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Dancing on Mother’s Day


Happy Mother’s Day. Another column from the archives…

June 5, 2006

Life’s tender moments dance into our hearts

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Staff writer
 

The dance starts before we are born.

Babies wait in the dark, moving in time to the beat of a mother’s heart and with the rhythm of her steps.

As newborns and infants, they curl, warm and safe in our arms. We hold them close and sway unconsciously from side to side, in the ancient, instinctive movement that soothes a child.

In a few months, when they find their feet, they jump and bounce, squealing with pleasure.

Of all the tender moments I have shared with my children, I think I’ll remember the dancing the most.

I loved it.

Supported by my hands around their sturdy bodies, they danced in my lap, pushing into the air. Their bright, round, full-moon faces smiled at me as they chewed on fat little fingers. Laughter bubbled up out of them.

Together, we took baby steps with lullabies and nursery rhymes.

As toddlers they reached up to me, stepped up on my toes and wrapped their arms around my knees or held tightly to my fingers as I waltzed around the room.

We giggled and wiggled with silly tunes from Sesame Street.

We boogied with pop music on the radio in the kitchen and danced jigs around the house listening to old bluegrass tunes and folk songs.

Some nights, they came to me quietly, slipped their arms around my waist, and we swayed to Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Etta James and Diana Krall, moving slowly around the living room. There was comfort – given and taken – in the embrace.

And love. Love set to music.

Occasionally, when we were feeling silly, we tangoed. Or we moved like Apache dancers across the room, dipping low at the finale.

We twirled and pirouetted to Tchaikovsky. We were the graceful Swans in Swan Lake.

Then, one by one, my children outgrew me.

One by one they let go of my fingers and my knees and my waist. Now my son towers over me. Even my daughters are taller than I am.

Now, only my youngest, almost 11 and almost eye-to-eye, will occasionally, absent-mindedly, step up on my feet and signal she wants to move.

I’ll twirl us around the room for a minute before she pulls away to go up to her room or outside to play.

I’m back to being a wallflower.

It’s OK. No one dances with their mother forever.

Or do they? When you think about it, it’s all a dance.

From the moment they’re conceived, we skip to the tune our children play. After they’re born, even when they’re standing on our feet, they’re really leading us.

Anyone who has raised a teenager knows how it feels to be outmatched; out of time with music you can’t even hear, trying to keep up with fancy footwork. As the years pass, as I grow old, the choreography will change but we’ll still be dancing.

Children grow up and away. That’s what life is all about. Making your way, holding on to others until you’re strong enough and steady enough, and the music comes through clear enough, to make it by yourself.

If you’re lucky, you find a partner. And it starts all over again.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

The Good Mother


Another Mother’s Day column from the past…
May 5, 2008

Home Planet: At times, it’s alright to get it wrong

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
 

I got my first taste of mother guilt just minutes after the birth of my first child.

After I delivered her – an all-day affair that in no way resembled the serene, choreographed breathing and point-of-focus births in Lamaze class films – I held her, counting fingers and toes, and nursed her and finally let them take her away for all the things they do to newborns. Exhausted and exhilarated, I chatted with the nurse who stayed with me to take care of all the immediate post partum chores and we quickly discovered we had mutual friends.

“Did you hear …?” she asked, dropping a gossipy bombshell. “No!” I said. “I always thought …”

And we were off and running, comparing notes on the bad behavior of a couple we knew. Just the kind of thing you do at a party or some other social occasion. But, I suddenly remembered, it wasn’t a party. I wasn’t just one of the girls. I was somebody’s mother.

Obviously not a very good mother, I thought, less than an hour on the new job and I’d already fallen short. What kind of mother, I asked myself, forgets for even a moment?

That was just the first time. I’ve wallowed in a lot of guilt since that afternoon.

