Morning Hair, Colic and Mother’s Day Wishes

“There’s a story behind everything…but behind all your stories is always your mother’s story…because hers is where yours begins.” – Mitch Albom, For One More Day

I had a blast interviewing my mom last year on marriage and lasting love, and thought it was time for a followup. Yesterday we chatted by phone about motherhood. Here’s what my ebulient mama had to say, once again revealing tidbits I wasn’t aware of.

August McLaughlin baby picture

Mom and me on Christmas, 1981

August: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a mom?

Caroline: I can tell you the exact moment. I went to the hospital and my sister, Jackie, had just had her first baby. That was the first time I saw a baby up close, and I thought, “That’s what I want!” I always knew I wanted kids, but that sealed the deal.

August: What’s surprised you the most about parenthood?

Caroline: I’ve enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Children are so full of wonder… Also, your hair can be standing on end, and you can look in the mirror and think, “OH MY!” Well, you know my morning hair.

August: [laughs] Yes, but don’t worry. I won’t post a picture.

Caroline: You can look just awful, and you go to pick up a baby from the crib, and they think you’re just gorgeous! They love you either way.

August: Aw. You’re welcome!

Caroline: [laughs]

August: What’s one of your favorite funny memories?

Caroline: One night when Dad was working nights, I was sleeping on the couch, and you had colic, you know.

August: So I’ve heard.

Caroline: You were a siren at two or three in the morning. So I took you to the living room and hours later, I was sleeping on the couch. I jolted upright and thought, “Oh no! Where is she? What did I do with her?” And there you were, sound asleep on my shoulder.

August: [laughs] So I did sleep every once in a while.

Caroline: Yep! You could get away on such little sleep, yet were just full of joy. And joy is contagious.

August: I’m glad colic isn’t.

Caroline: Colic seems really long when you’re screaming in the middle of the night. But when it’s done, we’d think, that wasn’t so bad! You sort of forget the bad parts.

August: Ah. Post-colic amnesia. Sweet! Speaking of noise, I get my blurting tendencies from you. Do you remember my first one?

Caroline: Do I… It was just before Kelly was born. You were only about 18 months, and nursing just a couple of times a day. So I gave you a tiny glass of milk and explained that you’re still you’re going to get your milk, but you’re getting it from a cup now because Mama is having another baby. You looked at me and said, “So you’re going to be four mommies?” I said, “Yes.” And you said, “Well there’s only one daddy. And he’s ALL MINE.”

Got 'im!

Got ‘im!

August: Such a giver, I was. Good thing I learned to share.

Caroline: You were a talker very early. Your first words were ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada.’ And you loved books.

August: I remember. You gave me a lot of quiet time with those books.

Caroline: That’s what YOU remember. You didn’t have much quiet time. You always thought you were in there for hours. I just gave you a chill out moment—time to refocus.

August: If you say so. I still need those.

Caroline: One thing you did that drove Aaron nuts, was you’d sit in your car seat and sing about everything you saw out the window, at the top of your lungs. And you’d look at Aaron and he looked like had smoke coming out of his ears.

August: I don’t blame him! But geez. Sometimes a girl gets bored.

Caroline: One of the funniest things, I remember as clear as a bell. It was your first experience with watermelon, at Grandma’s. Kelly had just started talking, and you were probably four. She held up her watermelon to you and said, “What’s this?” And you said, “I don’t know! But it has little black shiny things in it!” You reminded me of two little old ladies chatting about some newfangled thing. Now you can get watermelon all year long, but then it was only available in the summer.

Kelly and Me

Kelly and Me

August: Super cute. Was it different raising Aaron, compared to us four girls? Or were we all just really different?

Caroline: What your sex is was irrelevant. You all have blue eyes and blondish hair, but every one of you is unique. When you have four girls, you can really see the differences—very individual.

I never had a little brother, and wasn’t around little boys very much. I thought they loved cars and other stereotypical stuff, so one year I bought Aaron the cutest set of little cars and trucks from the Sears catalogue. But I realized I’d bought it for me. I liked it, and thought that he should like it. He was nice about it, but he never played with them.

August: [laughs] That’s probably why he and I played “used car lot” later on and tried to sell them off.

Mom and Aaron

Mom and Pirate/Viking Aaron

Caroline: Now little Isabelle goes around with cars and goes, “Vroom, vroom, vroom. Truck!” She loves them.

August: You started having kids very early—20, right? Was it a shock?

Caroline: Yes, twenty. I don’t think that I’d even changed a diaper before. Dad taught me how. I think the biggest shock is to realize that they’re always there. They’re not going anywhere, and they’re your responsibility. It’s kind of like, “Here’s a sponge, and you’re going to teach it what it’s going to soak up.” Obviously kids make your own choices, but what things are you going to offer them? That’s a pretty awesome responsibility.

