A Thank You to the Village: Cause it Sure Took One To Raise My Daughter

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Dear Hannah,

I was married at your age. You don’t even want to learn to cook dahl. (line from Bendit Like Beckham—just for fun and since you are a film girl and all)

You graduate from college in just three days. I want you to know that I am so proud of you and all that you have accomplished in your almost 22 years. You are an amazing, inspiring, creative, strong, loyal, dedicated and intelligent person. Often now, when we are talking, I am awed by the maturity and wisdom of the words you speak to me. It is hard to believe that you began as that tiny, dark-haired girl with the rosebud ears that came out of me when I had just turned twenty-two. I was still a baby in a sense, and I was continuing to raise myself as I began to raise you. You were the child meant for me at that time in my life—you were the one strong enough to withstand my cutting teeth.

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The two of us–Just after you were born. You can sort of see from this picture that I didn’t know the first thing about babies.

I think you know me well enough now to know that, when faced with transitions, I tend to write. It is no different on this eve of your graduation and imminent move to California. Instead of thinking so much about your accomplishments, which are many indeed, I find myself filled with gratitude for all of the people that helped me along the way in raising you. When you were about four years old, the wise Hilary Clinton made famous the African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” At that time, I was practicing law and very reliant on daycare providers, babysitters, and your grandparents to help me raise you. This moment of your graduation will be a mountain top vista for me—a time to look back and embrace the village that helped me raise you.

Because I am not only a lover of the written word but also a devotee of making gratitude lists, what better way to celebrate your graduation from Beloit College and your leap into the world of adulthood than with a gratitude list for all who helped you along the way. I may never get an Academy Award (but maybe you will–do they give Academy Awards to Casting Directors?), but I did manage to raise you and that, my dear, is one of the singular accomplishments of my life. So here goes a list of thank you’s that would send the “exit the stage” music playing long before it was done–here’s to your village:

