Mother

Mother
Elizabeth Stoufis

They say if you look into someone’s eyes

You can see their soul

Their hopes

Dreams
Regrets
Worries
But a mother’s soul
is made of love
of compassion for her children

They say if you look at someone’s hands
You can see all the labor they have done
All of the wrinkles in a person’s palm
Are to show all of their hard work
But a mother’s hands work hardest of all
They are made to care for her children
For their whole childhoods

They say if you look at someone’s feet
You can see all the places they have gone
All of the journeys they have traveled
How they stand in the world
How grounded they are
But a mother’s feet stand as strong as can be
She stands for what she believes in for her kids
Even if she is standing alone

Becasue she loves looking at the travel book with me
when I am sick
501 Places to Go and wishing we could go to all of them

She is very stubborn in her ideas
And it is very hard to change her mind

Sky blue afternoons taking walks in the park
Baking baklava
Painting the phyllo like an artist painting on a canvas
Camping with the smell of the fire
And the whisper of the wilderness

This mother is my mama
And I love her very much.

Suck it up Buttercup!

I just read yet another article, poetically drumming on about messy floors, crayon marks, spit up and puke, sleep-deprivation, clueless hubbies, wider waistbands, shirts stained with breastmilk, selflessness, whaa-whaa-whaa, and then the last three lines a sudden revelation cleverly placed to bring it all together, that motherhood is the best and the author wouldn’t change it for the world.  Hey whiny mommies, suck it up, buttercups!  Do you want to really know why I can’t stand mom clubs and groups?  I’m freaking bored out of my mind!

I’ve three kids, two of them are teens and the sweetest little first grader. Here’s the thing, your little tot of preciousness will grow and evolve into a screaming hyper-emotional teen who isn’t remotely cute anymore. If I could turn around and return to younger self, even ten years prior, I’d right all my mistakes and postpone bedtime two hours later, and be who I’m becoming now. I’d relish every second and gather my sweet babies and never let go. You’ve no idea what’s in store, the battles, control struggles, high and low self-esteem that’s always your fault. You’ll not even see straight enough to tell if there’s food on the floor or the dizzying stench emanating from your teen’s room. You’re still beautiful and safe and all that your littles know-just wait till they hate you. Fear? Oh, I won’t even begin to broach that subject; when you’ve no control and send your kiddo out,praying you’ve taught them enough.

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I’m so over the complaints of endless laundry and time-out discussions. I don’t want to suffer through twenty more minutes of my life, pretending to focus and commiserate on a long-winded tale of Andrew’s precociousness when what you’re waiting for is to hear what a genius your 24-month-old is, and by the way-he’s 2! I can’t always do math that fast in my head-37 months-what is that?!

Here’s the truth about your chronic complaining, NO ONE CARES but you and grandma!  Your kids are fighting? You’re sleep-deprived, over-worked, unappreciated, fighting with your bestie over working vs. stay-at-home, crying in your car because the bitty in front of you at Starbucks didn’t Pay it Forward, your hubby asked what you were doing all day yesterday while gazing down at the scattering of toys on the floor, the jerk in the mom group gave the ride-on firetruck to Jack while your little Ella had been patiently waiting, the neighbor’s kids are already on level II swimming, while yours begins wailing from the car that he won’t go, Annie can sing all of the lyrics to to any given Glee rerun, meanwhile, mulling over how your Sam hasn’t yet put a sentence together, while in your mom van, podcast droning, “You can be all you can be!”, headed back to your tidy home, cupboards filled with food to feed your entire subdivision, that shares florescent chemically-treated lawns.

We all want to be appreciated and admired, crave acceptance and want our kiddos to be smart and shining.  None of us can stand the kid who knocks out the rest and hogs all of the toys in the playgroup while her mom cleverly averts her gaze and discusses her latest vacation plans.

While at a school function, I came very close to joining in on a conversation with a neighbor mom.  I was beyond exhausted, had insomnia since 3:18, and felt too lazy to mutter even, hi.  I couldn’t have felt more grateful after witnessing their conversation.

Mom #1 What did you do last night?

Mom #2 We went to dinner.

Mom #3 Dinner? Oh, how was dinner?

Mom #1 Yeah, how was dinner?

Mom #2 Dinner was nice.

Moms #1 and #3 Great! Very nice.

I swear to God’s second cousin, that was their freaking conversation!  Not only that, they pronounced the word “dinner” more like “dinna”.  Directly after their dinna conversation, they began chiming in about all that needed done, finishing the basement, in-laws stopping by for two days along with some artificial condolences.

I’ve been there ladies.  I used to be involved in everything, desperately craving an intangible mom award, balancing grad school, dinner parties, birthday celebrations, and sad that my husband never appreciated me, regardless of his compliments, help with the kids and always glad to run to the grocery store, especially because he complained that I never had any good junk food in the house.

