It’s the Wednesday before Memorial Day and Mr. Smith and I are both incredibly excited for the weekend to arrive. We will be celebrating his 65thbirthday with all our children, their wives and our grandchildren. We will miss Hsin Yi and Eleanor as they are in Taiwan visiting family, but all others will be present and accounted for. We will rendezvous at a hotel with a pool near Cleveland, Ohio to mark the occasion. It is what Mr. Smith wants for his birthday. I had been racking my brain for an appropriately fabulous gift for this auspicious occasion. Each time I asked him if there was something special that would make his heart go pitter-pat, he always responded the same, “I want to celebrate with my peeps.” So, we’re making that happen.
His celebration will be filled with noise, games and activity, and loads of love. We’ll have a pizza party, get some exercise with a hike at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and share a special dinner on Sunday which will include Becky’s famous cupcakes. All our grandchildren are little fish, so there will be lots of swimming. We’ll play a couple of Grandpa Nick centric games and munch lots of yummy snacks. Hopefully all the fun will tire out the grandkids, leaving a bit of adult time in the evening to pop that champagne with our sons and daughters-in-law while our little darlings drift off to sleep angelically.
It will be like a mini Camp Grandma, except that Grandpa will be the primo VIP! Mr. Smith and I treasure anything that strengthens the bonds of our far-flung family. We love seeing our sons catch up with each other’s lives. We love watching our grandchildren get to know their cousins, aunts and uncles better, and in some instances, their own parents. Four-year old Emily is at a point where she’s figuring out the family tree. Many Facetime calls are spent discussing the fact that, yes, Grandpa and I are her father’s parents and Uncle Emmet and Uncle Adam’s parents. I think being all together will help her form a clearer portrait of her family and all its branches. I know being together always improves my viewpoint!
There is extensive research that demonstrates the benefits of interaction with extended family. I didn’t have grandparents growing up, but I had my Aunt Ruby and six siblings. I know the benefits of having them in my life were immeasurable. I am constantly amazed at how much my adult children and grandchildren add to my life. They ground me, they sustain me, and they make me want to be a better person. We are lucky people…
Chatting over dinner last Sunday evening, I thanked Mr. Smith again for my marvelous new perfume gift set. Then I corrected myself. Not perfume, cologne. He responded indignantly, “It’s not cologne!” This set off quite the conversation and a little internet research. I didn’t receive cologne, I received eau de parfum. When shopping for fragrance you can choose perfume, eau de parfum, eau de toilette or eau de cologne. But what is the difference? It depends on the concentration of essences or aromatic oils, and the higher the concentration the pricier the bottle. While most data points to the origin of perfume belonging to the Egyptians, being a true Francophile, I associate it with France and the great perfume houses of Paris. Today in Paris more scent is purchased at Sephora than at the beautiful Guerlain House on the Champs-Elysees. Wistfully, gone are the days it was commonplace for a mother to take her daughter to a perfume house to have a scent created specifically for her as a rite of passage. I don’t let that stop me from daydreaming about attending a fragrance workshop and having my personalized scent created and presented to me in a beautiful crystal bottle engraved with my name.
I don’t totally agree with Coco that elegance isn’t possible without perfume, but I do know that I have always been fascinated by its allure, from a beautiful glass bottle with an atomizer to the Avon spray bottles on my mom’s dresser top years ago. My sister Jeanne is 13 years older than me and my sister Suzi is 10 years older than me. As a little girl, they were the epitome of sophistication and glamour to me. The tops of their bedroom dressers were awash with fascinating bottles of makeup, nail polish and perfume. I was sure that once I was old enough to use these coveted items, I too would obtain their worldly elegance. I couldn’t wait to put my hair up in a “beehive”, wear full skirts over petticoats and be picked up for dates on Saturday night.
By the time I was 15 and dating, no one was wearing their hair in a bouffant and the full skirt had given way to bell bottoms, but makeup, nail polish and perfume still held their appeal to me. My family lived in small-town Indiana, devoid of any department stores with lovely fragrance counters. I’m sure that’s the reason I distinctly remember the first time I walked into Marshall Fields on State Street in Chicago, directly into a sea of perfume counters. It was as if I had arrived at the height of elegance! Feeling a bit (a lot) intimidated, I didn’t make a purchase that day, but still smile at the memory.