  1. Your dad, for believing in my ability to be a mom when we found ourselves unexpectedly expecting you during our first year of law school.
  2. My Constitutional Law professor, the late Marcia O’ Kelly, who taught so eloquently about the rights of women but also of the sanctity of family. I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant that first year of law school because I was embarrassed. I hadn’t ever planned on children—only ever a career. When you were born, in the fall of my second year of law school, Professor O’Kelly gave you a little snake, covered with black and white fabric in geometrical patterns and stuffed with crunchy, sensory-rich filling. It was less about the gift to you, but her acknowledgement that I could be a law student, a career woman, and a mother that was so supportive to me. *You too will find surrogate mothers down the paths you walk in life. Be ever on the look out.*
  3. Law Professor Patti Alleva, who gave me a job as her research assistant after you were born. She was more than flexible and accommodating of my schedule as a law student and new mom. She’s continued on in both of our lives as a friend and support person.
  4. Your Grandma Melinda, who helped out with you during my first semester back at law school.
  5. Your own Grandma Marcia, who retired from teaching early to take care of you during my second-third year of law school and the summer before my second year, so I could write my law review—the summer after, so I could clerk in Fargo, ND.
  6. All of your kind and loving daycare providers through your formative years: Kim, Kari, Cheryl, and Karla.
  7. My dear friends, study partners and fellow UND law graduates, Pat, who baked you beautiful birthday cakes when you were younger and helped us out of many needful childcare dilemmas (like when I had to go to the ER with dehydration from the stomach flu) during our Brainerd years and Shari, who lived across the hall from us in married-student housing when you were born—already a mom and law student—she first taught me how to balance career and motherhood and still being a person; she continues to do so to this day.
  8. Your Aunt Tiffany, who took care of you on short notice so many times when our daycare was closed and was such a loving force in your life.
  9. The warm, caring, nurturing relationship you (and Ethan) have always had with Aunt Tiffany and Uncle Scott’s children, Phoebe, Jake and Nick.
  10. The prayers and guidance of your broader family of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Grand Aunts and Uncles, as well as cousins of all sorts (first, second, first once-removed etc).
  11. Your Godmother and Aunt Sarah for helping out with you at so many junctures (she watched you when I had my wisdom teeth surgically removed when you were just four months old and couldn’t nurse you for a whole day—she struggled with the pre-frozen breast milk and a baby who wanted her mama). She also threw you a confirmation party when I had to be out of town on your confirmation day in 2009.
  12. Your Irish Step Dance teacher, Katie who created such a wonderful dance community, all of whom became sisters that helped to raise you.
  13. Laurie, another dance mom, who sewed you vests and skirts, because I couldn’t sew, and set your Irish Dance curls for you—in your pre-wig days—because I did not have a way with curlers or hair products.
  14. Jean, your youth group leader. You were the one that led us back to church and specifically, to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Kent Street in St. Paul. I think you found your own way to Jean, who nurtured your spirituality. Perhaps Jean was one of your first surrogate mothers.
  15. Your second mom, Cindy, who helped your dad raise you during your visitations with him and who has worked so hard to continue as a supportive friend to you after she and your dad’s engagement ended. Another surrogate mom, to be sure!
  16. Your Grandma Melinda (again) for coming and staying with you guys after your dad and I divorced, to help accommodate my business trips. She was such a huge support to me through the years and I miss her greatly.
  17. Your Grandpa Spencer, who had the foresight, discipline, and generosity to purchase US Savings Bonds from your date of birth until you began college. These funds paid for travels overseas for your Rotary Exchange and your study abroad, paid for housing costs and books while in college, as well as other incidental expenses. What a huge gift he and Melinda gave you.
  18. Your Grandma Marcia (again) and Grandpa Duane, who also both helped out watching you and Ethan while I was away on business trips or wanted to entertain my hobby, concert going.
  19. When you don’t have another parent to discuss your kids with, you really rely on your friends. As a working single parent, I did not have much time for friendships outside of work and so I am ever grateful for all of the many friends I had along the way at work who listened and laughed and worried right along with me as I endlessly shared kid stories, issues, and joys, long before any of them had children of their own. In the order they came into my life, I want to thank: Christy, Kim, the triumvirate power of Louis, Staci, and Alice (oh to the life-saving power of the corporate coffee break), Bonnie (another surrogate mother who gave me the best advice ever and I followed it too!), Trina, and Tessa.
  20. My boss (and your boss, after you started babysitting her kids!) Pam, who was really so gracious and understanding when it came to the challenges I faced raising you and Ethan as a single mom. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive manager during the near seven years that I balanced being both a single mom and a woman with a demanding–but fulfilling–career.
  21. Suzanne, who started out as my author and became my friend. She also became your friend and was so supportive always of us both. She continues to believe in you and for this, I am grateful. She is another one of my surrogate mothers and, in such a way, has become your surrogate grandmother (a very beautiful, young-looking grandmother).
  22. Chris, your second dad, who came into your life just about a year before you left for Japan. I am so grateful for the loving relationship you guys share. I am grateful that he brought you on all those college visits and got you through the bed bug experience in Pittsburgh. I am grateful for the solid, loving, supportive presence he’s been in your life throughout the past five or so years. As you know, he loves you so very much.
  23. Your two brothers. Siblings are a blessing. From Ethan, you’ve learned how to be in relation with people who are very different from yourself and I’ve watched proudly as I see the two of you closing in on a more mature, adult-sized relationship. And Josh–well, we all know that Josh is sort of like pure light and love. What could be better than a daily dose of Josh. Hopefully he’ll get better at conveying that light and love via Skype.
  24. Your Japanese Tutor, Kate, who did such a great job preparing you for your year in Japan with such a small window to work with (February through July, 2009).
  25. Your three sets of host parents (the moms in particular) for looking after you so well during your year in Japan. Sending a sixteen year old off to a strange country for a year is perhaps one of the more daunting things a parent can do. I still remember my last glimpse of your long brown hair as you went through security at the Minneapolis International Airport around 5:30 am on August 13, 2009 (I didn’t even have to look up that date—that’s how well it is burned into my head)—it was all I could do to let you go. So grateful that you had good host families and I know that your second host mom most especially became another surrogate mom and I am glad you’ve been able to see her twice now since your year in Japan. I hope you can continue to keep in touch with her in the future.
  26. Your Rotary Liaisons, John and Tom, who helped smooth out all of the many issues with your exchange on this end and many a time, helped smooth out your anxious mom who had a difficult time letting go of her baby.
  27. All of the people who prayed for you while in Japan—especially your step Grandmother, Helen, who has now passed on. Once, early on in your time in Japan, she wrote me a message that said, “Just want you to know…a silly little thing I do…do you remember when you were young and wished on a star?…well, each early morning and evening when I am outside with Sadie, I look for the brightest star, and do not ‘wish’, but pray for Hannah to find her place of joy there in Japan.” I like to think that both Grandma Melinda and Grandmother Helen are out there somewhere, looking out for you–still praying for you to find your place of joy.
  28. Ellie Roscher-your senior year English teacher at Cretin Derham Hall. She too had re-entered after a time abroad and I think it was just so helpful for you to know that at least one other soul understood what you were going through when you returned to an American high school after your life-changing year abroad. I thank God that this exceptional teacher was placed in your path the year you attended Cretin Derham (and that someone in the CDH office had recommended that you take Spectrum). She is the teacher everyone hopes their child will have someday.
  29. Three key best friends along the path of your life so far:
    1. Julia—Oh we love Julia so much. We’d adopt her into our family if we could. But I love how she stepped into your life when you transferred to St. Joe’s and I pretty quickly saw what a quality friend she was and I hoped she’d be a friend for life. It appears that is certainly the case. I think you already realize how blessed you are to have Julia in your life.
    2. Hikaru—Dear Hikaru who befriended you in your school in Nagasaki and made your time in Japan better in every way—introducing you to other friends, eating lunch with you and inviting you to social gatherings. I think it is neat that you were able to do your study abroad at a college so close to her college last year. It was fun to watch you guys (via FB on my end) reconnect.
    3. Sydney—Not everyone leaves college with a close friend like Sydney. I think you were friends with her from nearly the first day of freshman orientation—the day Chris, Josh, and I left you crying in the parking lot outside your dorm room. Knowing how she was placed across the hall from you, perhaps you can trust how all things truly do work out for our good, in the end. Sometimes our best of girl friends can also, at times, be surrogate moms to us. This is certainly true of my friend Shari’s role in my life. Embrace Sydney always, as a friend, a kindred spirit, and a mother in your time of need (P.S. I just realized that you have her listed as your mom on Facebook—kind of apropos).
  30. Debbie. I am not sure how you managed to find your career mentor last summer or how she found you, but I am so grateful that you two intersected and she has given you such a great internship experience this year and continues to mentor you in your chosen career field.

