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Penny Love Hoff

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The Muscles of Motherhood

Posted: 05/22/2012 9:57 am

My fitness writing may imply that my main concerns are about squeezing into single-digit size clothing, calculating the calorie content in the glue on an envelope, and coveting loose waistbands and sculpted abs.

But that is just my day job. My highest calling, for the last 18 years, has been my 24/7 Mom job. And today, as my youngest children, my twins, finished their last day of high school, I was pink slipped.

They are my my babies, and now they are turning the last few pages in the final chapter of my book of their childhood. Although I should write about the acute temporary failure and fatigue of muscles -- otherwise known as exercise -- today, my heart is just not strong enough.

In my head, I know that parenthood is just a scaffolding, a temporary support during our children's construction of the actual building of their adult lives. But inwardly, I am beginning the uneasy process of squaring my heart with their growing up and leaving.

For almost two decades, my daily life has expanded and contracted according to my three kids' happiness levels. The main part of me is excited for them -- that part of me welcomes and invites their growing up. But another part of me isn't quite ready. The first part of me is overjoyed and relieved. But that selfish part of me says, "I want to go with you. I want to be there. Don't leave me. I'm going too, that's it."

And yet an even bigger part of me is ready to move on past the college conversations. For the past two years, our main topic of conversation has been colleges. We spoke of them as if they were resorts: "Have you visited Carnegie Mellon? How was that? Did you look at Penn? Oh, I loved that one!"

High school graduation is the final "Woo-hoo!" on the wondrous ride of childhood and has forcefully reminded me that, as heartbreaking as it is to see them leave my nest, and despite every load of dirty laundry and every college application, it was all worth it. And worth doing again. It's just that we only get to do it once.

The going to college part I like. It's just the leaving home part that gets me.

With that in mind, I can't think of anything more FITting than to look back on my chapters of motherhood.

I enjoyed each new phase of motherhood more than the last. I remember them as babies, and now recognize how their baby personalities held little microchips of who they are now as almost-adults.

I loved the rituals and sometimes monotonous routines of our babies' rhythms. I loved drying them off after bathtime and powdering up all their chubby skin folds with baby powder. I can still smell them.

I loved cradling them as I was feeding them, especially if they were really hungry, which they usually were. I loved rocking them at night in the dark when we were both sleepy.

I loved how their heads bobbed from the crib mattress when they first woke up from their nap. I loved their naps! I loved a good burp (not the wet ones), a fresh diaper and the wrinkly sound it made as they moved.

I especially loved how they laughed as babies -- we worked hard to get them to do it. I also distinctly remember the sound of each of my babies belly laughs and the way their foreheads felt if they were feverish.

Then I blinked and they were toddlers. I remember spending the longest part of the summer afternoons at the beach, Max digging endless holes in the sand and Tori eating handfuls of it. Big brother Brian was always wanting to use the shovel two minutes after someone else picked it up and I always had to chase him down with the sunscreen. He still gets burned and there's not much I can do about it now.

Eventually, someone would start crying, so we'd pack everything up, I'd rinse their tiny feet in the water spigot and strap them into their car seats, all sun kissed and exhausted and sticky.

I remember their first teeth coming in as well as falling out, and somewhere in the far reaches of a high closet, I still have a small box that the Tooth Fairy filled with every one of those teeth after leaving a dollar under their pillow.

Barney the purple dinosaur was our companion when afternoons got rough as well as an old-fashioned dose of the "Mrs. Piggle Wiggle" books, with everyone taking turns turning the pages.

Next was grade school and we were lucky because each of our three kids loved school. They were "school kids," looking forward to the first day of school a month before it started. There were rarely complaints about getting up to go to school, and if there were, I immediately went over to them and felt their forehead for a fever, which they usually had if they wanted to stay home.

And yet, we all prayed for snow days, or at least a snow delay. For good luck, we slept with pajamas on backwards and spoons in the bed to make it happen. I loved snow days.

I loved the magic of watching them learn to ride a two-wheeler bike and spent most summer days after lunch sitting on the front porch steps watching for cars as they rode up and down the street -- the boys racing at breakneck speed and Tori inching along, singing to herself with her baby doll tucked under one arm.