Now, I could fill pages with my mistakes; with all the times I lost my focus or worse, my temper. I could write volumes on the little things I got wrong or just didn’t get at all. I could fill an encyclopedia with the times and places of situations that didn’t go as I’d hoped. Things I should have said and didn’t. Things I shouldn’t have said, and did. Steps I should have taken but missed. Promises I had to break and lessons I neglected to teach.

But I don’t have to record any of that. It isn’t necessary. All I have to do is look at my children, (most of whom can only be described as children in a proprietary way. Three of the four are grown and out of my grasp) and I am swept away by a tide of self-doubt and occasional deep regret.

What kind of mother, I still ask myself, gets it so wrong so often?

Fortunately, years of talking to other women – especially other mothers – have taught me one important thing: We all get it wrong some of the time.

From the moment any child comes into the world, he or she is placed in the hands of a rank amateur. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had one child or a dozen. Each new child puts you back at square one.

Mother’s Day is coming up. I’m hoping I’ll get my children together for at least an hour or so.

It doesn’t matter if there are flowers or chocolates or packages wrapped in pretty paper. It doesn’t matter where we are or what they bring me. All that matters is that I get a chance to see them all, intact, upright and reasonably well-adjusted in spite of me. And – this is the part I don’t remember often enough – because of me.

I’d like to think that on some level my children understand that even when I made my biggest blunders I was trying so very hard to get it right. I did the best I could but I was working without a script. Leaping without a safety net. Navigating without a map.

I suppose I could ask them, if I do get them all together, to tell me what I did right. But that would be fishing for compliments, wouldn’t it?

And goodness knows, I’d never want to be guilty of that.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

On Mother’s Day, it all adds up

Another Mother’s Day column from the past…



May 13, 2006

Weighty concerns easily forgotten on Mother’s Day

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
 

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first Mother’s Day or your 21st; you’ve probably already learned one very important lesson: Mothering is heavy-duty stuff. It’s definitely not for lightweights.

In fact, one of the hardest adjustments you have to make to a new baby, to every new baby, is dealing with the weight gain.

I don’t mean the extra pounds that creep up on you during pregnancy – the combined weight of baby, water and nine months of indulging in milkshakes, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and grilled cheese sandwiches. It isn’t uncomfortable swollen ankles that spill out over the tops of your shoes, or tender breasts.

It isn’t the stubborn little roll of fat around your middle that won’t go away. The spare tire that resists dieting, Pilates, Yoga and everything else you throw at it.

It isn’t the heavy diaper bag, packed with everything you could possibly – but probably won’t – need to care for the baby, or the backbreaking labor of tending to a family.

That’s the easy stuff.

What hits you hardest, what weighs you down and takes the longest time to adjust to, is the responsibility that lands on you once the baby arrives. That is forever.

I’m talking about the chest-crushing pressure to be a good mother and raise a healthy, well-rounded child; to leave behind a legacy of love and kindness; to make the right decisions and do the right thing. The oppressive worry about a child’s future; their success at school; their success in life.

For some, it’s the baggage from your own childhood, a burden you may not have even realized you were carrying, that has to be shifted before you can shoulder the new load.

And then there are all those expectations.

Raising a child is a weighty matter.

When you think about it, like the stones that filled the hold of sailing ships, the children we love and care for are the ballast that keeps us from tipping in the squalls or slipping under the waves. They weigh us down and balance us. They keep us from drifting away and they keep us afloat.

Children anchor us.

So tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

That means, if I’m lucky, the wicker tray, the tray that comes out only on special occasions, the one with a pocket on the side for a magazine or the newspaper and a special place for a glass of juice or a vase of fresh flowers, will be carried upstairs and placed on the bed beside me.

On it will be hot coffee, crisp bacon, scrambled eggs and maybe French toast. Or waffles with strawberries and whipped cream.

Queen for a day, I’ll lean back against my pillows and enjoy the luxury of breakfast in bed, and I won’t be counting calories. Why should I?

I’ve got children. That means I’ve put on a lot of weight over the last few years.