Seems to me, you’ve already learned a thing or two about finding surrogate mothers. But always remember, sometimes, as much support as you find around you, you still have to reach deep inside and mother yourself. I ask that in your life ahead, you be kind, compassionate, and forgiving of yourself. Please, treat yourself with as much loving care as you are able—it is more than okay to care for yourself in this world; it is a necessity.

And to all that I forgot on this list, and I am sure there were many, thank you. Thank you so much to all of the diverse members of the village that helped to raise my only daughter, my first born, my beautiful, smart, strong-willed girl with the teeth marks. We did it!

I love you to the moon and back into the atmosphere and deep down into the smallest fiber of my being.

With Love,

Your mom

 

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Mother’s Blessing to her Children

The Kneading Dough Blessing

My Blessing to My Three. That even if you are kneading dough, perhaps especially if you are kneading dough, that you be fulfilled in each moist, sticky moment of contact. That you have mind-bending conversations while pouring the heavy whipping cream in a bowl or sprinkling poppy seeds throughout the batter. That you feel immense joy when returning phone calls over your lap top at a coffee shop, running your small business. That you smile while you ride your bike down the streets of the new city where you have moved, exploring each little organic food co-op and french bistro. That you know both the thrill of nose-diving in the air, and the centering pull of regaining balance. That you face each day’s battle with the confidant knowledge that it is the very battle that is meant for you. That you celebrate the shape and outline of your nose each time you look in the mirror. That you always leave room in your life (and your belly) for an occasional bowl of ice cream. That you spend time meandering through used bookstores and have the pleasure (often) of seeing the exact book you “need” jump into your hands. That you might someday be kissed in the stack of books of a library or in a parking lot by the person you’ve been waiting all of your life to meet. That you might find the perfect pair of leather boots that will travel decades of your life with you. That you have many crisp, well-seasoned pickles to accompany your deli sandwiches. That you go skinny dipping and swim with dolphins (perhaps at the same time) at least once in your life. That you will participate in a post-secondary learning situation, which will open your mind and enliven your soul. That you will have some friends who will know you all of your life and hold up a mirror to help reflect back all of your many gifts. That there is never enough room in your suitcase to carry around any bit of regret. That your siblings will join you on your path, from time to time, to remind you of where you’ve come from. That you always know and feel the love that has brought you here. That you will always know and accept the peace that passes all understanding.

