Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Mother's Magnum Opus

[I wrote this on Mother's Day, but then got absorbed in an anthology of best parenting quotes from the last year. Eventually I decided to split them into two separate entries.]

A few months ago, I was at Enrichment playing a getting-to-know-you game. We had to take turns answering questions like, “What was your most embarrassing moment?” or “What was your worst date?” I was asked, “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” and without thinking, I said, “Eric.” I quickly amended, “I'm really proud of Danny, too; I just meant I have put an awful lot of work into helping Eric with his special needs, and teaching him skills, and I am very proud of how much progress he has made.” Everyone there agreed that I had done a good job with both my boys.
A few hours later, I realized that several years ago, I would have thought “National Merit” and said “academic achievements.”

Almost it bugs me, almost, that I have succumbed to the sugary stereotypes of motherhood. Back when I was earning those academic honors, I hated the thought of becoming a simpering Mommy, so absorbed in her children that she ignored everything else. “I will be a stay-at-home Mom,” I thought with martyrdom, “Because that is the best thing for the family. But if all I do is discuss diapers and potty-training, I will lose my mind. I refuse to let my brains rot when I have small children!”

Well, I almost did lose my mind. In part because after giving birth, it seemed like people only asked how the baby was doing, and completely stopped asking my opinion about local education, or national politics, or international relations. And in part because a baby can't provide meaningful conversation. Mercifully, my prediction that things would get better once Eric could talk proved true. He may have exhausted me with his Aspie-induced meltdowns, but at least they were interesting Aspie-induced meltdowns. And frequently funny.

My friend Aimee once remarked, “God gave you smart problems.” For this I am grateful. Both Eric and Danny have special needs which have required me to do a great deal of research. I have had to invent creative approaches to handling those problems. I have used my talents for teaching, languages, melodrama, writing, music, and imagination to enrich my children. And now I have amazing kids with prodigious vocabularies!

I do not want to be defined only by my children. I have many interests that will keep me busy long after they have left home. I will:

* Write the great American novel! 

* Earn a degree in engineering!
* Then write the great American science fiction novel!

* Build my dream castle with a hobbit hole in the backyard! 
* Get a law degree. 
* Travel the world with Jon, visiting the great castles of Europe and the bazaars of Turkey and the temples of Asia! 
* Serve a couples' mission. Get him appointed a mission president, and then help to craft mission policy. Expound doctrine at zone conferences instead of just lecturing boys about hygiene and etiquette. (Though I'll do that too, sigh.)
* Teach Institute
* Get a history degree. 
* Join the board of CES. Reform all curricula, especially boring primary lessons and fluffy Young Womens manuals.
* Become the next General Young Womens' President. Preach substantive, not simpering, sermons in General Conference. Imitate Sherri Dew.
* Become a certified ASL interpreter.
* Get a Master's degree in vocal performance. 
* Take over the world. 
* Get a Ph.D. in comparative religion. 
* Testify as an expert witness before a Senate committee. 
* Earn a linguistics degree. 
* Become truly fluent in German. 
* Study Hindi, Arabic, and Mandarin. 
* Get a degree in International Relations. (That one is optional.)
* Become an NPR pundit. 
* Take math classes with Jon and beat him on a calculus test. (Now that would be challenging.) 
* Build robots with him and win a battlebots contest. Use our battlebots in our attempt to re-conquer the world. (After I got distracted with other projects and trusted my minions too much.)
* Grit my teeth and get a degree in education. (Maybe.) (Then again, maybe not.) 
* Run for school board and/or the U.S. Senate.
* And, most importantly, subvert grandkids. [Evil cackle]

But in order to get really good grandkids to subvert, I have to raise my own kids first. It isn't “sacrifice;” it's an investment.

It makes sense that if my kids represent my largest investment of time, they should similarly represent my greatest accomplishment. Fifty years from now, I would rather look back at my family as my magnum opus, rather than an award I won at seventeen. 

I am proud--I am &*#@ proud--to have been a National Merit Scholar. But I don't want to be like the guy who says, decades later, that the highlight of his life was the year he spent as captain of the football team in high school. That's just pathetic.

I still hate cleaning the house. I may enjoy the teaching aspects of motherhood, but I don't get thrilled about the “nurturing” side, like making dinner, scrubbing toilets, bathing babies, and changing diapers. It's mind-numbing...and I HATE being bored. Perhaps my biggest goal will be to hire a maid once the kids are grown...?

I am grateful to my own mother, and to Jon's. Among my more major goals is to get thank-you notes from daughters-in-law who say, like I said to my own mother-in-law, “Thanks for producing an amazing man! He's a wonderful husband!”

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