A Girl Looks at 80: Family

Today, my mother is 80. Celebration time is here as relatives, sisters and grandchildren start the drive to Harrisonburg. Half of the fun has always been the anticipation of a gathering.   There will be steaks and Kline’s black raspberry tonight and a big chicken barbecue on the river tomorrow. We think about food a lot in this family.    My children never want to miss a Blose family gathering where you are always loved, celebrated and accepted and you can guarantee your sides will hurt from laughing by the end of the evening.  Oh,  the stories we have to tell!

My Mom grew up in the same environment that she and Dad created for themselves: loads of love, laughter and hard work balanced with fun.    But my Dad didn’t grow up in this type of home.  In fact, from the stories I’ve heard, most of my grandparents didn’t grow up in joyful, laughter-filled homes.  There was judgement, anger,  stress, tension and at times, emotional abuse.   After years in public education and studying family dynamics, I strongly feel  that  the family you seek doesn’t just happen, but must be created with tenderness and intentionality.

Last night at dinner, we were talking about our love of Disney World.  Lauren recalled an incident where a big water ride shut down, and we were stuck in the blazing sun for twenty minutes before they emptied the water and hurried us behind the scenes to disembark. They were more concerned with us not taking pictures of the ride without its magic water than our discomfort. She talked about  how I talked the park  into Golden fast passes for the rest of the day.   What was really remarkable is that she talked about that trip with a smile.  You see, I took them away  three weeks after their Dad died, not to forget about what had happened, but to temporarily set aside the new normal of life without Tony and  to remind them that we were still a family that could laugh and experience the joy and thrill of a roller coaster.  The memory of that trip could trigger sadness and regret and perhaps to an extent, it does, but that sadness is balanced with happy thoughts.    Intentionality is what I learned from this family and from my Mom’s family.

This past week Anne and her kids took Mom on a Virginia history tour, visiting Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown.  When she was in one room at Monticello the tour guide offered her a chair for  “old and decrepit people.”  (Mom’s words, not the guide’s words) She said she wished she could have seen the look on his face when she politely declined that old person chair.   Today Mom is officially an octogenarian. A new number.   I recall my nephew Billy crying when he turned four because he was going to miss “his old number.”   Will she miss her old number like little Billy? Maybe there are some new normals that she will have to adjust to with this new number, but she’s done it before.   But the big things about her, the essence of her, won’t change.   She will still be our Mom, wise and strong.  Wife, confident and devoted.  Grandma, keeper of sugared cereal and candy. Great grandma to two, keeper of juice boxes.  Sister.  Mother in law.   Friend.  Mrs. Blose to some.  And most importantly, Ellen.

Happy birthday, you old brown-eyed girl! Let’s celebrate!


A Girl Looks at 80: Love and Marriage

I recall an adult Sunday school class some years ago when the teacher was talking about relationships within the home.   He read that your relationship with God should come first, then your relationship with your spouse and last is your relationship with your children.   This was ultimately best for the children because they would  receive the modeling that they would some day emulate.   I was certain that I was screwing that up within my home more often that not, but it was something to consider.  With seven children who had varied schedules and interests, it wasn’t possible for my parents to put themselves first very often, but they did steal time away together, took trips without us at least once a year,  and you certainly could never pit one against the other if you wanted something.

My Mom was a year ahead of my Dad in high school.  He was outgoing, athletic and a friend to everyone.  She was reed thin, bookish and serious about school.  She says he fell in love with her brain because she wasn’t exactly built like a starlet.  Her words, not mine.  He pursued, she resisted.  She ultimately caved when after missing prom because of rheumatic fever, Dad showed up to her bedside with a wrist corsage.   She finished college and encouraged him to do the same.   They married and started having babies.   The flower child/Woodstock era of the 60s passed them by as they spent those years growing a dairy business, washing diapers and just trying to keep toddlers alive.   I’m going to cheat now because this blog below by Mom written two years after my Dad died is a better tribute to that 43 year marriage.

July 16, 2006

It’s a hot, sultry day much like one 45 years ago. It’s the day Bill and I were married, and my girls were all trying to find something for me to do to take my mind off the date. They knew that anything they did would be appreciated but not successful. 

It isn’t so sad to remember, and in many ways it is complete joy to think of our marriage-its beginning, its many years of love and happiness, and its end that came too soon.  The  thing I find so difficult to  put into words is just how all those years and the relationship that grew between two people sustained and fed my soul.  

In many ways we were so differently- he liked hunting, bird dogs, and being with lots of people. Friday night football was as essential as air and water to him. On the other hand, give me a good book or a Broadway show, a few close friends, a hot bath, and I could shut out the rest of the world for a time.  

How we were different or how we were similar was superseded by a profound love and respect for each other that gave us each what we needed in our lives. I told Bill not too many months before he died, that if I were to die first, I wanted him to know that he had made me as happy as I could have possibly been.  His sweet reply was “You make it so easy!”