In my high school years, I thought I was tres sophitiquewhen I wore Jovan Musk. I was obsessed with what I thought were the exotic scents of musk and patchouli and spent many an hour at the fragrance counter of our closest drug store. Love’s Baby Soft debuted in 1974 with the tag line “Because innocence is sexier than you think” along with a photo of a Lolita-style girl. Despite the rebirth of feminism in the 60s, it’s obvious Madison Avenue was going to stick to the mantra “sex sells” as long as they could get away with it. When I look at those ads today, I cringe and am amazed how naïve a midwestern teenager I was.
Not depending on sex to sell its product, Revlon released Charlie in 1973, marketing it to the young working woman. They ran an ad campaign featuring several models, including Naomi Sims, the first African American woman in history featured in a cosmetic company’s advertising. At the time, I was dating a man named Charlie and received many bottles of Charlie. Luckily, I did like it!
The first Christmas Mr. Smith and I were married, one of his gifts for me under the tree was a gift set of Anais, Anais by Cacharel. In addition to the eau de parfum, there was body lotion and a small container of bubble bath. He explained to me that the saleswoman told him women like to “layer” their scents and that I would want the additional items! Whether this was an astute saleswoman who figured she could upsell a new husband or she was just being helpful, I was delighted to receive my gift.
You know how when you find just the right shade of lipstick, it gets discontinued? Well, that happened to me with fragrance. My eternal favorite is Givenchy’s Indecence. Sadly, it is no longer available, and I still mourn its loss. You can buy a distant cousin, Organza Indecence, but it’s just not the same.
We are now living where perfume is banned in many offices. Not only are there scent allergies, but often we are assaulted with either too much or an “unpleasant” fragrance from a nearby co-worker. As much as I enjoy spritzing on my scent when I prepare to go out, I do consider where I’m going and whether I could cause others discomfort.
Fortunately, there are still many occasions when a lovely scent is welcomed. At this moment my scent is Flowerbomb by Viktor & Rolf. The name was chosen to denote a floral explosion, a profusion of flowers. It’s a combination of many notes including tea, bergamot, freesia and my old friend patchouli! One thing that has bothered me over time is all the packaging involved with fragrance, more items for the landfill. I was thrilled to learn that Flowerbomb now comes in a refillable bottle. I won’t save the earth having my bottle refilled, but I’ll show it a little love. And I’ll smell lovely while doing it.
I slept in a bit on Mother’s Day morning, a dreary rainy morning conducive to a smidgen of extra pampering. When I did venture into the kitchen, Mr. Smith was quick with a yummy, warm croissant to go with my delicious morning cappuccino. He had also saved my Sunday New York Times from drowning in the weekend downpour. A fine way to start the day.
We had reservations for later in the day at one our favorite waterfront restaurants on Cayuga Lake, but thanks to another wet day in upstate New York, we chose to cancel and dine at home. One of my favorite dinners that Mr. Smith prepares is Martha Stewart’s Maryland Crab Cakes. We decided on a menu of crab cakes, green beans and broiled tomatoes.
After a trip to the bookstore (for fun) and the grocery store (for crab), we spent a rare lowkey afternoon at home. I caught up on Madame Secretary and Mr. Smith spent some time getting a jump start on his upcoming busy work week.
Around 6:00 p.m. we rendezvous in the kitchen, popped a little bubbly and worked on dinner together. In just over an hour we were seated at our cozy dining room table, enjoying our feast. It was delicious.
I did receive a gift set of my current favorite scent from Mr. Smith for Mother’s Day. This led us through an interesting discussion regarding perfume versus cologne and everything in between. Please check back on Sunday when I’ll muse on (ramble on) about the scent of a woman.