* * *

I wrote this poem four years ago now, when my daughter was about to return from a Rotary Exchange Year in Japan and now, she is graduating from college in two weeks with a degree in Japanese Language and Culture (which she did in 3 years–see The New Global Student for benefits of study abroad including reducing time in college). My blessing remains–although I am not so sure about the swimming with dolphins. I’ve started to believe that is an unethical practice, at least as a commercial venture. Also, for at least one of my kids, the ice cream may need to be made from coconut milk.

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For My Daughter–A Mixed CD in Honor of Your College Graduation

  1. For the Good from Wicked (song honors you and Sydney)
  2. Which Way Your Heart Will Go from Mason Jennings (song honors process of change and not second-guessing your choices)
  3. I Will Remember You from Sarah McLachlan (song honors you and your Beloit memories—that you will one day cherish)
  4. Don’t You (Forget About Me) from Simple Minds (song honors you and all of your true Beloiter friends—Syd, Timon, Sophia, Hannah x 2 or 3, Erin, Sarah, Max, Anthony, JVT, Haley as well as many others—I’ll let you fill in the blanks)
  5. Breathe Me from Sia (this one is for the day you drive your car away from that place because this song enables one’s tears)
  6. Destiny from Zero 7 (honors the new groove heading your way)
  7. A Change Would Do You Good from Sheryl Crow (kind of self-explanatory)
  8. Good Friday from Cowboy Junkies (honors the beauty found in leaving)
  9. So Leave from Polica (honors your time with Syd at Austin City Limits and just because it’s a cool song)
  10. Leaving Las Vegas from Sheryl Crow (Honors the “muddy line between the things you want, and the things you have to do”)
  11. Ramble On from Led Zeppelin (Because you have a hippy mom, who loves Tolkien, and you went to a hippy school—“the leaves are falling all around/ It’s time I was on my way/ But still I’m much obliged/ Such a pleasant stay”) EMBRACE THE JOURNEY!
  12. Blow Out from Radiohead (Blow out of Beloit Girl!)
  13. Midnight on the Interstate from Trampled by Turtles (honors your future career that may well have you traveling the interstates, hopefully not at midnight)
  14. Driving from Po’ Girl (“that’s the trait of him that I love the most, I don’t see him now that I’m on the west coast”—honors parental love and the vagabond life that I see you befriending)
  15. Rise from Eddie Vedder (honors the ability to turn mistakes into gold—I bestow upon you parental permission to make all the mistakes you need to. It is better to try and fail than to never try at all. I admire your courage and willingness to try new things!)
  16. I Need $ from Polica (because you do need $ and it’s very danceable)
  17. Heaven When We’re Home from Wailin Jennies (honors the home you’ll always have with me and all the new homes you’ll make for yourself—“It’s a long and rugged road and we don’t know where it’s heading but we know it’s going to get us where we’re going”)
  18. Going to California from Led Zeppelin (because I’m preparing myself for your coastal or bi-coastal future)

Update: I watch the searches that lead folks to my site and I see numerous folks looking for a gradation song to share with their child. If you don’t already know about the Sunscreen Song, it is a good graduation song–lots of good advice here.

More Graduation . . . the Fantastic Speech

Well, Hannah is launched. Left home Saturday morning. I spent the weekend reading Into Thin Air, which I’ve been meaning to read for perhaps the last decade or so. I think it was my way of avoiding grief. I told myself I wouldn’t grieve her leaving because well, it wasn’t Japan and it was in the same time zone and I could call her on the cell phone, rather than relying on chance Skype conversations in the middle of the night. But this is different. She won’t really be home to “live” again. Only to visit. And so I found myself in tears on the way home from the grocery store. Nothing major. Just realizing she wouldn’t be at home to unpack the groceries, which is something she always liked to do.

