Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Mother's Magnum Opus, Revised

Five years ago, I wrote this essay for Mother's Day. Today I'm taking a fresh look at it. Since I wrote it, we've moved to Austin, added Sam and Jeff to the family, and started homeschooling. And yet, what really strikes me is how little has changed. I have grown as a person, but my long-term vision is the same.  I do feel more intellectually fulfilled, though, and that's wonderful.

Jan Grambo recently suggested that I have "GADD" (Gifted Adult Distraction Disorder), meaning that I hate boring repetitive details, and get easily distracted by new and interesting things. ("Oooh, what a neat new idea! It's so shiny! I will stop paying bills and read an article about bitcoins...and another one about 3D printers...I wonder if anyone would be stupid enough to try creating counterfit bitcoins with a 3D printer, not realizing it's a digital currency? That could be funny. Also, I wonder if any 3D printer merchants accept bitcoins...?
") Oh, yes, that's me. 

Sister Grambo further added, "Best jobs for a gifted adult? Teacher and parent. You will never have the same experience two days in a row. No two children are alike, and the situations they can get themselves into are endlessly creative, leading to daily, even hourly, creative problem solving."

"Eureka!" I thought. "That's why I homeschool!

I will only add that for me it's even better. First, I parent, and the kids change a little every day. Second, I teach, and the lessons change every day. Third, I parent and teach simultaneously, which requires constant juggling. Fourth, I parent and teach brilliant, creative children, which creates this synergistic feedback loop: I design trick grammar questions; they retaliate by trying to catch me making mistakes; I try to outmaneuver them; they try to outsmart me. It's a constant cold war, an escalating arms race.

It's wonderful. With these children, I am frequently frustrated, but I am never bored.

Oh, right. I believe homeschooling benefits them, too.
When I decided to be a "stay at home mom" twelve years ago, I thought, "This is a real test of faith. I know I should do it, but I don't want to. Still, I also believe that if I live this principle, I will gain a testimony of it." Over the years, that has happened. My testimony has grown from "I'm doing this out of duty," to "Nobody else can do what I do," to "It's really not that bad," to "My child just did WHAT? That's...stunning!" to "This is kind of fun, at least most of the time," to "I love it! I just need an occasional break." Part of that is because I do better with older kids. Part of it is that I am starting to reap the dividend of my investment.

Through it all, even when I wasn't thrilled about my job, I was very grateful that Jon was providing for our family so I could do it. You see why I picked him above all others to be my partner in this challenging enterprise?

A dozen years from now, I will have survived the adolescence of the older two. Sam will be in high school, and Jeff should be in 8th grade. By the time I'm an empty nester, I may even look back on these years with fond nostalgia.

For now, let's look at what I said five years ago.

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!”

Wedneday, May 8th, again.

While reading the above, I had another thought. Not only is making dinner boring, it is also a very impermanent, unappreciated creation. I make dinner; it's edible (mostly); people eat it; repeat tomorrow. 

If I give an amazing vocal solo, people might remember it for years. If I write a great novel, people might read it for centuries.

If I build an eternal family, it will bless souls forever.

Now that's an art project.

An eternal family is a mother's magnum opus.

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