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Jennifer Rudolph Walsh Headshot

Raising Kids from Bed

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My parents had three children. I am the baby, as my mother still refers to me to this day. My mother lost her own mother at the sweet and helpless age of four--she remembers only her fearless nature, her contagious laugh, and her great patience in teaching my mother how to blow bubbles with chewing gum. After her death, my mother was shuttled around from relative to relative and eventually settled down with a step-mother less than a decade her senior, who was already pregnant with her own baby. My mother longed for maternal love and when she met my dad at summer camp, she married him for one simple reason--she fell in love with his mother (who had also lost her mother at an early age). Growing up, our house was always a house of women, where men could visit but never feel at home. Conversations always came to a dead stop when my father or grandfather entered the room. My mother's domain was her king-size bed where my sister and I would sit mornings, evenings, and all weekend, with my grandmother and my Aunt Mona and her two daughters (not really an aunt, just a best friend who was also a motherless child of sorts), reading magazines, painting our nails, talking about clothes, and what we ate and who we were mad at and what famous person we were in love with. Yes, it was a room of love, but it was also a room that divided my world into "us" and "them."

Nobody would ever love me as much as my mother did, friends come and go but your sister is forever--these were our family mantras. But, deep inside, I didn't want to believe these things to be true. I wanted to find true love and grow friendships that would last a lifetime. My mother told me I could do no wrong with my "limitless potential" (whatever the hell that meant). My mother had succeeded in giving me the maternal love that she pined for but she hadn't given me any of the tools I needed to be a happy productive person outside of our little planet. Eventually my parents divorced and my brother went off to school, and for many years, I lived in a world inhabited exclusively by women. I was loved to death. And I damn near suffocated. My mother must have said "I love you" a hundred times a day to me and when I went away (ran away) to college, my last words to her were "love me less."

When my own daughter was born, I swore that I would do things a whole new way. I would love her unconditionally, but I would also support her individual growth. I would not be against her friends simply because they took her attention away from me. I would not let her believe that she could do no wrong, I would teach her consequences. I would show her how to be community-minded, and model for her the importance of giving to other, non-family members. And I would not, under any circumstances raise her from my bed. My bed was going to be a place for sex and deep conversation and reading, always with my husband by my side. I swore that I would not have my sister and my mother and friends lying all over the bedspread, spilling crumbs and coffee and nail polish remover. Well, as my grandmother loved to say--man plans and god laughs.

As my daughter, Hadley, has grown, I have tried to follow my guiding principals. I give love but also give honest assessments. I help her work through issues without taking control. I give her space. I only kiss her once for every seven impulses. I emphasize her strengths. I travel with her. I have built a career that makes me feel significant and I model for her the importance of doing good in the world. I love and include her dad and her brothers in every thing we do. I try never to divide the world into two parts with men on the other side. I ask for help. I take advice. I show Hadley the best of who she is and guide her through trouble spots. But, try as I might, I haven't been able to stay out of bed. I have been to museums and ball games and birthday parties and dance classes but have always dreamed of my king size bed filled with mothers and daughters and laughter and bitchy comments and unconditional love and fashion shows and stupid tv movies and the sometimes easy silence between mothers and daughters. After years of denial, I eventually gave in, and took to bed. Thank god! And over time, I have gathered there with my mother and my daughter and my sister and her daughter and my sister-in-law and her daughter and my friends and their daughters and we have laughed our butts off, eaten way too much junk food, cried over losses and illnesses, post mortem'ed about parties and meetings and dates and celebrated victories over circumstance. And now my teen-age daughter's friends come in too and I hear all about their world in vivid detail. Ends up that despite Hadley's conditioning, she too can spend hours just hanging out, doing absolutely nothing. Who knows about nature versus nurture, but Hadley and I have this one unique ability completely in common. My bed has become our bedrock. Life is busy and things are constantly changing (my grandmother has passed away, my mom has remarried, and my sister has moved across the country) but I am amazed and comforted by how things stay the same on the king-size island where I was raised, and where I have reluctantly raised my daughter, and where she may one day see fit to raise her own.

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