Anyway, I just ran across the blog of Hannah’s religion teacher, Ellie Roscher. Ms. Roscher was very inspirational this past year to not only Hannah but her entire class and they chose her as the graduation speaker. Her speech was, hands down, the best speech that I have ever heard. Every member of my family that was present agreed. I see that she has just posted the speech on her blog. Yeah! Read it here.

Ms. Roscher also wrote a book about her time as a missionary in Uruguay,  How Coffee Saved My Life and Other Stories of Stumbling Towards Grace .  She gave a copy of this book to Hannah this past fall. I read it and found it tremendously helpful as I worked to understand the value of Hannah’s time abroad in Japan. I would recommend the book to any student either preparing for or returning from an exchange. Hannah read the book this spring and it really helped her too as she finally began to absorb and process her experience in Japan. Thanks Ms. Roscher for giving your heart to these kids for five years and all the best to you as you move more fully into your writing life.

What I know from my almost 41 years . . . a send you on your way list.

So, here it is. I have only 48 hours left to teach Hannah what she needs to know before she flies the nest. At the end of Hannah’s baccalaureate mass, the school played a recording of all of the CDH teachers sending either wishes to the students or dispensing words of wisdom. It was a cool thing, but one of the only words of wisdom that stuck was from the head of the library and IT center, who told the kids that their online passwords were just like their toothbrushes–they should be sure to never share them with another person and to change them every month or so. Good advice.

Why is it that we feel so compelled to give out words of advice to our graduates? Sometimes I think that Hannah likely has more to teach me (or has at least taught me more in her time with me) than I have to teach her. Still, here are some things I know. The folk artist Patti Griffin has a “send you on your way song.” Hannah, this is my “send you on your way list.”

  1. Travel abroad all you can now, before you have too many ties holding you at home. You will never be this (relatively) free again.
  2. Mindfully consider every new purchase you make. In this global market, most items come from destinations that exploit resources and people. Look behind the hidden price tag to evaluate whether you really need the item. Can you buy it second hand? Can you do without?
  3. In the same line as #2, stuff comes with ties. Every item you choose to bring into your life has to be cared for or at least stored for as long as you keep it. Acquiring stuff doesn’t just drain your pocket book, it drains your life energy as well (and the world’s collective energy, as noted in #2).
  4. If you are going to buy new, buy quality items to last. I still wear a dark green cotton turtleneck from JCrew, that I purchased when I was 18 years old.
  5. Consider entering a career where you will be directly helping others. If you don’t do so, you may begin to feel a large moral deficit in your life around age 30. Not saying this will happen, but it might.
  6. Don’t be afraid to change your mind when faced with a big decision, be it while walking down the aisle to get married or changing your major or changing your career someday (perhaps multiple times).
  7. Don’t get married or enter another such committed relationship until you feel you truly know yourself and the direction you want your life to go (in my humble opinion, this doesn’t usually happen until age 25 or later).
  8. I love you dearly and loved you from the moment I met you. Still, as you can see with Josh, children can sidetrack your plans. Be prepared to change your plans if you decide to have children. Again, if possible, know yourself before having kids.
  9. You were born early in my life, while I was still striving for that unattainable goal of perfection. I think that, as a result, you became a perfectionist too. In case I’ve never told you, you have my permission to fail, to not be the best at something, to actually choose mediocrity when it serves you. Indeed, my failures have taught me more than my successes.
  10. You will be hurt in love. Family members, friends, and romantic partners will disappoint you. Still, do not hold back. Embrace those close to you. Keep your heart open, even to the pain and the hard lessons. In the end, it’s always worth it. [*This does not mean to stick around in any relationship where a person is mistreating you or disrespecting you. That kind of hurt is not normal or useful.]
Finally, as you leave the nest, please know that I will  love you and stand behind you, always. And you can always come home to my love, even if my home is no longer your dwelling.