August: I can imagine. What’s your Mother’s Day wish?

Caroline: Well, I told the girls all I want for Mother’s Day is little handmade cards from the granddaughters, and that’s it.

August: Ha. Good luck with that.

Caroline: My Mother’s Day wish is this. You have chosen not to have kids like Carla has. But you’re a super special aunty to your nieces, and you can mother them if you want to. It’s not right or wrong to have a baby. If someone has them and they don’t want them, I would just love for them to find loving homes for them. There are so many loving people who want children but can’t have them.

August: That’s sweet, Mom. And cool that you’re so open minded. I’ve known for a long time that the only way I’d want to get pregnant is if one of my sisters needed to borrow my womb.

Caroline: [laughs hard] Hope you have lots of storage!

August: Well not all at once! Anyway, I’m glad they’re all fertile.

Caroline: I look at teachers who’ve never married, or never had kids. Their pupils are like their children, and they have more kids than any of us. I also wish that if people wish, they can be a mom. I don’t love you anymore or less because you have babies or you don’t have babies. And I was just telling Dad today that Zoe has an aura about her.

August: She does, doesn’t she? I love the way you tie it all into my dog—because you know that she’s my thing.

Caroline: Well she’s a special girl, my grand-dog-ter.

Zoe, the GREAT!

Zoe, the GREAT!

August: Brilliant and true. I have to head out, but if I find that picture of your morning hair from New York—

Caroline: Putsu!  [Translation: AUGUST JOHNSON MCLAUGHLIN—Don’t you dare!]

Okay, okay… I’ll share her most recent poem instead:

Mama Brain, by Caroline

I looked forward to being a mom with great expectation,
Never realizing there would be days of great consternation.
Some sleepless nights, schedules to juggle, topped off with a bout of flu
Could leave me wondering, what on Earth would I do?
Motherhood is filled with hugs and fun, that’s a fact.
Motherhood is also a careful, loving balancing act.
Like sunshine following the rain, mothers rely on their mama brain.

The Johnson 5 (6 if you consider my beached hair a creature)

The Johnson 5

(6 if you consider my Miami-bleached hair a creature)

What’s your favorite mom memory? What has your mother taught you? Any thoughts or questions for mine? 

 ♥ Have a happy Mother’s Day! ♥

My Mom on 40 Love-Filled Years

My mom is fluent in numerous languages, writes beautiful poetry and can cook or bargain-hunt her way out of any sticky situation. Of her many areas of expertise, however, maintaining a happy marriage may be her strongest. She’s proven it for forty years—officially, as of yesterday.

Rather than share my thoughts on the landmark day, I decided to go straight to the expert herself. My first semiofficial interview with my mom went like this… 🙂

AM: *dials phone*

Mom: *picks up* I have my happy grin and my happy face on.

AM: *laughs* Excellent. Feel free to answer with as much or as little as you like, or bring up topics I don’t mention.

Mom: *snickers* You know I always do. If I start blurting, say, Mo-ther… and I’ll understand.

AM: So noted. Okay, so how did you meet Dad?

Mom: I was doing a backyard barbecue for my high school German IV class. We were seniors so I was having kind of a goodbye type thing. My brother asked if he could bring a friend and if the friend could bring a date. And so Dad came with Carolyn—with a ‘yn,’ not ‘ine.’ He had these tall Red Wing cowboy boots on, and I thought, Oh, wow!

AM: Was it love at first sight?

Mom: From the reaction of Carolyn? Uh huh. She knew something was going on and she was not happy.

AM: That’s hilarious. Tell me about your first kiss.

Mom: He was helping me do dishes one day in Grandma’s kitchen. Before he left, he stooped down to kiss me and missed. I was too short! I said, “Here, this is better,” and got on my tippiest, tippy toes.

AM: Okay, I don’t need to know the rest. What was your wedding like?

Mom: Simple and sweet, the way we liked it. We told our parents to invite a few close
friends. We invited a few close friends. I made my dress and Dad wore a sports coat. I made the bridesmaid’s and flower girl’s dresses, too.

AM: And why did you choose April Fools Day?

Mom: It just worked with the calendar. That was the main reason. And who can forget April Fools? You can say things like, “Lovesy, guess what! I talked to the doctor, and I’m having twins!”

AM: *laughs* I’m sure that went over well. How does it feel, being married for 40 years?

Mom: It doesn’t seem like forty years… Dad and I kind of grew up together. I was 17 when I met him and he was 20. He gave me my first roses. He’s always done all kinds of little amazing things. When we started dating he had a little English sports car called a Harold, a red convertible. He would pick me up when I got off the bus from high school to drive me two blocks home. I’d look outside of the bus, and there was the little car! I was very excited, but I’m sure I turned lobster red.

