November 29, 2009

An uncommon sort of tangent, or two.

About me.

I was married and had twins when I was 18 years old.

I don't usually talk about the whole having-kids-when-I-was-eighteen thing much. It seems something that our society views negatively, or as statistical material.
It's something that people tend to make a bigger deal about than if I were to have been 22, or 27, or 36.
It's not something I think about as an age matter.
Yes, I suppose, in our society's perspective, a society who all too often seems almost to expect people to fail, slack off, or bypass responsibility largely based on statistical things like age or income... maybe in that perspective, there is significance in the fact that I had children at the age of 18, and have succeeded in raising them in a fully functional, even traditional environment.
But to me, I just had kids.
And it ended up to be what I love most.
I think I might even feel safe in saying I have a knack for it, being my children's mom.
They are GOOD kids. Healthy kids. Kind kids. Kids with self control, empathy, and creativity.
There is no higher priority to me than my family.

I turned thirty this year. Not really a big deal. It was like most other days, and years.
While I think it's good to celebrate life, I believe we are who we are, no matter what our age. I believe more in celebrating who we are and where our journey in life takes us, than celebrating a number.
I'm definitely not defined by a number, and don't find a lot of significance in it.
I might like someone who's 23 or 90. Not because they're 23 or 90, but because of their character.
I might think someone who is 18, or 24, or 49 is irresponsible. I don't generally make excuses for age.

Still though, I note that I turned thirty this year. Because this year, for the first time in my life, I went away to see a friend. A good friend, an old friend. I did a couple of things outside the home.

I'm writing about this today because I've been feeling as if a sense of guilt is trying to be pushed on me lately. I've been feeling scrutinized. Maybe thought of critically. I find it hypocritical and unjust.
And it has the voice inside me that is usually quiet on the outside rising to defense.

I'm just not sure what to make of it. It seems my traveling on a few very short, fast trips, so uncommon before now, has brought on raising of eyebrows, curiosity, and rude remarks. It's discouraging to me.

At the end of January of this year, I went to see a dear old friend, one of the closest I've had, whom I hadn't seen in or around a decade. For a weekend. I wrote about it here. And here.
For the first time since I was in my teens full of my own personality coming to life, I got to visit an art museum. I loved it. It reminded me of a lot of the things that were once important to me. Things that I'd not enjoyed in a long, long time, but made me feel very inspired and alive. It was a good experience. And I decided maybe it was time to remember to incorporate some of these experiences back into my life.
Good for the kids to know Mom has interests, and what they are.
The more I learn and continue to grow, the more I can teach and pass down to them.

I know of several moms and women, who've done this kind of thing regularly at all times. And it's fine, if it works for their families.
I've often heard this type of thing referred to as a "Mommy break" or a much needed "get away from the kids."
That's not what it was in my case. It was simply going to see a long distance friend, whom I don't have the opportunity to see nearby. It was simply enjoying some of the things that aren't around in my area, or everyday life. I've never felt the need for an "Escape" from my children. That would be a very wrongly placed label on any of my time away, with Mitch, or without.

Late in July, my friend and I met in Wisconsin to attend the Organic Valley of Farm's Kickapoo Country Fair. A small, rural event focusing on self-sustainability, healthy farming of produce & livestock. It was a small scale event. I left thinking it would be a lovely place to go back as a family. The Kickapoo River Valley & Driftless Wisconsin area beautiful. The entertainment was family friendly. The people were all kind. It was a great festival, celebrating & educating about good things. There were art vendors, handmade & local goods & food. I bought some organic maple cream that was wonderfully delicious. I painted a bowl for the Empty Bowls project. I enjoy painting things. I used to do it alot, and haven't so much in recent years. I enjoyed the varying art displays. I appreciated talent in people.
I like people. Real people. Ones that aren't too busy or iced over by impersonal modern times to stop and chat and share a little about their lives, their families, where they're from, what they do, things they know.
I talked to a retired couple there, who shared all about their life and experiences, real stuff, and I enjoyed it. I remember people like this. Wherever I go. It's part of me, the way I am, always have been... ask Kate. She's hung out with me since the 4th grade. ;)

Just ask Mitch what I was like on a cruise ship. I'd talked to nearly every worker on that ship and knew a little of their life by the time we unboarded for good.
And you know what? Not only did I enjoy learning about them, but I think it brightened their day just a little bit, to know that someone, of all these busy vacationers & tourists, was interested in them as fellow humans, too.

Ask my sister, who was once with me in the checkout line at the grocery store, the time we stopped to get a couple of boxes of popsicles or ice cream bars for the kids after Showboat. After I proceeded through the check out, catching up with the teller, about the kids, about how her schooling was going, etc... my sister asked on the way out the door, "Who was that?" To which I shrugged, and said, "I don't know, just the check-out girl." I had gotten to know her fairly well over a couple of years there at the busy supermarket. Simply by passing the time in line by interacting, showing interest in her life, and sharing about mine. I didn't know her from anywhere else.
But I choose to talk to people outside of my community, my groups, my circles. It's how I am.
To each his/her own.