I remember carrying a giant clothesbasket up the stairs, stomping so hard that my knees ached, deliberately passing directly in front of Nikos (hubby) expecting him to look up from his stupid phone and somehow infuse compassion into his thick head, and the realization that his wife works sooo hard.  I picked up the broom and manically began sweeping, intentionally bonking his bent head with the handle. Nikos glanced up while rubbing his head and asked, “Are we expecting company tonight?”

 If you have the time to post ten selfies on Facebook so you can hope for 210 likes, or at least ten more than Shelby got, since you really can’t stand her, the big show-off.  Additionally, if you’re blogging about life with your youngins’ and it’s the hardest unpaid job there ever was, you aren’t so bad off.

A few years ago while still in WV, we stopped (Heaven forbid!) at McDonald’s.  We’d never dined inside as a family.  I settled Katerina into the highchair with rolling wheels.  It took two seconds for her to figure out how to propel off from the table and backwards.  We ate our fake food, and all was pleasant.  An employee came over and asked if Katerina would like some extra Happy Meal toys for toddlers.  We happily thanked her, and discussed the cold subzero temperature expected that evening.

 Katerina suddenly spilled her milk all over the tray, and the employee rushed over with a towel.  Nikos and I tried to help her and take over, but she wouldn’t allow it.  She was cheerful and friendly, a shining employee.  During our conversation I learned that she only had an hour left, and then her husband would work the night shift at Taco Bell.  They had four kids, two of which had severe autism, and lived in a trailer that her uncle had loaned them.  The furnace didn’t work, so they were forced to sleep in the living area nightly with the stove burners on high, as it was their only means of heat.  The woman was kind, gracious, cheerful and filled with more integrity than any woman I’d ever met.

On the drive home as I shivered till the heat worked in the car, tears fell from my cheeks.  I instructed Nikos to locate the space heater I’d bought him for Christmas to heat the garage, which he’s never taken out of the box, and give it to the woman at McDonald’s.  He dropped us off, grabbed the box with the heater and left.

Nikos stood in line until the woman made eye contact with him.  He pointed to the space heater box on the table we’d sat, nodded to her with tear-blurred eyes and left.

Your life isn’t so bad ladies.  Suck it up already!

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Surprise, We’re Goin’ to the Beach!

The thousands of poetic descriptions of the beach, its waves, familiar and comforting, sound and scent, and no need for me to reiterate all that’s been noted far more eloquently by others.  It’s our final morning here as I write on our balcony, so grateful for an ocean-front room, laptop resting on my at least five pounds bigger belly, and I just can’t will myself away from the waves as my backdrop and the continual warm breeze kissing me.  The happy seagulls are calling out, such sweet sounds as light as my children’s giggles the first time feeling the cool water splashing over their tiny toes.  The tide inevitably intensifies then recedes, and the mortals that we are must be carried away, despite our occasional protests.

Nine days ago, we piled in the truck, Nikolas and Elizabeth were fighting before we’d rolled out of Northfield, and picked up Nikos from work along the way. We were slow as usual, a million pee stops and fires extinguished, and two hours later we faced a snowstorm. Our truck was sliding, darkness had swiftly fallen at a mere 4:30 as we trudged on. Our goal was to make it to Illinois before stopping for the night and well, we never made it out of Wisconsin!

Nikos said we’d die if we didn’t stop, and conveniently, like a mirage in a sea of pummeling snow, a Holiday Inn Express appeared!  The oh so clever/compassionate manager who had given us the “Snowstorm Rate”, was all hyped up, announcing to the flood of guests that the storm was expected to drop ten more inches.

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Even if the manager’s discount was questionable, he had been fairly accurate with his forecast, once morning arrived. It would be a long day;  our goal was to get to WV in time for Ava’s birthday party at 7 pm.

The drive was grueling as we slid, silently prayed that no one was hurt based on the numerous accidents left and right, while we barely missed sideswiping cars, ourselves.

I whispered to Nikos, trying to communicate “the big surprise” until three nosy bedhead faces stretched their necks like turtles to eavesdrop. Exasperated, I told Nikos to just stop at the next rest area.  We were somewhere in Indiana, and Nikos and I would’ve burst if we’d held  the big news any longer.