Tomorrow is my day to celebrate.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Thank you for flying ‘Air Mom.’

Looking back on columns about mothers…


May 7, 2007

Motherhood really isn’t about smooth landings

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Staff writer
 

     Imagine we are at a party (let’s make it a cocktail party because I’ve got a new dress and I’d like a chance to wear it even if it’s only in my imagination) and we’re making small talk, chatting the way strangers do.

     And imagine that I told you that one day I decided I wanted to be a pilot.

     I’d never really thought about being a pilot before, but one day, I just knew that was what I should be.

     So I read a few books about flying, and a few more books about airplanes. I watched a couple of videos and began to notice airplanes everywhere I went, paying special attention to the pilots who were flying them.

     Lots of people are pilots. How hard could it be?

     Then, late one night, I rushed off to the air field, strapped myself into the cockpit, grabbed the stick and took to the air with no practical experience. I counted on instinct to guide me.

     If I were to say that to you, you’d think I was, at best, a liar. At worst, maybe a little crazy.

     But what if we were at that party and I popped a canapé in my mouth and told you I have a child. One day I decided I was ready to be a mother. I read a few books, watched a few videos and studied babies and mothers wherever I went.

     I asked myself, how hard could it be?

     Then, late one night I went to the hospital. With no practical experience and very little training, I came home with a child. Counting on instinct to guide me.

     What’s crazy about that? Isn’t that the way most of us become parents?

     I brought that first child home with me over 20 years ago.

    I’ve still never flown a plane, but now I’ve got four children. And I’m not convinced that trying to fly without a lesson wouldn’t have been the easier route

     Parenting is hard.

     Most of the time, it’s impossible to see just where you’re headed, the speed at which you travel is terrifying and there’s no good way to stop once you start. And if you crash and burn, it’s not just yourself you’ll be hurting. There’s that precious cargo.

     You take a plane down, you’re dead. You screw up your kids, you’re a bad parent.

     That’s a lot worse than being dead.

     Raising a child, you have to be the pilot, the copilot and the navigator.

     Oh, and you’re also the flight attendant. You spend a lot of time making everyone but yourself comfortable.

     The instinct to nurture and protect your young is a good start. It certainly helps. But nothing teaches like experience.

     Which brings me to my point.

     Mother’s Day is coming up. That’s a good time to think about who got you where you are today.

     Most of us have someone, a mother or a mother figure who kept us aloft. She was the calm voice that told us to buckle up and breathe deeply. She guided us around storms and didn’t bail when the going got rough.

     She brought us in safely. She gave us our wings. She put our feet on the ground.

     This Mother’s Day, buy a card. Pick a flower. Take your mother somewhere she can wear a pretty dress.

     And while you’re at it, by all means, tell her thanks for the ride.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons.”  Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

My Bunny is Back on the Ocean

Two years ago when my son took his first job on a restored 1949 oceanographic research vessel, I wrote the column below. He was to be the boat’s new engineer.  It was his first time at sea. And my first experience with sending a child out into an unknown frontier. It has been a learning experience for both of us. The boat, once host to people like Albert Einstein and Jacques Cousteau, has gone through many changes. Now, a work in progress, the skipper and his crew travel up and down the west coast from one charter to another. This month, they are heading back to Alaska to tender - in this case to take fish from the fishing boats, keeping them chillled in the huge tanks on board, and then deliver the load to the processing plants. It’s hard work.  And, it’s still hard work to say goodbye.
June 23, 2008

Home Planet: Children leave home but not our hearts

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
 

The chime signaling a text message woke me out of a sound sleep. My phone, lying on the bed beside me, there in case of emergency, in case someone needed to reach me, close at hand for late night messages, glowed in the dark room.

“Just left the locks,” the message read. “And hit open water.”

It was from my son.

I typed a short reply, part message part benediction, and rolled onto my back to stare at the ceiling.