My first Mother’s Day in 1980 my eight-day old baby cried. And cried. And cried. As new parents, Mr. Smith and I were beside ourselves. I walked him, I fed him, I changed him, I swaddled him, and I cried a few tears with him. Totally unable to soothe him, we finally decided to call our pediatrician. Even though it was Mother’s Day afternoon, he instructed us to come to his office and he would meet us there. After a thorough examination of Emmet, he turned and looked at us. “This baby is fine. How are mom and dad?” Dr. Hildebrandt was a wise and wonderful man who understood the stress of being new parents and provided us some much-needed support on my inaugural Mother’s Day!
Mother’s Day has morphed into the biggest floral holiday in the US. Honoring mom with cut flowers, house plants or garden plants has become big business. But where did Mother’s Day start? In 1872 Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, promoted a Mothers’ Peace Day to promote global unity after the horrors of the American Civil War and Europe’s Franco-Prussian War. In 1904, a former football coach at Notre Dame proposed the idea of a Mother’s Day “setting aside one day in a year as a nationwide memorial to the memory of mothers and motherhood.” But the person most often credited with the founding of Mother’s Day is Anna Jarvis. Beginning in 1905, the year her mother died, she campaigned in honor of her mother, a peace activist, to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday. President Woodrow Wilson made it official in 1914 when he signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.
By the early 1920s, Hallmark and other companies had started selling Mother’s Day cards and people were giving their mothers gifts of flowers and chocolates. Anna Jarvis was furious because she believed the companies misunderstood her pure almost spiritual vision of honoring mothers. Anna protested florists, candy factories, and card makers, feeling that they were exploiting her idealism. She even criticized Eleanor Roosevelt when she used Mother’s Day to bring attention to the issues of women’s and children’s health and welfare of women and children, ironically problems close to Anna’s own peace activist mother’s heart. Sadly, she remained resentful to the end, dying penniless in a Pennsylvania sanitarium.
When my sister, Jeanne, moved across the pond, she was introduced to another take on Mother’s Day.
“Raised in the Midwest, I grew up with a “Hallmark” impression of Mother’s Day. Over a decade ago I moved to Europe and discovered several countries including Portugal, where I lived, celebrated Mothering Day. My lovely neighbors explained it was a day to honor all of those who raised and mothered a child no matter the relationship. I was so impressed that the addition of an ‘ing’ on mother could change the entire tone of the day, making it so much more inclusive and meaningful. Perhaps it’s an example we could follow.”
Mothering Day has deep roots, going back to the 16thcentury when people would return to their “mother” church for a service on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Anyone who did this was said to have gone “a-mothering”. It has evolved into a holiday for honoring the mothers of children and giving them presents, whether they are your mother or not. I had a great example of this when I was dating Mr. Smith. As Mother’s Day was approaching, he purchased flowers for his mother, as well as his sister and sister-in-law, telling me “They’re mothers too!” It came to him naturally, even though he had never heard of Mothering Day.
I’ve been a fortunate mother. Since that first Mother’s Day, none have been spent in a doctor’s office and all have been spent knowing that I am loved and appreciated by my children. There have been special breakfasts, brunches, dinners, gifts and flowers along the way. Cards and phone calls from sons out-of-state, always something to mark the occasion and make me feel loved and special. I remember one particularly touching Mother’s Day when Adam gave a piano recital, accompanied by the Manchester Symphony Orchestra in Manchester, Indiana. As I sat in wonderment listening to him play the first movement of Edward MacDowell’s Piano Concerto in D Minor, I was astonished by his ease in front of the audience. As the music washed over us, I was amazed this child came from me.
Sadly, for others, Mother’s Day is often stressful. What if you have a “difficult” relationship with your mother? Just finding an appropriate Mother’s Day card can be a challenge. Mother’s Day can be a bitter reminder for women who have lost a child, who long for a child that will never be, or – like Anna – have lost their own mother.
I hope all women can find some “mothering” figure in their lives. For my mother and me there were never any lovely Mother’s Day brunches with intimate conversation and laughter. She wasn’t someone I went to for comfort or guidance, but I have found that in other women, especially my beautiful Aunt Ruby. I hope I can pay that forward.