We piled out of the car and instructed the kids to hold up so I could get a picture of them in the snow.  As we shivered in our sneakers, I yelled out while ready to capture the kids expressions, “It sure would be nice to go someplace warm like the beach!”  Elizabeth rolled her eyes and wailed, “Yeah, too bad you’re forcing us to go back to WV when we were just there two months ago!”  Nikolas chimed in, “Yeah seriously, why’d we even move to MN in the first place?!”  Katerina’s little voice squeaked out, “Mama, I’m fweezing!”  I ignored them and announced, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be at the beach?  Because that’s where we’re going!”  The kids mouths dropped, all properly shocked and confused, and Nikos yelled out, “Surprise!”  Wahoo, we got em’!  Many of you know how we live for surprising the kids!

The cheer level for the rest of the drive increased by tenfold.  Elizabeth begged to see a Broadway style show, Nikolas lamented that he wished he would’ve brought his boogy board, and Katerina was just happy.  Nikos and I were most excited to eat.

We were forty-five minutes late for Ava’s party, but it was at a gymnastics center and absolutely perfect for a ridiculously long drive!  We had an awesome time visiting with family.  The cupcakes were loaded with yummy buttercream frosting and what?  There was a party?  Oh yeah, it was great!

We stayed at the Gain Ranch, except they’d left with Nancy from the party to pick up Alex from the airport.  It was a quick visit when they returned, because we were headed to Myrtle Beach!

Our traditional stop back when we used to travel to Myrtle every Thanksgiving was the Strawberry Stand.  They truly have the best boiled peanuts and fresh-squeezed lemonade, and it is also the largest strawberry-in the world. It felt blissful shedding our coats, and enjoying the quenching sunshine and boiled peanuts!

The last hour before Myrtle, we passed the time playing a version of Headbands, in which we assigned an object or food to a person and then they had to guess what it was by asking questions. Nikolas was alarmingly bad at the game, but made us laugh till our bellies ached! Poor kid, my mathlete and science nerd just couldn’t figure it out.

Approaching the Island Vista Resort, we belted out a made-up song Elizabeth used to sing when she was three, “Let’s Fly to the Beach!”  Our five was the cheesiest bunch of hyperventilating dorks and most embarrassingly excited family that’s ever graced the sands of Myrtle!  That’s what happens after spending three harsh winters in MinneSNOWta!

The moment we entered our condo, all of us grinning goofballs charged out on the balcony, inhaled the sacred fresh ocean air and I nearly cried. Grumbling tummies coaxed us back in the car and we headed to the Sea Captain’s House, a culinary must. Nikos’ was the favorite-jambalaya.

I jogged with Nikolas and Elizabeth-oh whatever!  My obnoxious two told me I fake-jogged!  I was moving my arms and breathing heavily!  I walked miles daily, and imagined what great shape I’d be if I lived at the beach.  We hunted seashells and I feigned excitement every time Katerina presented yet another cracked piece of a shell, a proud grin on her upturned hopeful face.

I took the girls to the Christmas Spectacular, a British version of Broadway, and such a treat!  The boys meanwhile, had gone to drive go-karts which was closed, and then raced our clunky truck with a Ferrari. Besides the jambalaya, the highlight of Nikos’ trip was beating that Ferrari.  Nikos bragged about it for days, how he’d outwitted the driver, and I imagined that the guy had simply taken a right-hand turn.  Nikolas sure was worked up as well and mighty proud of his daddy. Yes, I married a dude who is a perpetual 12-year-old!

What a wonderful Thanksgiving we had!  I made the entire meal in our full-sized kitchen, set the smoke detector off only twice, Elizabeth remained glued to the Macy’s Day Parade on TV, Nikolas started complaining that he was starving by 9:30, and it was perfect.  I truly mean that the day was perfect.  I made four pies, not sure why we’re the biggest piggies in America, and we ate till we were food drunk.

Nikos and I took a nice autumn nap, and finally, we took a family walk on the beach. If I hopped on a boat and headed straight, the Atlantic would carry me to Africa.  There’s no place like the beach that ignites my chronic wanderlust to nearly unbearable levels.

The kids shimmied in their cold damp swimsuits, and I plunked down in my chair on the beach, as the ocean breeze swept me away in a lovely nostalgic trance.

I thought about my dear friend Scott Wise, whose greatest wish is to get back to Myrtle Beach. Scott, this article is dedicated to you, buddy! I thought we could set up a GoFundMe account and get you to Myrtle.


We remained on the beach long after the sun had begun its evening descent, until cold shivers won out, and then reveled in the hot jacuzzi-that’s right my faithful readers who know me, germ-freak me hung out in the jacuzzi all week long!
Suddenly, fireworks penetrated the black sky, giant mushrooms of light, my favorite always red.  Right then, right now, our little family collected tangible joy encased in a precious memory.


Goodbye, Myrtle Beach.  Thanks for the immense joy, and happy lingering memories with my precious family.  Thanks for the gratitude and fresh ocean air that washed inside my soul lest I forget during foul weathered days.