I was alone in a hotel room, on a weekend tour through the Walla Walla wine country. At the same time my 20-year-old son was on a boat cruising toward Alaska. It was the first night of his new job, and at that moment he was alone in a tiny cabin, watching land and all that was solid and secure, slip away.

Dear Valentine, You know who you are

Dear… Well, I don’t need to put your names down on paper. You all know who you are…
 This morning when you woke up and stumbled into the kitchen for that first cup of coffee or bowl of cereal, or woke up and stumbled out to open the package sitting on the table in some other kitchen, you found a Valentine.  You knew you would. I always give you a Valentine; a gift that includes a card chosen especially for you. A few chocolates, some little trinket to carry with you to remind you of me, a silly rhyme.

 It’s the same little treat you get every year on this day. And, as always, I meant every one of those little Xs and Os.

 This letter isn’t about that. This little note, a true love letter, is about all the other Valentines I’ve sent you. The ones you can’t see or hear or taste.

Real love, real lives


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another vintage Home Planet Valentine…


Real love is the kind we are surrounded by every day



Chances are you’ve got love, or something like it, on your mind. After all, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Did you buy roses? You need to buy roses. And a card covered with sentimental poetry written by a stranger.

Don’t forget the chocolate, the expensive perfume, something from Victoria’s Secret, a gourmet meal at a five-star restaurant and jewelry. Isn’t that what it takes to show love? Well, one day a year, maybe. But it’s the other 364 days that tell the tale.


The truth is, love doesn’t always come with balloons and words that rhyme. True love usually comes to us just like the groceries – mixed with the necessities and wrapped in plain brown paper.

All the time in the world

     The older I get and the more I watch the world around me, the more I realize that - good health allowing - eventually we all seem to sort ourselves into one of two groups. We decide to be happy or we don’t. 

      We all know people who appear to have come into this world with an hourglass in their hearts. It’s as though they know from the moment they’re born that time is running out. And they live lives to reflect that. They connect with the world in a unique way. They are present in each moment. They deliberately see the world in soft focus, smoothing the rough edges, the disappointments and inevitable letdowns.  They count their blessings. They give back as much, if not more than they get.

      Some charge into every day, seeking adventure or love - sometimes adventure and love. They make us laugh. They inspire us. They make us want that kind of happiness.

      Some are easily contented. It is enough to simply be here at all. They get their pleasure from the quiet pursuits; a job that fulfills them and keeps food on the table, a home that is safe and warm, not necessisarily grand or fancy, just shelter from the storm. The love of family and a partner. They meet life with a soft smile and make their way through the world staying just outside the limelight.

      Life, they will tell you, is fleeting. It is a gift. It should be appreciated. It should be shared. They forgive and forget and move on. They humble us.

     

Come back to me

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

January 27, 2010

Special to Pinch


     After almost 6 weeks of having her home, we just helped my middle daughter pack up her gear to return to school at the end of the long winter break. She was ready to go. She was ready to get back to her life on campus.
    She took her new sweaters. She took the new DVDs and the books she bought while she was here. She took the female kitten she recently adopted from a friend on campus and who predictably went into heat  as soon as they got home. The cat whose expensive, but necessary surgery put a significant dent in the post-holiday budget.
    When her ride arrived we sent her on her way - as we always do - with hugs and kisses and a warning to be safe.  To watch out for snow on the mountain passes, to stay alert and aware of other drivers. I told her to call us when she got back to school and to stay in touch on a regular basis. We reminded her to eat right and to make the right choices. She’s in college. I brought up that part about making good choices again.
    I gave the kitten’s ears a rub and waved as the car pulled out of the driveway.
   

Family Magic

Family Magic

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Special to PINCH

Jan 20, 2010

     One of the things I loved most about the Harry Potter books when my children were reading them, was the idea that photographs in newspapers, books and magazines were living images. The people in the magical photos moved, coming and going, talking, laughing and smiling at whoever was looking at them.

