15 July 2013

The Yin and Yang of Parenting

A few weeks ago, I kicked off this podcast with a special Father's Day reflection about my dad.  In so many ways, I think I'm like my father.  But this week, we celebrated my mother's 80th birthday.  I've been thinking a lot about the other half of the equation - of who I am and the influence of my mom in my life.  As much as I am my father's daughter; I am my mother's daughter as well.  As a young adult, I really noticed the difference between my mother and father.  I used to think  they were opposites.  They say "opposites attract", right?  Whereas my father was free-spirited and unconventional, my mom was the grounding force.  If dad said, "The sky's the limit," mom would say, "Yes, but within reason."  I have some reflections to share with you about the incredible woman that is my mom and how she has impacted my life.

In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin and yang is used to describe how opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world - like male/female, light and dark,  hot/cold, life and death.  So all this time I was thinking of yin and yang as opposities of each other, but it's not about opposites at all.  It's about complementing one another. Not opposing, but forces interacting to form a whole, greater than either separate parts - something more dynamic.  Thinking about it this way, made total sense.  My parents' lives were complementary of one another - each bringing their best to the table to create something greater than either separate part.

Growing up, I thought my mom was the prettiest mom around.  Back in those days, those Jackie O days, mom always had the coordinated outfits with the matching handbag, shoes and gloves.  At 80, she is still very much like that in a sense, matching her purse and jewelry to her outfit when she dresses up for church.  I still think she is beautiful.  Not only in her beautiful outward appearance, but more importantly, on the inside.  I remembered a funny story about when I was a teen.   When I was about 14,  I was in my mom's room watching her get ready to go out on a date with dad.   I asked her how old I had to be before I could go out on a date with a guy.  My mom said, "About 16."  "SIXTEEN!?"  I thought this was so unfair!  Sixteen!  Why that was like being an old maid.  I cried  (seriously! I totally remember having a major melt down right there and then plopped on my mom's bed)  and I tried to talk her down.  She started laughing.  "Look she said.  You're getting yourself all worked up.  Go wash your face and blow your nose.  Why don't we worry about this when someone has actually asked you out.  Then we can talk about it --  when you actually get asked out!"  ::sigh::: I resigned myself.  There was no reasoning with her.   And so when did that happen, you ask?  When I was sixteen, of course.  Mom knew.

Both sets of my grandparents were genocide survivors.  And while most of my parents' friends were trying to fit into American life, my parents clung to their Armenian heritage.  My mom loved all things Armenian: language, poetry, dance.  And my dad.  They met at a party and it was that Armenianness that first attracted them to one another.  Mom said it was fact that he spoke Armenian - AND he played violin.  We can't forget that.

They dated, they got married, and in L.A.'s Armenian scene, they were known at the time for their Armenian dancing.  When they'd show up at Armenian picnics or church bazaars, the band would play their song.  They would dance for the crowd.  They loved dancing and the crowd loved watching them.  Dad showing off his fancy footwork to mom's coy and demure graceful moves (her Naz Bar).  Even after we were born, mom and dad continued to dance in the Armenian Folkloric Dance Ensemble.  Our childhoods were spent going to dance rehearsals and performances, helping them and the other dancers with costumes backstage.  For my parents, dancing was an art form --  preservation of our culture. My mom taught my sister and I that Armenian dancing for women was not about swaying hips and shoulder shimmies.  It was not belly dancing.  It was about grace and modesty.  I remember how she would practice - because I would try alongside her.  She would glide smoothly taking tiny steps on her tip toes.  She was always so graceful.  She would tell me that when you were on stage and had your costume on, the audience shouldn't see your footsteps..you should appear to be gliding..."as if on rollers."  To this day, though her arthritis keeps her from dancing, whenever she hears Armenian music she still gets that beautiful nostalgic smile on her face and she moves her hands and arms to the music, still ever so graceful.