You can learn a lot from people and their experiences. You might see glimpses of the spirit of kindness. Someday someone you take the time to share with might be someone really special, and may just become a good friend.
This happened to me with our local Walmart greeter years ago. I was intrigued by his kindness, his soft voice, his gentle blue eyes. One day, I told my mom, "There is the nicest old man who works at Walmart. He has the bluest eyes." My mom doesn't even shop at Walmart, but she said with a smile, "I bet it's Allan. He's related to you."
Sure enough, it was Allan.
Allan was my grandma's cousin. He lived with my great grandparents and their family for a couple of years so he could attend high school. I ended up getting to know a lot about Allan through our Garden Center chats. His eyes would light up each time he recognized me, with whatever little one or two or more I had with, coming through those sliding doors.
I felt that Allan had a lot to share, as I sometimes feel I myself do. Sometimes I was in a hurry, to just pick up dog food, or some thing, but I always made time to talk to my friend Allan.
And I'm glad I did. Allan passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was 82. Remembered as a true gentleman. He worked his whole life.
I'm glad to have known a bit of him. And I'm glad for the extra smiles we may have brought to his face, when he would jump at a chance to hold one of the kids when they were babies. There are many small gifts in everyday life that make it better. To think I wouldn't have known him, had I not taken the time to exchange a few courteous words with a kind stranger.
Francesco Guicciardini once said, "Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them."

Anyhow, back to the original topic, we enjoyed our day in SW Wisconsin, my friend and I.
I'd recommend it to anyone.

Mitch and I had some airline tickets this year, acquired through a credit promotion. Some were due to expire this year. I've been longing to see New England, and we kicked around thoughts of visiting there for the past year and a half. We considered the west coast, a year ago I researched travel plans, which Nat'l parks we could hit, so on. But it just hasn't come together for us to head off on a destination far away together, let alone nearby.

Besides time, it's just a hard thing to pull off when considering the coordinating involved with leaving the kids behind. Five kids, a dog, school, homework, lunches, misc. activities, it's a lot to ask of someone, and not the easiest thing to just plan up spontaneously.

And so this fall, we ended up taking seperate trips, which was much more simple, one of us going, while the other was home to hold down the fort and usual routines.
Mitch had decided to go on an early October hunting trip with an old friend to NW North Dakota. Later in the month, I used one of the tickets we hoped not to waste, and flew back to Kansas City to see my friend. She was going through some life changes, and it also happened to be her birthday. So we took in a show at the beautiful Liberty Hall in Lawrence, and then she and I drove down to the Ozarks of southern Missouri . I love natural wonders, and Kate had lived there near KC for several years, was soon to be moving away, and had never been there.
So we went to see what we could see.
It's a gorgeous place, the Ozark National Scenic Riverway. We had just one day to explore, but managed to take in a lot. The striking red Ally Mill, several natural springs, and many winding roads through beautiful hills, covered in falling leaves.
I love to see new things, particularly natural wonders, and regions of the country new to me. There is so much to take in. Such variety in water and ground and trees and terrain. I just love it. I love to learn from new places. I love to photograph new places.

So this year, the year I turned thirty (pretty grown up and all that now, and I believe having proved that I'm a responsible enough adult & parent to be trusted to know what I'm doing), I went and got together with a friend three times.
The end of Jan. The end of July. And the end of October.

I have this hunch that many people get together with friends frequently. Probably even more than three times a year. Growing up, my mom always drank coffee visiting with friends. Throughout my adulthood, I've often wished I had a friend I could run and have a cappuccino with. Or maybe catch a movie, or something normal like that.
I've done that four times since I was about 15. (wow, that's half my lifetime ago.)
Until this year. When I reunited with an old friend for cappuccino, talks, and sight seeing, a whopping three times.

Last Friday, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I was invited by my cousin's wife to attend a show with her in downtown Minneapolis' historic theater district, to see a musician who's music and messages I am a huge fan.

I'm under the impression that likely a large percentage of Americans spend this day shopping.
Heck, I'm under the impression that likely a large percentage of Americans spend most days shopping.
I do not. But this particular year, I left in the afternoon and drove the few hours south and attended a great show. I took photos, being that's what I do, wherever I go, and had a nice time. Allison was really enjoyable company. And then I drove the few hours back home alone, in the wee hours. I was gone from home for twelve hours. Seven of them were spent driving. I returned and got five children through baths & showers to get ready for a family event that same day.

