As far as I am concerned, there is only one day in May that has an extra special meaning. And that’s May 13th–Mother’s Day, my favorite holiday of all. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. Is there a connection? Indeed there is! Many of us moms teeter on the edge of losing our minds, contemplating murder–or having another margarita.
Not to sound like contestants who introduce their relatives on Family Feud, but I happen to be the mother of three wonderful, successful, smart, amazing, children—Alex, Philip and Elise. And last Mother’s Day, Alex and his beautiful bride, Molly, gave me the best present ever: identical twin girls, Aliza and Zoey. I am their “Glammy.” (I tried for “Auntie,” but it didn’t fly.) Of course, when people start to do the math and wonder how I can possibly be in my early 40s and have a 33-year-old son, I claim that Alex is the product of my husband, The Lawyer’s, first marriage. But truth be told, I am the only wife. And Alex is mine. Yet no matter what I have achieved in my life, motherhood, I daresay, is my greatest accomplishment.
Yes, we all make sacrifices for our kids. And every mother feels guilty about something. If we work, we wish we stayed home. If we choose to stay home, even for the first year or so, we think we should be doing more important things with our lives than discussing the differences between Pampers and Huggies. Sometimes we erroneously assume that we have the best of both worlds. When Elise, my youngest, was born, I began to write a few days a week from my home office. Granted, it was nice to secretly wear sweats and bunny slippers when I was doing important phone interviews. But unfailingly, every time I picked up the receiver, the children began to beat one another up. “Imagine the nerve of someone bringing their little monsters to work,” I would sigh, while furiously hurling the dog’s chew toys in their general direction to get them to stop.
As mothers watching our children grow, we find it gratifying to see them embrace the qualities they like about us and reject the ones they don’t. We help mold their character, psyche and sense of self as they go through the years, sparing them pain if we possibly can and trying our best to ensure that they are happy. But alas, all this eventually takes its toll on our nervous systems, to say nothing of our skin tones.
For you new moms, it does get easier with each child, I swear. For example, when Alex was a newborn, I used to rush him to the pediatrician whenever his temperature reached 98.7. With Philip, four years later, as a more experienced mom, it was only when it got over 100. By the time Elise came along six years after that, I was older and infinitely more exhausted. I wasn’t even upset when her temperature hit 102. Fevers are nature’s way of fighting infection, I reasoned. So I gave her a dose of liquid Tylenol. Suffice it to say, she’s still alive and thriving to this very day.
Usually, I also interview experts for my columns. But after years of experience, I feel I can handle this one all by myself. Your kids will be fine no matter what, it’s you moms who concern me the most. Even though much of what we worry about never actually happens, we all have way too much stress in our lives. So whether your children are babies, tots, teens, adults or recent college grads who have temporarily moved back home, like Elise before law school (not because they want to, of course, but because it’s free), here are 12 of my personal suggestions to help make your life just a little bit Better Than Before. Note: Some of “Dr. Jane’s” Rx’s should be taken with a grain of salt—with that margarita.
Listen to Dr. Jane. As Janis Joplin once said: “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” (Well, perhaps she’s not the best example.) Your kids want you to live a long life. Trust me. They do. Even though they mumble, “I hate you and wish you were dead,” under their breath when they are really mad at you. Or simply when you tell them something that actually makes sense. So keep your yearly physicals and gyno appointments, and get all the necessary tests and screenings. If something feels wrong, don’t wait—get it checked out immediately.
Get over it. Don’t dwell. No matter how good a mother we are, we all feel we have made mistakes along the way. We fear that our kids will always remember, for instance, the time we sent them to school when they felt nauseous because we had other things to do—and they asked the teacher to send them home. But on the off chance that they do forget, don’t remind them that you had a really important meeting that day and all they had was a slightly upset stomach that the school nurse could have easily handled, thank you very much.