Mom was the one that would tuck us in at night.  She is and has always been a woman of faith.  Growing up, whenever I'd be devasted by some earth-shattering teenage drama, it was mom that would calm me down and tell me not to worry.  She'd tell me to pray and trust in God.  We would pray as a family when we sat down to eat at the table.  We prayed when we got in the car to set off for the day.  She always maintained a sanctity in our home and our family.  As children, when she'd tell us that God's angels were present at our kitchen table, I'd imagine little cherubs perched on the corners, and whenever milk would spill (which with four kids was pretty much a daily occurrence), I'd wipe it up quickly so was not to get their wings wet.  But as I got older and became a parent, and understood the importance of sitting down together as a family, I understood what she meant:  God had blessed our family, and this sacred time that we had together - to share a meal together and our day's events together - were holy and should be treated as such.  This is something that I held on to as a parent making sure that we would all have dinner together as a family.

She loves our Armenian church.  On Sunday's we'd pile in the little economy car - our '72 Dodge Colt -- that she had. Mom and dad in the front, me wedged between my two grandmothers in the back and my brothers in the way back. I don't even remember where my sister sat, but I'm guessing she was sitting in my mom's lap in the front seat!  This was before car seats and seat belt laws.   My parents sang in choir, my brother served on the altar, and later I'd join my parents in choir too.  If we had a visiting priest at church, you can bet that mom would invite them to our home for lunch. Years later, when my sister started kindergarten, mom accepted a position as executive secretary for the archbishop of our Armenian church diocese - a perfect fit for her.  She loved it there and spent 26 years at that job serving her church.

My father was a musician, yes, but  my mother is an artist.  She loved to draw and paint.  But with four children, she didn't have time. But she did some fantastic doodling when she was on the phone.  And I would love to watch her.  She'd be discussing the day's events with my aunt on the phone, and the whole time she'd be drawing.  Usually profiles of people, or eyes, or clusters and clusters of grapes with leaves and tendrils, each perfectly shaded and highlighted all done with a ball point pen!  One day, she decided the living room needed painting.  That's when she brought out her paints and started her masterpiece.  She painted a mural of Mount Ararat and Massis on the living room wall.  It was great!  You'd walk into the living room and there it was . The snow-capped peaks of the mountains, framed by the Armenian highlands was the showpiece of our living room.  So many years later, when I've run into friends I haven't seen in a long while, inevitably, the Mount Ararat mural always comes up in the conversation.  It was memorable.

And finally, whereas my father gave of his knowledge and music to others, my mother gave (and still gives) of herself.  She is a very caring person.  And though I tell her, "mom, don't worry about everyone else!"  She does.  She remembers birthdays and sends cards with beautiful handwritten sentiments.  She carries her camera in her purse and will take photos of others after church so that she can make prints and share them with them.  "It will make them happy," she says.   And when she makes her famous blue-ribbon winning choreg for Christmas and Easter, she must make huge batches to share with her family, friends and clergy. When friends and family have prayer needs, they call her and ask that she pray for them - Mom has the hotline to God.   Whenever you go to her home to visit, when it's time to leave, she has to walk you to the door and stand there as you pull away.  This is done so that she can pray for you as you're leaving.  She's really the best.  She is a giver and one that will make you feel good with her thoughtfulness.

Today, because of mom,.  I am a woman of faith, a proud Armenian American.  I too love to draw and paint (and I'm a CRAZY doodler when I'm on the phone!) Armenian dance for me is still all about grace and poise; and my prayer list is always growing with requests.   And whenever guests leave our home, just like mom, I stand at the door, wave, and say a little prayer after them.  There is so much that we learn from our parents - either in lessons that they've taught us, or just as a products of our environment.   It's funny how life comes full circle.  I am proud to say that I am my mother's daughter  Happy Birthday Mom!  I love you!


bruce said...

well written, so very thoughtful and so true!

Hratch said...

Amen. Beautifully said about most beautiful Diramayr!