s not the end of the world. Summer has helped! yrs. Laura

  4. Mary Lindeen

    You are way too hard on yourself. You didn’t break their hearts now, anymore than you broke their hearts when they still wanted you to carry them to bed but they were just too big. They are growing up, and so are you. Even if you had stayed at home, there would have come a time when their eyes started to roll and “Thanks, Mom,” was replaced by “yeah, whatever.” Everything changes. That is what you are learning and what they are learning, and it’s a difficult but important lesson for everyone involved. If you can help them learn this lesson, and more importantly that a person can still be exactly who they are inside even when everything on the outside is changing, you will still be doing your most important job: preparing your kids, by modeling for them yourself, that no matter what life brings, it’s all going to be OK. I know, because my son and I are right in the middle of that lesson ourselves, and it’s a steep learning curve–but look where we might be if we can find our way through it!

  5. I think a Mother who finds and fulfills her dream is showing her children a wealth of information; for their own lives…You can become what ever you want and be a great Mom. It’s just “Dad’s” time to spend with them. You both are everything to the kids. They will let you know…later! Keep writing Laura. I’m waiting for your next novel!!!

    • lauramunson

      Hi, Barbara! I’m waiting for my next novel too! I think when autumn hits, I’ll be nose to the computer again like the “good old days” and at least they’ll know where to find me. Thanks for your kind and inspirational words. yrs. Laura

  6. Terry in Colorado

    I’ve always found kids to be pretty resilient people. I’ve seen them grow up in the worst situations, turning out to be fabulous adults. I’ve seen others grow up in what I thought must be a great, loving home, and never assume responsibility for anything. You give them their start. You give them a base. But how they turn out is up to them. Whether they learn this very young, in their teens, or as an adult with their first child, they must learn it. You gave them a chance to learn it over the last several months. To some level, they have. Aren’t you glad you had the chance to do it without day care, having your partner helping them grow while you were gone? They now know that they will be able to take care of some things mom used to do for them. They will love you all the more when they figured out how you taught them that! You love them! They love you! You’re back. They know it now more than ever, or they will.

    • lauramunson

      Thanks, Terry. Those words run deep. It IS an opportunity. I need to remember that. And I need to remember their resiliance. yrs. Laura

  7. Leslie

    You have achieved success , my friend.
    You are leaving a legacy with your children every waking moment.
    Before you know it they will be dragging their feet “just to slow the circles down.”
    On all accounts, I say “Well done.”

    • lauramunson

      Oh not Circle Game. That’s not playing fair. :) But you’re right and you’re ahead of me in this. Thanks for being a good guide, friend. ox

  8. When I said they love you the most, I didn’t mean more than your husband. But they do love their parents more than anyone else in the world, and you have been the most on-scene person in their daily lives. A big change with your time is a major adjustment. Mary Lindeen nailed it, I think, change is necessary and difficult. It’s OK for it to be both.

  9. “Easy does it and One day at a time” – slogans from Al-Anon are what I offer you. I totally get it.
    Next week, I will be delivering our older son to his new home at college -5 hours away. I have home educated him his entire life (minus last year, when I returned to school).
    Grief and Gratitude run through me… Hang in there, girl, and tread gently with yourself.

    • lauramunson

      Oh how I dread that, Stephanie. But I always tell myself that they’re ready to fledge and it’s our job to let them go. But I miss my daughter’s dollhouse, for crying out loud. Not sure I’m going to know how to pass that empty room in three years. Sending you calm and the knowledge that you have done a beautiful job, I’m sure, getting that boy ready to be a man. yrs. Laura

  10. Suzan

    You have touched on a very raw subject for many of us today. Something any Mom working outside of the home or working at home must come to terms with at some point. But historically, woman have had to work beyond their home obligations with the exception of a few recent decades. I find the history of woman and working and managing families fascinating.

    The most important thing I do each and every day is offer my three boys an example of an adult who manages life with care for myself and those around me. I think it is most important to “be present, when one is present”. One can drive eight hours to and from a soccer game every day and still not make an impact on their child with respect to the quality of their interaction.
    I remember fondly, my Mom’s accomplishments both in and outside of the home. They both were important to me. It told me she understood the value of the bigger picture outside of our home. I treasure that message and emulate it today. Finding the “balance” is the elusive star, and frankly, I don’t think there is a perfect balance to be had. The steps and path in finding the balance is our work and our reward.

    • lauramunson

      I’m with you, Suzan, on “balance.” I think that sometimes we’re bullied by the notoin of balance. But the pursuit is full of good intention and a world of possibility. Thanks for the reminder re: quality time. I’m going to get off the computer and go play cards with my son thanks to you. yrs. Laura

  11. des

    It may feel as though you are breaking their hearts, but you’re actually expanding those hearts. You’re teaching them that sometimes the people we love grow before our very eyes and become different than who we think they are. They’re learning to see you in a whole new light and that they have to share you with the world. You are a big deal and your children will (some day) be proud knowing that as they napped you were turning your own dreams into reality. Yes, you are their mother and a wife, but you’re also you and that’s pretty spectacular.

    • lauramunson

      Wow– I’m just getting around to reading these great responses to my essay, and I really appreciate all the cheerleading. This is a very pushable button for me and your words went straight to my hear, des. THANK YOU. yrs. Laura

  12. Sue

    The one thing I haven’t seen in all these wise responses, Laura, is this one: part of what you’re experiencing has very much to do with the ages your children are. In the “tween”-to-teen years, they are preparing to rebel and assert their independence, as we well know. But part of being secure enough to rebel is that Mom and Dad aren’t supposed to change. And your life did… not to make you feel wrong, but it’s what happened with BOTH Mom and Dad over the last couple years. So they’ve got a two-fold set of changes to deal with — internal and external in the family. It’s enough to set anyone off-balance, especially someone struggling with their own self-image.

    You’ve obviously done a great job with your kids… don’t worry with second-guessing your actions and trust that their upbringing will steady them soon so you can enjoy your relationship again. I bet it will happen sooner rather than later. Have a great vacation, and write lots of good words! I’m looking forward to seeing your novel in print.

    • lauramunson

      Thanks for this, Sue. Wise words. I am finding that used one on one time can make all the difference with the kids. And family dinners whenever possible. Glad to be overall the traveling for now. Yrs. Laura

  13. I don’t buy it.

    Just found you. Read your essay from ‘The New York Times’.

    “Why must I be the first to break their hearts?”

    I don’t buy it.

    You’re not, and you won’t.

    Shari

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