Becoming A Masterpiece

I just posted this on Medium, a new blogging platform. Mostly because it’s been screaming in my head for the last 24 hours until I was able to write it and the because the purpose is important. And also to try out Medium, because it’s new and hip.

This post – Unfinished Symphony – is dedicated to Fabian Stern and Ann Leopold Kaplan.

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Guest Post: Are You My Mother?

Recently, a new friend said to me, “It wasn’t always like this, but now my mother is my best friend.”  I thought, “Wow, I love my mom, but that is not how I would describe our relationship.”

Not a day later, another friend plaintively asked, “How do I keep from turning into my grandmother?” … who was bitter and lonely at the end of her life. 

The proximity of these two comments has me thinking about the spectrum of mother-daughter closeness and where I would like to be, both with my mother and my two daughters. I recognize that it takes intention, and a lot of years, and that individual personalities will have some effect as well, but I am determined.

Then I hesitate. I love my mom and I know she loves me, but tends towards negativity and has trouble expressing affection. So how do I do everything completely differently without invalidating the good aspects of my memories of childhood and my solid, if not best-friend-close relationship with her now? I know she worked hard to be a more fun and supportive mom than her mom was – so who am I to criticize? But I still have issues.

The question from my friend about not turning into her grandmother actually prompted the best answer for me. I told her I think you have to be someone who doesn’t judge. It has been my overriding interpersonal goal lately to not judge. It is a difficult practice and, as with yoga, Buddhism, or anything worth improving, perfection is likely elusive.

The effort, however, has already had a profound affect on my relationship with my mom. I’ve started gently calling her on negative comments, and pushing back, actually telling her that it hurts my feelings when she makes judging comments about me. I have noticed a change in the way that she approaches our discussions and, with consistency, there seems to be an actual decrease in negativity as she learns the new rules. This approach applies to so many mother-daughter discussions. When she tries to engage me in a discussion of my cousin’s baby weight gain, I firmly refuse to discuss it.  When she makes an observation about my daughters’ eating habits – food and body image issues being one of the sorest of the sore spots – I remind her that I’m their mom and that it is none of her business. When she says things like, “Oh, I just want your sister to settle down and find a nice man to marry and move back here so she can be happy,” I gently point out that she may be perfectly happy living a social single life.

Now, how will this improve my relationship with my own daughters? Well, I work on not being a parent that kills self-confidence with judging comments. I try to catch myself before I say, “That was good but you can do better,” if I can. Or before I override their decisions. 

More importantly though, I am practicing not judging myself, probably the hardest part, especially growing up with lots of “That’s great, but …” I know that in order to foster a more loving and durable relationship with my daughters, I need to model loving myself and not worry too much about what the neighbors think of my messy house.

Erika Jerram is an urban planner for the Town of Framingham.  She is also the mom of two amazing girls ages 7 and 2, who astound her daily with their capacity for curiosity, humor, and sheer self-confidence.  Erika’s days are filled with seeking that mystical place known as “Work Life Balance” and housework usually loses the battle for her attention. She works at not judging people and not sweating the small stuff and her relationship with her Mom is stronger now than it ever was.

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A French Hangover

I have a French hangover. Not the head-splitting, stomach-lurching variety I’d experience on a relatively frequent basis while living in France in the late 90s, preceded by happy, fun evenings spent eating, drinking and partying in Grenoble with friends and colleagues.

(Incidentally, the only time I ever pigged out on McDonald’s in France was the afternoon after a big night out when a Diet Coke and Big Mac were the best way to assuage the effects of a hangover. I’d slink over the McD’s, eyes kept down, desperate not to bump into any of the players from the night before until suitably revived.)

No, this time, my French hangover is less physical and more metaphysical. Four brief days spent in Paris and Grenoble last week have rekindled the spark that originally drew me to the country and enticed me to stay for three years. Four days of speaking French has reinvigorated parts of my grey matter that have laid dormant while living here in the US. And, like a wheel that keeps spinning even after the initial surge of energy, it is still in motion, presenting me with words and phrases first in French, before the usual English. Making me stumble. Making me yearn to carry on speaking in French and to feed that still hungry part of me.

I was left wanting more. Four days is simply not enough time to pig out on all the croissants and cheese that I really want to eat. This visit briefly skimmed the highlights of Paris and flirted with the enormity of the Grenoble mountains.

Reconnecting with my French friends, in spite of the years, was a joy. Time does not appear to have made an imprint on their faces or characters, though everyone’s lives have propelled forward – spouses, families, new jobs, new homes.

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. While I love my life in Boston, a big chunk of me will always be entwined in France, its culture, landscape, music and the French language.

Definitions

At least three or four times this past weekend, while meeting other guests at a wedding in the UK, I was asked: “What do you do back there in America?”

Each time, I struggled with my response, unsure in which order in to present the many roles I have.

“I work in public relations,” I explained to one guest. Oh, he said, somewhat dismissively. “And do you have a family?” was his next question. Would the answer have been better received if I’d said doctor or hair stylist? People rarely understand what I do. Yes, I could have emphasized my seniority, my expertise, the influence my function has in day-to-day business. But somehow it always ends up misconceived.

“I’m a Mom,” I tried, the next time. “That’s great,” responded another guest inquiring after the ages and genders of my kids. “And do you work too?” was the next question. “Yes I do,” I answered without offering further qualification or detail. “That’s nice.”

“I’m a blogger,” was my next response when asked. “Oh,” responded the guest. In her 60s, she was rather ill-equipped to process this information or understand where it fit into the picture in front of her of a forty-something woman. “I also have two kids,” I added, which seemed to soothe her.

“I’m a working Mom,” I declared to the next person asking. It struck me immediately that, while this is a badge I proudly display in the US, it seems to be less of a self-anointed label elsewhere. To me, the phrase neatly packages up my life, blending together the demands of career, housekeeper and parent, broadly encapsulating the daily dichotomies of these roles. But when uttering this description in the UK, admittedly not in the company of peers of my age and circumstances, it felt like it lacked the aplomb that I usually attach to it. Was I playing it down? Or perhaps I usually over-emphasize it? Maybe I’ve become over-attached to the label, finding cheap comfort in it?

So, what do I do and how to really describe it?

After some thought, here’s what I cam up with: what I do is create energy, I distribute energy, I receive energy.

Somedays, this energy gets everyone up and out the door, dressed, fed and happy, and me on my way to my work, eager to perform, write, manage and hopefully to mentor, affect change, produce results.

Other days, I feel like any energy I had generated is steadfastly sucked out of me, every which way, like an undercurrent eroding the sand.

And then, there’s the presence of my family and friends, simple conversations, random meetings and moments which restore, creating a new rush of new energy, filling up my reserves so that there’s plenty to fuel all of my roles and to be amply shared with those around me.

So that’s really what I do. But it doesn’t quite lend itself to the abbreviated chit-chat with the person seated next to you at table 9 at a wedding. Ah well.

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