Saturday, May 7, 2011

On Motherhood

Stuff I learned from my mother:

Selflessness - In the way she always convinced us she really wanted the smallest pork chop or the burnt piece of toast.

Work Ethic - I have a mental picture of my mom every Saturday evening, setting her hair in rollers for church the next day, her chin dropping to her chest as she nodded off with hairpins in her mouth, exhausted from the day's work.

Self-Sufficiency/Thrift - Mornings in the garden, before it got too hot. Evenings under the lamp of the sewing machine. Vacation days away from the government job, but hard at work canning in the summer kitchen.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. - "Kids, stop scuffling."
"Settle down."
"I asked you to stop."
(Actually, should this entry be called, "If you can't beat 'em, give them a beating?"

Individuality - In the days of my adolescent conformity, my mother was not one bit interested in my desire to not be noticed. I was constantly embarrassed by my simple family and my mother just shrugged and did as she saw fit. If it was raining, she pulled from her purse the little pouch with the rain bonnet in it, unfolded it from its accordion shape and slapped it on her head... while I walked twenty feet behind and pretended to study my shoes.

Ambition - I don't know how my mom thought she could go to college. It certainly wasn't a precedent in her community. Her own mother died when she was only two, and her older sister moved back to the farm with two young children, so Mom had babies on her hip from the age of ten. The family was rich in love, but not particularly lucky at farming. When Mom went an hour away to college, earned her degree and settled down two hours away from the farm, she seemed elegant and city-ish. (She was a school teacher and our town had 1200 people.)

Family is Precious - "If I happen to be in a coma when your baby is born, please make sure I hold him." (From the hospital bed in her living room.)

My mom offered me a lot during the 25 years I had with her. As a child, I felt like nothing was quite right if she wasn't at home and even terrible things were manageable as long as she was a part of the solution. There were times when my parents went out for the evening or mom had a meeting at church and I had to go to bed in a house where my mother wasn't. I would lie in bed and stare at the wall wondering how to sleep in such a house. The country road outside my bedroom window was not well-traveled and if the headlights of a car crossed the wall of my darkened bedroom, I would wait and hope that the headlights would slow down and turn into our driveway. Often they did not and that felt so sad.

My mom is gone now and I lost her too soon. She didn't get to hold my baby, coma or not. I remember the moment, a week into my own motherhood experience, that a wave of realization crashed over me. What I felt for my baby was WHAT MY MOTHER FELT FOR ME. And I never had a chance to let her know that I GET IT. And my grief started all over again.

But really, not all people have such great mothers. Or such moments of clarity. I'm lucky to have these reasons to be so sad sometimes.

I hope I honor motherhood as much as my mom did. As much as I learned at my mother's elbow, first-hand experience is a better teacher. The best truth I've gotten is the knowledge that I'm actually tough as nails.

OK, I've been mulling over deciphering the formula that makes a mother a warrior. I just keep landing on cliches, like the fact that we're nurses, chauffeurs, housekeepers, cooks, mediators, educators, coaches, philosophers, etc. I think it's all true, but everyone has heard it already, so it's lost the meaning of what I'm trying to say. I think part of it is that we ARE all of those things, but we do all those jobs while we're exhausted, grieving, angry, lost, sick, worried, lonely, misunderstood and unsure. And we do them not because its our job, but because we are compelled - by duty, by devotion, by dedication to our families.

Unglamorous, motherhood is. I never said it was pretty. Everyone else's needs come first and, while I sometimes get tired of it, I wouldn't have it any other way. How many Sunday mornings do I focus on getting everyone else dolled up for church, only to slam on my one and only coat of mascara in the parking lot of the church? I could be sitting, midstream, on the toilet, and if any of my children called me with urgency, I'd be running out the door with my pants around my ankles. Every one of us has been soaked in urine, diarrhea, breast milk, mud or vomit and kept on tending to another, simply because it needed to be done.

Last summer, I allowed each of my three kids to take a friend for a day at the beach. Great day, for sure, but no sooner had we pulled out of the parking lot and gotten on the interstate than we had a flat tire. A flat tire! With six kids in the van! It was hard to figure out how to change the tire, but I did it. Actually, for me, it was hard to figure out how to get the spare out of its hiding place! I got filthy dirty and aloof strangers felt they were doing their part by looking at me sympathetically as they whizzed by in their functional cars. But had they stopped and helped me out, I would have missed the triumph in doing a hard thing simply by putting my head down, being an adult and getting through it. And because I'm a mother, I did it while teaching valuable lessons: Here's how to change a tire. Here's where you put the jack. If you don't know the answer, look in the owner's manual. Oh, you tightened the nuts as far as they would go? Lemme see. (Craaank. Craaaank. Crrraaaaaannnnnnnk.) Your mother is still the toughest person you know.

I'm always confused by women who call in the coast guard whenever they are sick, busy or unrested - women who need someone with them when they take the child to their immunizations - because it might be hard. They are totally robbing themselves of the chance to find out what they can do. They can be the only one in the room, heck, in the WORLD who will make things better for another human being. Your child's head fits perfectly into that comfortable spot on your shoulder. No one else's feels as good to them. The way you do Christmas, or Sunday evenings, or road trips - is going to be the way your children think they should be done when they have children of their own. Doesn't that make you feel frikkin' powerful? It does me. I don't know if I've done justice writing about all motherhood has given me. It gave me a backbone and self-esteem and resolve and identity and it made me an adult once and for all. I'm nobody's princess. I'm a gladiator. A superhero. And I can feel great about myself because such a job will have an eternal presence in my family tree.


  1. And you're an awesome writer....


  2. Great perception, well thought out, and well said.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Beautiful and well said. Xo

  5. hey I LOVE this post. You are so right on. I'm going to go read it again (and then I'm going to ignore my own need for a nap and read some books to my children).


I write my posts imagining that I am already in the middle of a conversation with you. I hope you will comment and be a part of the conversation.