AM: What did your brother think of all that?

Mom: Well, others of his friends asked me out, and the dates didn’t go well. One time one of his friends drove me home, put his hands up and said, “Now, for our kiss good night!” And I ran out of the car. Then every time he called, I told him I had to babysit. After that, my brother said, “Never date my boyfriends. Do not date my friends.”

AM: So you married one.

Mom: Yep! With Dad, everything felt natural. I remember telling him that I wasn’t interested in dating a bunch of people. My dream was to meet and marry one person, to have kids with that person and be able to stay home to raise and enjoy them. And that God was the center of my life. I figured he’d either run as fast as he can the other way or think it was okay. But I thought, I’m not going to pussy foot around.

AM: How did he react?

Mom: He loved everything I said and asked me to read Summer Hill. It presented a controversial way to raise your kids. Basically you raise children to be what they want to be. You don’t spank kids, yell at them or put them in a corner. You listen to them, because they are people. I thought, That sounds very nice.

AM: Ah, so we have Dad and you and that book to thank for not putting ceilings above us.

Mom: No ceilings, but roots—so you’d be grounded.

AM: You went on to have five of us. Was that the plan, or how did that happen? I mean, I know how it happened…

Mom: Do you want me to paint you a picture? *snickers*

AM: Um, that’s all right. But thank you. Did you plan to have a big family right away?

Mom: We knew we wanted several, but we didn’t have a number in mind. I wanted each of you kids to have at least two years between, so that they could be babies. I have friends who say they want to get “that little baby part” out of the way. But I love baby parts. They’re my favorite. And we didn’t have to work hard at it, let me tell you!

AM: Okay, awesome! Moving on.

Mom: *laughs* Like my friend’s son says, “Mom, you did it three times and that was it, right? To have three kids?” If she brings up anything about sex he just shuts her up.

AM: Well, I’m glad it came easily for you and hope you did it more than five times. That is all I will say. *clears throat* *sips water* How did you find time for yourself, and manage to stay sane with all these wee ones running around?

Mom: I was privileged to be able to stay home with you guys. I really admire parents who have full-time careers and kids; I think that’s really difficult… We’ve always stressed family time. When Dad was a driver during the busy season, he’d leave early in the morning and not get home until you guys were in bed. So I always made sure that he’d see you at breakfast. He’d come home frozen to the bone and ravenous. That’s when you saw your Viking. Before even changing his clothes, Dad would go up and give each of you a big cuddle and if you wanted, he’d read you a book. I really learned a lot about parenting from Dad. Dad and my aya—my nanny.

When ever I had one of you guys, I’d come home from the hospital and Dad would have the kitchen floor washed, the laundry all caught up, fresh-baked goods ready and flowers on the table. Even now he does it, when I go to see you in California.

Oh, and time-outs in the bathroom always helped.

AM: So that’s what you were doing in there!

Mom: Yep. Time for myself, even in small increments, made all the difference. And Sunday was family day. It didn’t mean you could not go out anywhere, but it was a day that we spent together—to a park, hiking or have a picnic. We always had supper together. If someone was upset or crying, I’d turn the stove off and took whoever it was to go read a book, watch “Mr. Rogers” or rock in the rocking chair. After that, we could have a happy meal.

AM: I’ve always valued that—eating as a family. What did you think when you met me? I don’t recall, for some reason…

Mom: From the day you arrived, you were just a bubble—floating free and full of it. You just had a blast. You found everything very, very enjoyable in life. You had colic, so it was a little testy at first… You found ways to stay busy and keep us entertained. Remember the time you put sock balls in your dress during nap time? We found you tricycling around the neighborhood singing—

AM: Uh, yes, Mom. We don’t need to go there. What are some of your goals or dreams for the next 40 years?

Mom: I think just to encourage each other in our own things and in our things together. I’ve always loved doing things with my hands. When you have kids, you have all these projects you start and never finish. I’ve always liked doing small projects, so that I feel accomplished. That’s kind of how Dad is with gardening. Now that he’s retired, he gets to do more gardening and cooking, spending time with the dogs… Finding joy in the little things is important. That’s one thing I love about babies—the wonder in their eyes as they see things for the first time. As we grow older, we lose that sense of wonder. I think we need to keep it captured. And Dad is a wonder.

AM: Anything else you’d like to add?

Mom: Just that I’m very spoiled.

AM: I think you spoil us. Everyone who knows you’s been spoiled, Mom.

Mom: Well, maybe the definition of spoiled is loved. *laughs*

AM: Sounds like a poem that should happen.

Mom: Maybe it should.

♥ Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! ♥

Any thoughts or questions to share with my mom? What do you do to ensure happy, lasting relationships? What lessons have your parents taught you? We’d both love to hear from you!