So many things have surprised me about motherhood. It is more beautiful and more rewarding than I could have ever anticipated, and the depth of love I feel for my two daughters is more ferocious than anything I have ever experienced. Of course, it’s also more complicated, exhausting, and frustrating than I ever could have imagined. It’s interesting how much my own motherhood has caused me to reflect on my relationship with you.
My perspective now as the mother of two daughters has made me ponder what it was like for you to be a parent of young children. Over a year ago, I interviewed you about your experience as a stay at home mom in the 1980s- I felt fascinated by the differences in our lives as parents, and I was very curious to hear how you perceived motherhood when my brother and I were young. I promised to someday turn that conversation into a book, and one of these years I will make it happen.
The truth is, generational differences notwithstanding, you and I are very different mothers in many ways. You stayed home, I go to work part-time. You volunteered, were active in the PTA and other organizations, and knew everything about the inner workings of my school, and I couldn’t identify which kids were in my daughter’s second grade classroom if my life depended on it. I divorced my first husband and remarried when my daughter was three years old; you and Dad have been married for over 40 years.
I have done a lot of things differently, and for a time I worried that I would be a disappointment in your eyes, that I could never live up to the type of mother that you were. I spend a lot more time on my own than you did- I teach in the mornings, go to the gym or to yoga class during the week, I often meet girlfriends for lunch or drinks, I pursue my writing aspirations, and I put my toddler in childcare even when I am not working a full day. I don’t ever remember a time you when weren’t there for me- I knew I could count on you for anything from an afternoon snack to a listening ear after a difficult day of school.
Even when I was older– a teenager having surgery, a college student with mono– you were always by my side when I was frightened or in pain. I remember all the nights you sat up with me when I had gallbladder attacks as a seventeen year old, and how you were with me at every single appointment, reading ridiculous stories out of a magazine while we waited for the tedious tests to be completed. When I was a college senior, you drove over four hours in the middle of the night to be with me when I needed a spinal tap. Do you remember how I looked at you when you arrived, through the haze of Demerol, and said, “You have the most beautiful eyes!”?
You were endlessly patient in my memory- I can only remember you losing your cool when the incessant arguing between my brother and me had pushed you to your breaking point. Patience is not my strongest quality as a parent. While I recall you using profanity only a handful of times before my teenage years, anyone living under my roof (and anyone who has ever been in the presence of my toddler dropping an F-bomb) can attest to the fact that expletives are unfortunately part of the vernacular around these parts, especially during a hectic morning.
Did you play with us? I don’t remember. Maybe you didn’t have to, as we were close enough in age to amuse one another. Whether or not you spent time on the floor playing Cabbage Patch Kids or rather reaped the benefits of the 1980s culture and told us to go away and be home before dinner, you certainly play with my children now. As soon as your suitcases hit the carpet, you are upstairs playing school with my second grader or putting puzzles together with my toddler. Even now, your capacity for selflessness and nurturing astounds me.
You and Dad never pressured me to excel in school, though you always celebrated my successes and came to every single concert, award ceremony, and special event I was involved in. In fact, you still do that. You attend so many of your granddaughter’s special (and ridiculously long) events, and I’ll never forget how you surprised me last year when I performed in Listen To Your Mother. Your presence is still so essential and comforting, and now my daughters crave it, too. They both squeal with delight when I tell them that Grammy is coming soon.
Thanks to your mantra that my brother and I should only “do the best that we could,” I never felt that I needed to be the best to win your approval, yet your approval has always been so deeply important to me. Even as an adult, I still feel that disappointing you would be unbearable, and I hope that even though my path has been different than yours, you are still proud of me as a parent and a person. I know that you are.
I’m struck by the fact that, though seemingly everything has changed, so many things have stayed the same. Not only do I still seek your approval and care deeply about your opinions, I am in awe of how much I truly need you still. When I am struggling with self-doubt, a chaotic day of parenting, problems at home, or feeling overwhelmed, I choose to call you. You still are able to calm me down, reassure me, and understand me better than almost anyone in my life. I am so grateful to have your love and support; whenever I call you in distress, you make yourself available to me, and the longevity of that commitment of support is mind-boggling. Who else in our lives has the kind of wherewithal and devotion to spend decades supporting, consoling, and loving us besides our mothers?
I genuinely enjoy spending time together. I like going on vacation with you. I like talking to you. I am happy and relaxed when you are staying at my house. I realize that not everyone feels that way about their mother, and I sincerely hope my own daughters feel the same way about me someday.
Although I am acutely aware of the ways in which I have strayed from the particular brand of motherhood I experienced as a child, I also know that I have inherited so many of the important things you taught me, and I integrate those qualities into my own life as a mother. Like you, I am endlessly affectionate and openly supportive to my children. Like you, I am ready to talk to them, listen to them, and help them process the things that frustrate them as well as celebrate their beautiful, small victories. Like you, I snuggle with my daughters daily- remember how I started every morning by crawling into your lap in the recliner for years? Like you, I read with them and have taught them to love both books and music. Like you, I excel at nurturing, comforting, and making my daughters feel cherished and safe. And really- what is more important than that?
Although I try to incorporate unconditional love into all my relationships, it’s quite possible that the love I feel for my daughters is the first time I have loved without strings, without criticism, without conditions. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of complaints about our day-to-day lives together, and endless gripes about the little things they do that drive me crazy. But this doesn’t impact my love for them. And do you know what’s even more amazing? Now that I am a mother, capable of experiencing this type of love, I am finally able to grasp that I am loved unconditionally as well- by you. One of the most humbling aspects of motherhood is to realize that you are the object of someone’s perfect love. I fully realize that the way I love my children is the way that you love me, and I will be forever grateful for that.
So thank you, Mom. For setting the bar high, for teaching me how to love and give of myself, for accepting me in spite of my flaws, for celebrating our differences, and most importantly, for teaching me about unconditional love. It is the most beautiful gift you could have ever given me. Happy Mother’s Day.
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