  I thought that perhaps I should tell our daughters what made their Dad’s and my relationship so special, but I don’t really need to do that.  Who they are as young women speaks  more eloquently than my words about a home that allowed them to be all that God meant them to be.  I’ve always felt that what a child (or what all of us need) is to feel safe physically and emotionally, and to be loved without conditions or limits. Bill gave that great gift to his house of women, never condescending or expecting less of us because we were female. Our daughters rose to the challenge, and whether they were playing basketball or tennis or singing in a musical production, they always gave it their best. And when I wanted to have foster children, even with  seven of our own, he never questioned my sanity.  I, on the other hand, wondered if I was a bit daft!  

Forty-five years, Bill.  Wasn’t it just yesterday when you first loved me? Wasn’t it just yesterday when you made the Dean’s List at Tech after we were married? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we held our first baby and marveled at what love could do? Wasn’t it just yesterday when we milked cows and made hay, grew a garden and watched our girls get on school buses?  Wasn’t it just yesterday when teenage boys started hanging around our house?  Wasn’t it just yesterday when our first grandchild was born?  Wasn’t it yesterday when we finally had time exclusively for each other?  Wasn’t it yesterday when we talked of growing old together and that we were ok with that? 

But it’s today, Bill, and my heart is broken. 

Sigh.    I don’t doubt for a moment that this 80th birthday celebration would be better if Dad were around. Our hands have grown weary of the boot strap pulling over the past fourteen years.  All seven of us have had sustaining marriages that have been challenged by a myriad of circumstances but we have our parents to thank for modeling affection, patience, and undying commitment.





A Girl Looks at 80: Finding Ellen

One of the most remarkable achievements of my mother’s life didn’t involve her identity as a devoted wife  or mom to seven daughters or even the church she loves.  Rather, it involves what she would call  finding Ellen again. Any person reading this with children probably understands the tendency to lose a bit of that person you were before the marriage and kids.  You put that former “you” on the back burner, and unfortunately, some people do it forever.  Is it any wonder that a study from 2016 shows that 7 million adults over the age of 65 experience depression each year?

The truth is my Mom didn’t plan on becoming a widow fourteen years ago.  It was sudden. Within two weeks, our patriarch was gone.   There was a trip planned for Ireland that they had put off for years because college and weddings were expensive.  There was a plan on the horizon to move past the debt and live comfortably.  They always talked of taking the grandkids to Disney World and I’m sure they would have done so.    For the first time in her life, the woman who planned meals, paid bills, organized weddings, took care of grandkids, and managed multiple responsibilities at church  found herself  at a complete loss of control.  What was next? How would she ever feel joy again?

I think it all got better when Anne bought Mom a blog site for Christmas.  Before there was a husband, and kids and cows to milk, Mom was a gifted student and writer.  She had been valedictorian in her high school class, a straight A student at Madison College (now JMU) and editor of the school newspaper, The Breeze.   The only writing she had done for years was in a little diary where she wrote about her babies.  Even that became increasingly sparse as the family grew, and I can only imagine that she fell into bed each night completely exhausted.  Of course she would edit our term papers and interject some of her style when needed, but that’s not really writing from the heart.

And what happened next was a miracle.  She wrote.  And wrote.  Vignette after vignette.  And then there was a self published book and then a second one.  The light returned to her eyes as she would proudly proclaim that someone at the store had heard she had written a book and had to have one.  She had more spring in her step on her daily morning walk  at the local mall.  Once again she became indispensable at church.  She took up yoga and hiking.   She started to tutor  at local schools.  And when she declared that she was through with yard work and cleaning a big house, she got rid of things and moved into a manageable duplex. She is the great grandma who says yes to playing football with the first great- grandchild.  And she was the only one who said  yes to dancing with me at a vineyard recently.    It was she who made the decision to not sit around as a spectator, but to fully immerse herself into life again, to laugh and find a new normal.  Interesting how that self-empowerment parenting style works.





A Girl Looks at 80: The Magnificent Seven

I remember the first time it struck me that people were shocked at the fact that there were seven girls in my family.  I think we were on vacation and a stewardess asked my Dad if we were Catholic.  “No.  I’m a farmer.”  She must have thought it was a way for him to have free labor on the farm!  People would say, “Oh.  You just keep trying for that boy, huh?”   Never once did my parents say yes to that.  And friends, that is how you raise confident and capable women:  by telling them they are ENOUGH just as they are, penisless and perfect.



Imagine having seven girls.  And then I’ll throw in that the first four are 28 months apart.  Seriously.  I’m number five, and I’m just happy they wanted more kids after not sleeping or taking a bath alone for that many years.  The struggle was real with toddlers but then personalities began to emerge.  How do you parent when one is more athletic than another, and one is tall but she could care less about basketball? What happens when some have to study to make good grades and others don’t crack a book in high school and do just fine?  Mom would  say, “I’ve already made grades.  You do your best for yourself and not me.”   Don’t get me wrong.  There were expectations but there was never pressure.  If you had done your best and worked hard, then  that was good enough.  Any pressure to succeed was truly internal, but because we were taught to be grateful for the gifts we were given (see blog 1), no one was distraught  over not being as good at sports or music or academics as another sister.