Food for thought. A good diet means superior long-term health. It’s perfectly OK to cheat every now and then. Before you polish off an entire lasagna, however, you may wish to remember what a world-famous nutritionist once told me: “Honey, you don’t eat Italian—you wear Italian.” Also, many moms fear that they may be drinking too much as a way to relieve their stress. Relax. Relax. Think of it this way: Wine is made of grapes, beer from grain and vodka from potatoes, right? So simply consider a glass of Pinot Grigio or a Bloody Mary a highly effective way to deliver fruit, whole grains and complex carbs into your system. Make sense? Works for me.
Just do it.Get your bodies moving. You don’t have to join a health club or a gym. Just make a commitment to do some form of exercise each day. Sadly, at one time I had an hourglass figure—only now, due to three births and years of nursing, all the sand has sunk to the bottom. I still managed, though, over the course of time, to lose 20 pounds just by not eating after 8 p.m. and adding a brisk walk to my daily schedule. So find what you like exercise-wise and go for it. You might want to reconsider swimming, though. My personal feeling is that if it was such great work out, why are whales fat?
Glow for it. Stress ages you. That’s a fact. So again, do NOT stress. (Notice a theme here?) As my wise daughter says: “Everything will be all right in the end. And if not all right, it’s not the end.” She’s young, though, so what does she know about wrinkles? Find time to get a facial or book yourself a series of rejuvenating treatments at a day spa. It’s worth the expense to save your sanity. Otherwise, you’ll end up like my friend Sara who had needless surgery to remove a harmless mole just so she could have a place to lie down for an hour during the day without being disturbed by her children.
Heal thyself. Same as above, but now go for a massage, reflexology treatment or take a yoga class. Basically anything to calm you down. That will make life a lot easier when you are waiting up for, say, your 23-year-old daughter to come back from a Friday night party and you fear she is in a local Kinko’s checking Google map cause she drank so much she’s forgotten how to get home.
Go for group therapy. Set up play dates for your children. It’s a great way to get to know other moms in your area who may share similar interests and complaints or, at the very least, enjoy goat cheese and chilled Chardonnay.PS. I do not in any way condone excessive drinking, so please no letters or comments. However, if it’s a choice between an occasional Kir or a Klonopin, I’d go for the cocktail.
Pray for peace.You don’t have to pray for anything more than to give you the strength to not throw your kids’ iPhones out the window when they text nonstop during dinner.
Save the date.Make a family calendar and note important dates. I still haven’t heard the end of the time I missed my daughter’s fourth-grade recorder concert. (Need I remind you that she’s 23?). The fact that I was taking my sons to baseball practice was no excuse as far as she was concerned.
Set the tone.Make sure your at-home atmosphere is always quiet and Zen-like. Kids hate complaining almost as much as they hate nagging. So never vent when they are around. Otherwise, once they leave, they’ll never come back to visit. (Unless, of course, they want to borrow your Amex card.) If you need a captive audience, get a dog who will listen intently to anything, particularly if there’s a Beggin’ Strip involved. Above all, keep tons of chocolate around the house. Milk chocolate is just fine. (We are not thinking antioxidants, here.) Chocolate is nature’s tranquilizer. And it’s made from cocoa beans so you are also eating your vegetables while you’re at it. (Well, technically it’s a seed. But really, who cares!)
Make time for father. Do not forget about your husband. I’m assuming he had a hand in creating those amazing kids to begin with. So he could use a reward, too. For instance, check out livingsocial.com.(Note: A shameless plug for the company for which Alex works) for ideas for doing things together. The Lawyer and I recently took a Salsa class. Turns out he prefers salsa— the kind that goes with chips—to dancing. But he couldn’t fault me for trying.
Many happy returns. All the goodness that you have instilled in your children will come back to you one day, I promise. That said, Happy Mother’s day to my mommy, Emily. Even though you left me way too soon, I think about you and miss you each and every moment of my life. Know that you continue to advise and guide me from above and that the heavens shine infinitely brighter from your light.