I'm working with Procter & Gamble to help promote their Thank You Mom Contest, a campaign which is refreshingly designed to celebrate motherhood. When they invited me to work with them, they granted me tons of creative freedom -- so I saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch The Motherhood Project, featuring written and photographic portraits of women who have adult children, and who have both experienced being a mother and had themselves been well-mothered. I came up with 9 questions about mothering and motherhood, and every other Friday through November I'll be sharing the answers, portraits and stories of some really special, beautiful women. I hope you enjoy them.
* * * * * * *
When I put the call out on Twitter that I was looking for women to feature in The Motherhood Project, Pam was one of the first people who responded. I immediately set up a time for us to meet in person.
When I walked into the coffeeshop a week later, I realized that I'd actually met Pam before -- we met on a flight coming back to Houston from a conference. After laughingly noting this fact, we settled in on the couches, and I quickly learned that Pam is full of laughter and happiness -- this is a woman who is truly enjoying her life. She's also someone who has a great deal of love and respect for her own mother: while she's realistic about her mother's humanity, there were several times when Pam found herself speechless, unable to describe the strength and fortitude her mom had displayed over the years.
And here's what Pam had to say about motherhood:
How old are your adult kids? I have two stepdaughters, who are now adults: C is 30, and K is 24. I also have younger children: Leah (9) and Benjamin (4).
How would you describe yourself in 3 words? Sharp, interested, intuitive.
What makes you different? I am different because I grew into beauty.
A youth full of awkward and sometimes unfortunate appearance was the exterior packaging for an interior of humor, confidence and a love of connections. Attractive showed up late in college. Sensual showed up after that. I was the poster child for "late bloomer."
Because I grew into beauty, men went from "because he asked" to "because I chose." My artistic preferences lean towards the unsettling beauty, not the classic, and my fashion strives for polish but with interest.
Growing into beauty makes you appreciate the story, not the book jacket, and the difference between alone and lonely. Growing into beauty gives you solid ground and forward momentum and a pleasant element of surprise.
Growing into beauty makes you appreciate that which took years to cultivate -- and recognize those who, through their own journey, are about to become so terrifically interesting in their own right.
I always have strong memories associated with scent. What scents or smells will always remind you of your mom? A cooking chicken -- in soup, roasting or baking in the oven. And roses -- our house was always full of them and I can think of no one more skilled in growing them.
What makes your mother beautiful? When you meet her, you'll be stopped dead by her green eyes and smile (thanks for sharing the eye color, mom). They are both dazzling. More extraordinary is what powers the light in those -- her spirit and how she loves. My mother has the extraordinary ability to be nice to ANYONE. Even if she doesn't like them. Truly. She may be a ninja -- I'm not sure. She laughs easily and often and hardest at wicked things, though many would never guess that. (Did I just out her on that? Whoops.)
Her heart demanded she rescue every stray dog growing up and help the helpless now. Any cause she puts her heart into is better for it. She taught me not only to be present, but to do something. Leave it better than you found it. Put action behind compassion.
But she is most beautiful in her current role -- grandmother. All you have to do is witness the love affair she and her grandchildren have to see the way she loves is just giant. And that is the best kind of beautiful.
Tell me about a time when your mother taught you a life lesson, or gave you advice that you hold close. Lessons in my family were never of the "overt" kind -- a sit down, a lecture. My biggest learnings came from moments, from realizations.
I've learned a lot about my mom and my relationship with her in the past 5 years. We talk every day. We always have. My folks live about 6 blocks from me and it's great -- for us and for the kids. Things changed five years ago when mom was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. The best place for her to be treated was in Arkansas, so off my folks went. A year's worth of horrific treatment in a strange city away from all their friends and family.
While she'd been diagnosed and cured of breast cancer 15 years prior, for the first time ever there was a real danger of her survival. The treatment was as deadly as the disease. There was no hiding the reality, but for all that we went through as a family during this time, a great truth was revealed to me:
I'd be okay without her.
It didn't mean that I'd wish that to happen. I'd grieve and I'd be terribly sad for my dad and my kids not having her in their lives, but I was, surprisingly, an adult. She taught me everything I needed to know to be a good wife, good woman, good mom and good contributor to the world. She did her job. I didn't need to need her any longer. I could simply appreciate her.