I just read an NPR article yesterday about the importance of taking pressure off of kids.   Depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide rates are higher than ever before among students in high achieving schools.  The school in the article reminded me of Brentwood High in Brentwood, TN  where my children went. The kids at this school are fairly priveleged.  They have money to travel and  most live in two parent/college educated homes.  They are polite, go to church and play sports and are involved in band and choir.  They are high achievers (good thing I prepared my kids that there would always be peers who were  smarter and richer before we moved to Tennessee) yet many are stressed out and burned out before they turn 18.   The truth is that it is much more difficult to get into college these days than it was when my sisters and I were applying.  Last night, my sister Anne described the ultimate helicopter parent who has micromanaged the life of her high school senior son.  Hopefully he will be fine, but is he living his life and choosing a path for himself or for his Mom?

My mom would tell you it’s all about balance.  Balance summer weed pulling  with trips to the pool and a candy bar.   Balance responsibilities as a member of a household with freedom to explore personal interests.  Balance high expectations with letting your daughter paint her bedroom Pepto-Bismal pink.  Don’t freak out over messy rooms because eventually your kid will need something to wear.  Not everything your child does should be done to check off a box on a college or medical school application.   Accept your child for the gifts they bring to the world and  be realistic in what they aren’t capable of doing.  She would say that artists, musicians writers, social workers, teachers and stay at home parents are just as worthy to our world as a doctor or lawyer.  Trust that there is  a college that fits your child’s abilities and more importantly,  what he or she wants to do, not what you want them to do.

I’ve asked Mom what it was like to manage seven different personalities, talents as well as PMS.  She said that she and Dad would talk about it at night.  From time to time, he would hold her as she cried from worry or frustration. But mostly she says she survived because she didn’t micromanage.   She let us be who we were and didn’t rob us of the opportunity to do the work of self-awareness and self-empowerment. She told us what she thought, but once we were on our own, never gave unsolicited advice. She let us make our own way and our own decisions about careers and spouses.   All seven of us, unique in many ways, are all the better for not being the children of a helicopter Mom.


A Girl Looks at 80 (Fortunate by birth)

This morning my mother begins her last week in her 70s with an 80th birthday on Friday.  As she incredulously declared  on Saturday evening to me, “Can you believe this?!”

Daughter. Sister. Mom to seven girls. Grandma to fifteen.sisters   Great-grandma to two.  Friend to countless others.  Church member.  Sunday school teacher.  Alto in the choir. Writer.  Volunteer.  So many identities, none of which ever earned her a paycheck.    Ellen Raines Blose is worth celebrating this week.

Although there’s a party coming up, I thought I would celebrate her in words, focusing each day this week  on things she has taught and modeled over the years.   And although my late father had a hand in it all, he would agree that it was really Mom doing the bulk of the parenting.

Mom often reminded us that she and her nine siblings and all seven Blose girls had a leg up on others just by the luck of our birth.  It wasn’t just hard work or intelligence that afforded opportunities.   Most likely she learned this from her own parents who fed and cared for the less fortunate in their Keezletown community.  It was the Great Depression and people were out of work and hungry.   Not once did her mother or father question whether someone deserved their benevolence, but her parents modeled the very essence of grace and gratitude.

I recently told a friend who is a social worker that we took in foster babies years ago.    As  busy as my Mom was with a dairy farm and seven kids, she signed up to be a short term foster parent, often getting babies late at night.  I remember there was a dedicated drawer for foster baby clothes: tiny white sleeeping gowns and booties.  I recall the excitement of readying the bottles and crib for our little guest.  Those babies were Blose siblings for just a short time, but they were nurtured and cared for as if they were one of us.  They were children of God just as we were but didn’t have the good fortune of being born into a history of good decision making and stability as we had been.

This may seem brutally harsh,  but we were raised knowing that there would always be someone out there smarter, better looking, more athletic and richer than us, but there would also be many people less fortunate.   I was important and special, but in my Mom’s words: “You were not raised that the sun rose and set on your behind.”  As someone who studies society, I have noticed a trend (and it started when my kids were small) of way too much lavish attention shelled out on toddlers at  birthdays, huge  bouquets at  dance recitals, graduation balloons at preschool promotions and soccer trophies for doing nothing more than showing up.   Mom’s reality check provided us with emotional comfort when life didn’t quite measure up to our expectations.   There weren’t bouquets or trophies at the end of every hard day.   You had a meal,  a warm bath and a bed and this was more than others had.   Personally, it  allowed me to find gratitude even when my world felt like it was collapsing around me during Tony’s illness and death.  I couldn’t have discovered this without my Mom’s guidance.

Hey little brown eyed girl, happy birthday!