Motherhood is wonderful, difficult, challenging, and the best thing that has ever happened to me. There is no manual or roadmap to guide us through this adventure. But hopefully there are other mothering figures along the way to support you, sometimes in the form of a kindly old pediatrician! And if you are lucky, there is the amazing reward of adult children. And if you are really lucky, there is love.
Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter of fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anybody to excavate my essential humanity.
Driving home from work last Wednesday, I slowed for an intersection. Apparently, the driver approaching in cross traffic decided I wouldn’t mind in the least if he blew through his stop sign and pulled out in front of me. As I slammed on the brakes, my right arm flew out to protect the phantom child in the passenger seat. Now my youngest child is 34 years old and 1,600 miles away, but that didn’t stop my arm from flying out to protect my precious cargo! As a mother, do we ever stop wanting to protect our children? Does your arm still fly out without thinking at an emergency stop?
Over the years of raising our children, I have on more than one occasion interceded on the part of my children. I admit that I may have hovered a bit too much at times, but I always tried to fight the urge to be a “lawn mower” parent, rushing in to mow down any potential inconvenience, problem or discomfort. My goal has been to raise independent, resilient adults. Yet even though they have been adults for many years, I still worry. I have had enough life experience to understand a rejection from a college or an employment opportunity isn’t a personal denial of my child’s worth and they will survive and go on (as I have!) But as their mother I find it hard to believe that someone wouldn’t recognize how fabulous they each are and immediately select my son!
Those mama bear feelings reared up this spring when Adam discovered some employment opportunities in his field and decided to throw his resume into the ring. Consequently, this spring was a restless one for me. It began with Adam’s text regarding positions open in several locations including New Hampshire, Virginia and Pennsylvania. All these locations would bring my newest granddaughter closer to me, but I couldn’t help but think about the Penn State University job in State College, Pennsylvania that would put her closest. Following that initial text were regular updates regarding scheduling interviews and on-campus visits. We waited for other candidates to be interviewed, decisions to be made and offers to be negotiated.
Hurray! We are over the moon that Adam has just accepted a faculty position at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania and will be moving to Pennsylvania the same month that Mr. Smith and I move to Pennsylvania! We have not lived in the same state as Adam since he graduated from Indiana University in the spring of 2007. That fall, he went off to graduate school in Colorado. After a year of grad school, he dropped out and spent a year making salads (not feeding pigs like the biblical prodigal son). He eventually found a professor he wanted to study under at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. Mr. Smith helped load Adam and all his worldly possessions into a moving truck and drove with him to Texas, leaving him there in an “interesting” apartment Adam had found on the internet. At Texas Tech he didn’t waste his life in “riotous living”. He completed his graduate studies, obtained his PhD, met his wife, Hsin Yi, and they married. And they gave us Eleanor. Of all our long-distance grandchildren, the distance to Eleanor has always been the farthest. Now instead of 1,600 miles apart, she will be living 130 miles away. That is Sunday dinner territory for the Smith family! In addition, this move brings Adam closer to both of his brothers and their families. While thankfully not a true “prodigal son”, we are all excited and will recognize this move with great celebration and fanfare. And I’m elated to be able to spend more quality time with Eleanor, my brilliant little feminist. I think Aunt Ruby would be pleased.
I spent my junior and senior high school years listening to WLS am radio out of Chicago. They brought the Top 40 to the unhip Midwest. I woke in the morning and went to sleep at night listening to The Beatles, The Supremes, and The Beach Boys, along with other great bands of my youth, via my little clock radio. In the living room, my parents had a huge boxy credenza with a tv, a hi-fi turntable and storage for their records, today’s vinyl. Sadly, we weren’t an overly musical household and other than some Christmas music at the holidays, I don’t remember it getting much use.