How often do we get to appreciate and truly understand what our parents have given to us while we still have them? It was an interesting realization. One I am thankful for every day.
What skills did you learn from your mom that you made certain to use when mothering your own children?
Show up -- in the classroom, at synagogue, in actvities. Be involved in all of it the best way you can. Oh, good LORD, I will never be the room mom or the PTA president, but I know form her it's not only a way to understand the peers and environment your kids are living a lot of their days in, but it shows them you are interested in them and their success. Being there makes them feel special. She made me feel that way and I did/am doing the same for mine.
Know when to let them fail -- and how to help them recover from it. This is a hard one for parents to do. I remember each and every time my mom let me fail -- in wardrobe (punk phase, anyone?), in trying to use a lie to cover a truth, in effort. Some lessons I learned faster than others, but the lessons were learned nonetheless. There is as much to learn in the crushing feeling of failing as there is in how someone helps you recover from it. I am careful and thoughtful about both sides of that equation.
Each child is different. The way mom mom parented and understood me was different from how she parented and understood my brother (3 years younger). I always noticed the difference in approach but never resented it. It was nice to know she saw us separately. (Of course, if we ever got to bickering or outright in trouble, all bets were off. We were EQUALLY as screwed.) I tried/try very hard to do the same -- to give my kids a sense of "separate self" from his/her siblings.
Your kids are adults now -- and while you, of course, still love and support your kids, your job raising them is complete. What issues do you see brand new parents facing that you never had to face when you were raising your own? I am a huge proponent of the Internet and social media, but I think that the privacy and boundary issues it presents for younger kids and teens are daunting. New parents really have to be extremely aware of technology, trends and usage and for sure get comfortable with multiple monitoring solutions no matter how invasive it feels. Every kid pushes boundaries and slips up while doing so, but in this day and age with information being so searchable and permanent, slip-ups can not only mean irreversible harm to reputation, relationships and career, but danger as well.
I think the other thing I see with the next set of parents behind me is the struggle to align traditional roles with cultural expectations and media messaging. The idea that, yes, as a woman, you should go to college and get an education, but if you don't want a career and choose to be a wife or a mother, that's okay. It's all important, no matter what you choose. My generation (at the ripe old age of 40) was never told that. The message was that we should go to college and have a career and have a family and make it all work -- but that didn't work well for everyone and no one said it would be okay to do it differently. But it is. Tehre's not one type of woman and there's an opportunity for this group of parents to make those choices early and tell their children this -- to show them there is a choice and both are good.
What advice would you give to someone who is still trying to figure out this parenting thing? My first inclination is to say, "RELAX," but with a baby that's all but impossible (and if you have one of those miraculous babies that just eats and sleeps on a schedule almost immediately, I'll politely ask you to KEEP IT TO YOURSELF right about now. We'll get to you later).
Really, the best advice I could ever give are two simple words: marriage first. Children are the single most disruptive thing to a relationship, a budget, a routine and life in general. Also silence. Doesn't mean that they aren't wonderful, it just means they are extremely distracting and, if you're not careful, the days and thoughts and energy can go only to them. A family only works if a marriage works. If the marriage suffers, the children suffer. Do everything in your power to support the marriage first.
Your marriage is the model for what the children will expect and do in their own relationships. Husbands, treat your wives the way you want your son to treat his wife and the way your daughter should be treated as a wife. Mothers, the same goes for you.
Be good to each other -- and be happy. The world needs this.
* * * * * * *
Thanks so much to Pam for sharing her thoughts on motherhood. You can read more about Pam at her blogs, Outside Voice and Accessory Whore. Also, special thanks to Procter & Gamble for their generous sponsorship of The Motherhood Project: to read more stories about motherhood and to share your own, click here for more details on the Thank You Mom campaign, now through the end of November.
And on that note, have a great weekend everyone. Don't forget to call your mom.
Images: Pam, photographed September 10, 2010 at Café Rosé in Houston, Texas. Nikon D300 with 50mm lens.
Song: For good, from the musical "Wicked," as performed by Kristen Chenoweth. Today's song chosen for you today by Pam.