Did this fourth social occasion of the year, put me over the top? It spiked my average right up to an outing every three months. Yikes. After averaging one or none these past many years of my life, maybe it is shocking.

But I promise everyone who knows me, I've not gone mad. I haven't lost my marbles, or my scruples. My priorities haven't budged a bit.

It's just me. The same me that has always, and will continue to spend the majority of the days, minutes, hours of my life here in our home in the woods away from it all, with the people that mean the most to me, making sure that my most important work in life is being seen to firsthand.

Yes. I wash clothes, make meals, love my family, care for our home. It's what I do, and who I am. AND I like art, information, people, places, and conversation with friends. There are innumerable things that make me me.

Mitch likes bow hunting. He's passionate about bow hunting. He's an avid bow hunter. It is how he chooses to spend much of his spare time from the months of Sept-December, year after year. After year. Several years, he's left home to go on hunting trips with a friend and a group of his friends' friends.
There have been years and times when the kids were at varying younger stages, when I struggled with the amount of time he spent hunting. I know he loves it, and that it's a part of what makes him him, and makes him happy. (well, that can be argued... it seems hunting can make a person quite frustrated over time.)
But I don't recall any of the times when his hunting may have interfered with our schedules being target for judgement by outsiders. And I can tell you, that there have been times when the amount of time he's spent away from the home and pursuing the hunt, has seemed very out of balance. But it was no one's place to judge, it was for us to deal with. My question of frustration is this, then: Why am I a target?

Balance.

At thirty, all of my five kids are at ages and temperaments where it is possible for me to leave for an evening, or a very rare day or two, knowing they'll all be fine, without worry or panic or guilt. It's really the first time in twelve years as a mom when I have felt this way.
All priorities considered, and observing and knowing each of my kids, really knowing them, three or four times over the course of a year, getting together with a friend or taking in the arts, has not exceeded a healthy balance for us.
I have not neglected or fled my responsibilities.
I've been away from my family and home less time in a year than many are in a typical week or two. I'm not saying that others are wrong and I am right. I'm just saying that I am very set in my way when it comes to my priorities. Our family's priorities. And I'm saying that only we know what is best for us and what isn't. I'm very conscientious about what is good for our family.

I try to maintain a healthy balance in my kids' social lives, as well. I know that friendships are an extremely important part of childhood and growing up. But so is family structure and home. And it can't all be go, go, go. I talked some about that balancing act here.

I hope in this coming new year, Mitch and I can find more balance in finding more together time. He is my preferred travel companion. But our interests differ some. He isn't interested in all the things I am, and I'm not sure yet if I'm interested in a out of state big game hunting expedition. And that is why it's nice to have a little variety in our small garden of friends.

All in all, my feeling is this:
I will not be made to feel that I'm less of a mother because I'm also a friend. Or because I have interests and likes. Those are all a part of who I am. I know, and my family knows, that I am here for them above all else. Discouragement is not welcome.
I think we should worry more about striving for balance & happiness in our own lives, and less about our assumptions & opinions of others'. Happiness comes from within, and the more we find happiness ourselves, the more we can be happy for others.

"To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right." ~Confucius

5 comments:

  1. Amanda, you are very inspiring and I very much enjoyed reading this particular blog. Thank you for sharing that little bit about yourself, it is nice getting to know you a little bit better through your blog!!

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  2. Thank you, Steph. :)
    Sometimes when I'm frustrated, I deal best with it by writing my thoughts down. Posting, though, is a whole 'nother story, and was a step I almost didn't make.
    So thank you, I really appreciate the feedback. :)

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  3. Well said! And, not to make too much of the male/female spin on it, but you're right. When Ron was coaching full time and working in Hibbing, there'd sometimes be a 36-48 hour stretch where he wouldn't see the kids awake. People would tell me how hard working and dedicated he was. (Of course, I was the one doing everything for those same kids and working full time, but no-one thought anything of that - I certainly didn't get the same "hard working and dedicated comments" because I was just supposed to be doing that.) And, I'd venture to say that if I was doing something that made me not see my kids for that same period of time, I wouldn't have gotten the same complimentary reaction!
    You have earned the right to have some Amanda time - not just mommy time. Your kids need to see that you have outside interests and hobbies. That will help them grow up knowing that it's okay for both men and women to have outside hobbies and friends and that they aren't afraid of blending home/personal time.

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  4. I love you. And everything about you. For many years now, and for a million more tomorrows. =)
    Kate

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  5. That was really a point I wanted to make, Angie... and I'm glad that you understand. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to moms and dads and their time sometimes. It's not necessarily the dad's fault, but again, the outsiders looking in... who see past all the time husbands spend away, but not so if the tables are turned! Thanks for the discussion, I appreciate it! You have a wonderful family. :)

    And Kate, thanks always. Life is better with a good friend.

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