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A day for female bonding and a lesson on gratitude

By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


The five of us sat in a half-circle around a blanket loaded with magazines. The latest issue of Vanity Fair heralding Jennifer Lopez's mostly naked body still had the clear plastic wrapper around it. The March issue with Julianne Moore and her cleavage on the cover had just been opened the night before.

The regular subscriber laughed because a friend of hers recently visited her house and was stunned to see both unopened magazines. The friend didn't have children, she explained.

We all laughed. We all had children. We all had unopened magazines and too many unread books at home. But this day was Mother's Day. So after enjoying breakfast in bed with our kids and husbands and wonderful homemade cards, five friends and colleagues headed to Pass-a-Grille beach for some relaxation, girl talk and reading in the warm sun. Between us we have 11 children from 2 to 12 so we had plenty to talk about and plenty of desire to relax.

My husband often watches our girls without me. But then I use my "free" time to work, run errands or take the arthritic basset hound to the vet. (I'm the only one who can muzzle him.) So I relished an afternoon to get nothing accomplished.

On the topic of unopened magazines, I mentioned my stacks of unread Parents magazine that my husband even gets to glance at before I do. One mother declared that she finally quit taking "those" magazines. It was depressing to get into bed, exhausted at the end of the day and read a magazine that makes you feel you're doing everything wrong.

There is no universal right way to parent, another mom said. Each child is different, each family is different, so those magazines can just confuse and upset people. Besides, a third mom chimed in, if you actually get to sit down and read something, don't you want to read something that's not totally about kids?

I interjected that I try to keep Rookie Mom from dictating how parents should do things because the whole premise of it is that I'm learning my way around, too. I'm not the expert. I'm the one with the questions.

But writing the column has brought some baggage I didn't realize until my 2-year-old Charlotte hit a fellow toddler with a plastic frying pan at school. I felt terrible. I urged her teachers to be as stern and strict as they needed if it happened again. I didn't know the victim or his mother. But a few days later a friend of mine said her neighbor had informed her that "Rookie Mom's daughter had hit her son with a frying pan."

Then the talk turned to discipline, or lack thereof.

One mother described what she called her all-time lowest point of being a parent, when she heard herself say to her son: If you stop kicking me, I'll give you a lollipop.

We all laughed, that good laugh when you throw your head back and really feel it coming from your rib cage.

One mom started talking about her 5-year-old daughter's knowing the words to Aaron Carter songs.

Who's Aaron Carter? two other moms asked in unison.

He's the latest male version of Britney Spears, the first mom explained. He's one of the Back Street Boys' little brothers. Wait a minute, why am I the only one who knows this stuff? she said. Then she blamed her children's exposure on the mom on her right who has the 7-, 9- and 12-year-olds.

That mother, a preschool teacher, said it's not just the older kids who listen to the teen music idols. After she heard the 4-year-olds teaching each other Britney Spears lyrics on the playground, she talked with them about only singing school songs at school and not songs they hear outside school. Some preschoolers even know the characters on Survivor.

We talked about other things. Of fathers who were in World War II. Of a spunky grandmother who asked for a beer after her surgery. Adorable cards from our kids. We talked about good books and bad books and West Wing. Sadly, I was one of the only two who were still talking about Survivor.

Then one mom told us how her husband had surprised her with a fabulous date to New Orleans for dinner. He bought two plane tickets for under $100 and surprised her a few days before. He had even allowed time for her to stop by West Shore Plaza on the way to the airport to get something to wear. They arrived in New Orleans in the late afternoon and left the next day around breakfast.

We were all stunned and envious. But she still hadn't told us the best part. He even arranged for the babysitter.

What??? This was unheard of.

I was having a great time, but my parking meter was about to run out after two hours. I wanted to stay longer but had to get to Target and promised my husband I'd be home around 4 p.m. As I walked toward my car I groaned to myself that even on Mother's Day there wasn't enough time to do everything I wanted.

Then I looked to my right. There on the beach was a young girl in a wheelchair banging on some toys fastened to the tray in front of her. A well-loved stuffed clown hung from the back of the chair. Her mother lay next to her, soaking in the sun and breeze. Unopened magazines, unruly toddlers and Target vanished. Here was a mother who truly deserved a holiday in her honor. Her days were probably tougher and longer than I could imagine.

I hesitated interviewing her because I didn't want to invade. I'm glad I did.

BethAnn Bologna has a smile that makes Julia Roberts' smile look like a smirk.

"It has probably been the best Mother's Day," she told me. "Tara has been in a good mood. The fact that my older daughter, who has been in (college) for two years, was home and wanted to spend Mother's Day with us made it easier to take her sister to the beach."

This was their first trip to Pass-a-Grille and they were thrilled with so much ramp access. Most beaches in the area aren't as convenient, so they seldom go.

Fifteen-year-old Tara was born with Aicardi syndrome and is stuck at the developmental level of an 8-month-old. She uses a wheelchair, is fed through a tube and wears a diaper. There are about 10 known cases of Aicardi syndrome. It only strikes females. Until October, Bologna and her husband had no outside help, but now a respite worker comes in a couple of times a week.

"It allows me some sanity. It's a lot easier to run back to Publix if I forget butter," Bologna said. "But mostly it means I have the opportunity to keep her with me her whole life and my whole life.

"It's a tough ride, but I would never change my life," she said. "Tara makes you realize in her own little world how happy she is. She just makes you smile." And Tara loves the beach, which made Mother's Day a treat for all.

"She loves the breeze. All the colors of the bathing suits, the tubes and rafts and umbrellas, I think she got a kick out of that," Bologna said. "She loves action. If you're going, she wants to go."

Happy belated Mother's Day to all mothers who love every moment -- be it wonderful or taxing, extraordinary or routine -- with their children.

- You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at Oliviachar@aol.com; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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