      Sometimes, when I walk past the framed black-and-white and sepia-toned photos that hang on my bedroom wall, I think about that. They are, for the most part, snapshots and portraits of my children taken when they were very young.  And most, although I’ve only just realized it, were taken in summer.

      I remember the moment each was taken…

Puzzling over the pieces

 By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Special to Pinch

January 6, 2010


   We start every new year by searching for the right pieces to the puzzle. We open a box, upend it on the table and start building our boundaries.  
    Of course, anyone who’s ever done a jigsaw puzzle knows that’s the easy part. It’s finding a way to finish the rest that takes the real work.
    Last night, after everyone else had gone to bed, I couldn’t get to sleep. Regretting that second late-afternoon cappuccino, I surrendered. I put on my slippers and wandered into the living room to play around with this year’s holiday puzzle.
    The room was dark, with only the one lamp over the table. The cat was curled up on the sofa and the dog lifted his head to see if there was any chance I was up for a late-night snack before dropping it again and going right back to his snoring.
    Pulling my robe a little tighter around me, shivering in the chilly night air, I sat down and began to study the pieces in front of me. I looked at the empty spaces and then at the puzzle-pieces scattered across the tabletop, occasionally picking up one to pop into the right place. As I worked, soothed by the quiet activity, my mind drifted back to the people who just a few hours before had been in the room…

The gift of time

January 2, 2006

Celebrate the gift we all receive

 

I let a whole year slip through my fingers.

Like the sand I scooped up at the beach on my vacation, months, days, weeks and hours trickled away until they were all gone and I was left with empty hands…

I don’t have a lot to show for last year. I didn’t lose a pound or gain an hour. I didn’t save nearly enough time or money. I didn’t turn over any new leaves or completely shed any bad habits. I’m basically the same person I was this time last year.

I was hoping for a little more than that.

 

Giving Thanks for the Familiar Faces Around Me

Giving Thanks

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Special Correspondent to Pinch

I cook the same meal each Thanksgiving, by request, and seldom make any dramatic changes to the menu. So each November the house fills with the savory fragrance of our traditional meal. Sage, celery seed, pepper and onion in the Southern cornbread dressing. Cinnamon, brown sugar, pecans on top of the buttery sweet potatoes. The unmistakable aroma of roast turkey and fresh rolls.

The scents that surround us that day are comforting and familiar and pull each of us back in time. My children can close their eyes and connect the dots of their memories, recalling similar meals in different houses and cities.

Alone in the kitchen, a big yellow ware bowl and a faded recipe on the counter, I remember my own childhood, standing in my grandmother’s kitchen with my brother and sister, one of her aprons tied under my arms, a big mixing spoon in my hand, the house full of aunts, uncles and cousins who will gather around the big table in the dining room…

A Lean Year in the Land of Plenty

Two years ago, I wrote a column about a woman and her child in the grocery store. The little boy was misbehaving, begging and crying for every candy bar, toy and soda in the store. The mother, losing patience, was trying to get through to him that they didn’t have enough money for the extras. That was still one year away from the big crash. Now, after a year of record job losses and financial upsets, it’s hard to go to the grocery store and not see people we know who are in the same situation. Friends and colleagues who are now pinching pennies and looking for work.
I stopped by the grocery store again tonight. And remembered the woman and the little boy. So, I thought I would post it again.
November 26, 2007

Holidays remind us of our fragile world

Cheryl-anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
 

It’s always been my job to make sure we celebrate the holidays in a big way. So, last week one of my daughters and I made the traditional night before Thanksgiving trip to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for the big meal.

My daughter took half the list and I went off in search of the rest.

I was aware of another family, another mother and child, beside me. It was hard to miss them. The child was loud and – truth be told – a little obnoxious. He wanted everything he saw and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I listened to his mother explain, again and again, in a voice laced with irritation, why he was not going to get what he wanted. There just wasn’t enough money for anything but the basics, she told him. But he persisted…

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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