Happily, some years later, Mr. Smith brought music into my life in spades. Not only did he come with a piano and his musical sensibility, he passed it on to all children. While our lyrical medium has changed over the years, going from vinyl to the “cloud”, there has always been music. We’ve attended rock concerts, classical concerts, jazz concerts, operas and musicals. And now our sons all have a deep connection with music. I credit this to their being raised in a home filled with song and orchestration. Many a Sunday morning began with Bach and pancakes. Three young boys stumbling into the kitchen when they heard the familiar strains of the masters, knowing that breakfast was on its way. Our youngest, Adam, shared “I tell people that I was lucky to grow up in a musical environment that was stylistically diverse. We had jazz, pop, and classical. At age six, Emmet knew the Four Seasons as Vivaldi (and not Frankie Valli), while I knew that Van Morrison and Paul Simon were things that I enjoyed and that connected us.”
My uber-musical progeny have also introduced new music into my life through countless music lessons, piano recitals, and marching band competitions. I can’t hear anything from Whiskeytown’s Pneumoniaor Norah Jones’s Come Away With Me albums without memories of sitting on the back porch on warm evenings when the boys were home on summer breaks from college, listening to music and sharing our days. I will forever remember one Saturday when Adam was a senior in high school. Mr. Smith, Adam and I headed south to Ball State University, picked up Emmet, and drove to Indiana State to visit Elliot. Later, with the three boys in the back seat, the radio was on, (I wish I could remember the song) when suddenly they all yelled “You can’t have a key change there!” My fabulous educated musicians had all heard it, but not me!
The positive effect of music on children is well documented. Improving brain power, developing social skills, building confidence, inspiring creativity, and teaching patience and discipline are but a few of the benefits linked to exposure to music. One cannot watch a high school marching band practice their show for the season over and over and over and ever doubt those kids are learning patience and discipline. Our son, Elliot, is now director of bands at a high school. It warms the cockles of my heart to hear him speak with tremendous excitement and passion about teaching his kids. I asked Elliot his thoughts on the importance of music in children’s lives. He shared that he thinks one of the most important aspects of music in schools is that it gives the child the ability to actually “feel” when most of the emphasis in school is on learning facts and figures. “When children don’t have the opportunity to feel and express their feelings in a positive way, that is where a lot of problems rise up. Anxiety, anger, etc.” He fears that there is so much importance placed on test scores and the right colleges, that recognizing the importance of creativity sometimes goes by the wayside.
I can’t identify a key change to save my life. I can’t have a scholarly discussion with you on rhythm and tone. But I know there is music that can soothe me. There is music that can boost my mood and get me ready to take on the day. Perhaps best of all, there is music that can take my hand and lead me back in time to that porch and those summer nights with my sons or to a moment when I was 18 and dancing myself silly on a Saturday night.
Music is an amazing treasure that can be a bridge across generations. It can ease suffering. It can create communication where none existed. I know it when I see Mr. Smith talk music with his sons. I know it when I share Abba with my grandsons. And I know it when I see baby Eleanor and her grandpa grooving to The Gummy Bear Song. Music is the food for our soul.
April is a month of transition in upstate New York. This year in our home it is both a transition of seasons and a transition towards our next chapter in life. We are knee deep in sorting, purging, packing, donating and (again) downsizing. And it feels good (most of the time). In the middle of all our activity, there have been some moments this month that really made my day.
1. Finding the first peonies at the flower shop.
2. Seeing my first robin of spring, taking a deep breath and connecting with nature. Emily Dickinson also loved a robin…
I have a Bird in spring Which for myself doth sing — The spring decoys. And as the summer nears — And as the Rose appears, Robin is gone.
4. Getting to share Eli and Henry opening their birthday gifts from Mr. Smith and me via Facetime.
5. Driving across Canada with Mr. Smith on a sunny day, enjoying the buds on the trees, the green grass, and the conversation
6. Going to the mailbox and having snail mail from my grandkids.
7. Spotting plastic Easter eggs hanging on a tree in a front yard and remembering doing that with my own sons.
8. Finishing a book that Mr. Smith had also read so we could discuss. The Huntress: A Novelby Kate Quinn
9. The 36thbirthday of my middle child, Elliot. Elliot has often been referred to as the cream between two crispy biscuits (Emmet and Adam)! Our family wouldn’t be the same without him.
10. And knowing that April leads to the beautiful month of May. Happy May Day!