Mother’s Day. I’m not a fan of these Hallmark Holidays. (well, I admit to liking Valentine’s Day.) I agree with this piece by Annie Lamott. Becoming a mother was the best thing I ever did – but as Annie says, it’s not for everyone and not everyone is good at it. And those of us with either dead mothers or fraught relationships must grapple with our grief and complex emotions amidst this jolly day of bon-bons and brunches.
The distance I felt with my mother was made more comfortable by actual distance – so for much of my adult life I lived either across or out of the country – far from her. It was only after I moved back to the United States with my 1 year old daughter that I felt a shift, the possibility for real connection. A year later, she died.
I believe my mother did the best she could. She once told a friend that were she do do it all over again she would not have had kids. For a time, I thought that a terrible thing to say but I realize now this was not because she didn’t love her kids. Rather, she thought she would have preferred pursuing other things that, having 4 children with barely a year between them and teaching high school, precluded. She was smart as a whip and passionate about social injustice and would have been a great lefty- lawyer or maybe a politician. Who knows. She was launched almost obliviously into motherhood the way many Irish Catholic women in the fifties were. It was all she could do to keep herself and the rest of us afloat. So we floated.
Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu have written a book about Forgiveness and are promoting it with a lovely online, month long “Forgiveness Challenge”. I signed up because I love Bishop Tutu and because I want to stay forgiveness-fit. I believe and history has shown us, that this is the only way to thrive after injury. Each day there are short readings, sometimes with a video or audio, a poem or interviews on forgiveness. One of the first forgiveness-excercises in the Challenge is to decided who you want to forgive. My mother is on my list just as I suspect I would be on my daughter’s. We are not perfect, us mothers.
Today, I forgive my mother for never telling me how incredible being a mother can be. Did she not think so? For me, every stage of nurturing and loving my kid through life has been precious. From the moment I saw my daughter, then held her, I was a goner. I’d been in love before, but nothing compared to the space this infant created in my heart.
I watch my daughter as she ventures into adulthood and remember my own first steps – really more of a leap to claim (save?) my life. My daughter is now concocting dreams, considering the possibilities for her future. I remember myself in my 20s as completely narcissistic, thinking only about what I wanted to do next, what would bring me satisfaction, or better, joy. What a luxury! My mother was too busy juggling diapers and bottles. On the other hand, as I neared 30, I started to get a little sick of myself – this perpetual focus on my needs, my desires. I began to get an inkling of the appeal of being needed. A brush with mortality clinched my determination to be a mother and to this day, I consider it a revelation. It is where I found joy.
My mother did not come to motherhood out of longing as I did. I think even becoming a grandmother surprised her. But I bet she would have been good at it – and had we the chance, we would have shared our joy and perhaps, discovered each other.