If we all felt ambitious, we set up a lemonade stand and though they never made more than 20 nickles, it was as magical as it sounds. My husband must've bought a thousand cups over the years and he was never afraid of where those cookies had been.

I spent their middle school years sitting in dance recital audiences and on the sidelines of soccer and baseball fields, clapping and hooting and finishing every game by saying "Well, I thought you ALL played really well" whether they won or lost and even if they sat on the bench.

The dining room table started to become a mountain of school papers and homework. If I tried to throw something out, we invariably needed it the next day, so I let it build. This is also about the time I stopped being able to help with the math homework. My math mantra became "Ask your Dad."

I also became the referee for their spats until about 8 p.m. at night, at which point I just wanted to get the dishwasher loaded and the homework done. I started saying, "You kids work it out." And they always did.

Throughout all these years, there was a comforting sprinkling of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (which was a cure-all for bumps, tears or battles) and the rhythmic return of birthday party cakes, April Fool's jokes and Santa stories -- my proudest being that I got them to the mall to sit on his lap until they were 11 years old, a testament to my dedication to the magic of childhood beliefs.

Next came the teenage years. I am reminded of what Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz whispers to the Scarecrow at the very end of the movie: "I think I'll miss you most of all."

I love having teenagers. I don't know why. Everyone says the opposite, but I will miss this phase most. Maybe because I so clearly remember being a happy teenager myself, with the crappy job at the mall, going to Alpha Teens meetings and marching in the band. Or maybe I just love being around who my kids have become.

I love all of it -- from feeding their huge appetites and the gallon of milk vanishing from the fridge to washing their piles of laundry -- some of it, I suspect, was just tried on once and dropped on the floor.

I even loved the drama of teens, the enforcing of the curfews and the debates about the
three D's: Driving, Dating and Drinking.

I learned horrible slang like "MILF" and wonderful slang like "ROFL." I learned how to text and to update my status on Facebook and to bite my tongue if the dress was too short or they didn't want to get out of bed or "put on something nicer."

And maybe I was wrong, but I sometimes softened my stance if they didn't "try hard enough" when I knew they could do better. I feel bad about that.

I also wasn't tough enough if they stayed out past curfew, as long as they called me and I knew they were safe.

I will definitely miss being the boss, having the last say, enforcing curfews and refereeing squabbles. I will miss the rowdiness and the noise that accompanies teenagers. And more than anything I will miss the sound of the front door slamming and that magical greeting, "Mom?"

This is not to say that I was a fantastic mother. Some of my best friends are fantastic mothers and I was not one of them. I would say that, as a mom, when I was good, I was very, very good and when I was bad, I was horrid.

I once threw a McDonald's Happy Meal toy; it hit Brian right in the forehead and he almost needed stitches. He still has the scar -- he points it out to me when he wants to borrow money.

I also forgot to hide the Easter baskets one year. That topic comes up every year, too.

Before they got their driving permits, I took them behind the Rec Center to Mom's Driving School and taught them how to drive. After they got their licenses, they drove other kids around sometimes. It was wrong and also illegal.

They've never been good flossers and I let them eat Top Ramen Noodles. One year on the first day of school, Tori woke up with pink eye and I just put some drops in her eye and marched her off to 6th grade. Upon arrival, Max announced his sister's condition to the Homeroom and the teacher immediately sent her home. We were both embarrassed. Max thought he was doing her a favor.

I never said I was fantastic. But still, we never once got lice, and for that I am grateful. Some of my fantastic mom friends have had that. I'm just saying, life is unpredictable.

Looking at my twins on their last day of school, I realize that more than anything, I am their living scrapbook -- their biggest fan, their chronicler, the one person in the world that they can count on, if not to drive the get-away car, then at least the one who will come and post bail without needing to hear the whole story.

I try to soothe myself by reminding myself that this is the one-way street of parenthood -- parents ALWAYS love kids more, it's a law of evolution.

If the car was stuck on the train tracks and the train was barreling down on your family inside, it is always, always the parents that will take the wheel as they push the kids free of harm's way. Never, ever should it ever be the other way around -- and that seems right, too.

So whether my kids are in the next bedroom like they are right now or in a dorm room halfway across the county, I couldn't ask for more than what I've been given by having them as my children.

I just hope my mom muscle gets a little stronger by the time we pack up the car.

 

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