I believe that my mother generally disliked Mother’s Day. She always felt inadequate as a mother and didn’t think she measured up to all the praise and adulation heaped on mothers in the typical Hallmark card. She also felt like she compared unfavorably to the ideal women and mothers often spoken about in old-time Mother’s Day sermons. I confess to having some of the same thoughts about Mother’s Day as she had. It’s easy for me to list the mistakes I made as a mother, the regrets I have for things done and undone. When things weren’t going well, I often laid awake at night obsessing about everything I must have done wrong as a mother. It’s not nearly as easy to list all the things I probably did right. So when Mother’s Day rolls around every year, I have to intentionally resist the temptation to compare myself with other mothers, whether real or fictional, because I will inevitably pale by comparison.
I write this not to suck out words of praise from others for what I have done right as a mother, but to be honest about my own feelings – and perhaps to give voice to something many other mothers feel as well. A day that began 100 years ago to honor women who were activists and peacemakers (something I can relate to, since I try to be the same), Mother’s Day has in many ways become the victim of commercial hype that could make even the most perfect mother feel hugely inadequate.
As I look back on more than forty years of being a mother, there are moments that stand out – moments that capture both the joy and hard work (okay, let’s be real – the pain) of being a parent. Here are just a few random “mom moments”:
Dana was born after many hours of difficult labor, while with Derek labor was much easier and shorter. The end result was worth it both times. Having never thought of myself as beautiful, I remember being immediately overwhelmed by how incredibly beautiful and cute Dana was as a newborn, and then we had a second cutie when Derek was born.
Potty-training was a challenge. When Dana and I would get home from her daycare and my part-time job, I would strip her down and let her run around the house naked because I knew she wouldn’t go if she didn’t have clothes on. I bribed Derek – every time he used the potty successfully, he could choose a small wrapped gift out of a basket. Not sure the parenting books would approve of my methods, but they worked – and at the time, that’s what I cared about!
When she was four years old, Dana informed me, “I’m four now; I can do what I want.” If there was an argument to be found to counteract what I said, she was the one who would find it. She was never one to comply quietly.
Sometimes Derek as a little boy would suddenly stop whatever he was doing and come to me and say, “I want to give you something special.” He’d give me a hug, a back rub, and a pat on the back, and then he’d go back to playing. It was indeed special!
In fourth grade, Dana had a “winning streak” in math tests. For a long time (I want to say the whole year, but that’s probably an exaggeration), she had perfect scores. The pressure started to mount as the winning streak continued – not only for her but for her mom who unaccountably felt the pressure too.
We learned how easy it is for a child to disappear. Derek disappeared at Sesame Place when he was about four. We looked everywhere, went to customer service, worried that he might have fallen into a retaining pond (which of course was safely behind a fence, but who knew what might have happened!), catastrophized about kidnapping. All the while he was happily going up and down one of the attractions. He wasn’t lost! Another time at the Grand Canyon when we were walking around the rim, Derek ran ahead of us and out of our sight. We had no idea where he was. Again, we imagined him slipping on some rocks and tumbling down into the canyon. When we reached the end of the trail, there he was, wondering what took us so long and certainly not understanding why I was so panic-stricken!
Like most parents, Dale and I often helped with school projects. One year, I dug out my old copy of The Tale of Two Cities (a copy I had won as a prize my last year in boarding school in Choma) and read it again so I could help Derek who was struggling with it. It’s a good book but it’s not the easiest, particularly if you don’t like to read. We attended Dana’s band concerts – including ones with the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz youth ensemble – and Derek’s basketball games.
When they were young, I used to imagine that most of my mothering work would be done when the kids graduated from high school (in other words, when society considered them adults). Not so! I discovered that parenting young adults is sometimes much harder than parenting young children. I decided that getting up repeatedly in the middle of the night to feed a baby is far preferable to lying awake wondering when and whether one’s adolescent or young adult is going to come home.
When I remember Dana and Derek’s weddings, I think especially of all the friends and family members who surrounded them with love and support. I was so impressed by the diverse collection of wonderful friends Dana had found in Philadelphia. I’ll never forget the last dance at Derek and Katie’s wedding reception when everyone who was still there formed a circle around them while they danced once more to “I Won’t Give Up.” Knowing that Dana and Nes and Derek and Katie have many other caring people in their lives is a wonderful blessing. And now they have all given Dale and me four grandchildren, each of whom is uniquely special to me.
We have a plaque in our home given to us last Christmas that says, “The only thing better than having you as my parents is my child having you as their grandparents.” Of course, I was deeply touched by the gift, but almost immediately, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that it was more than a slight exaggeration. Those old inadequacies that every Mother’s Day tends to bring out in me were rearing their ugly heads. But I am trying to take the plaque at face value and accept the love and gratitude that is contained in the words. I look at it often, and not only am I thankful and proud of the wonderful adults my children have become, but I decide that as their mother, I might even deserve a little credit for having done something right! I also hope that my mother was able to look at her adult children and know she had done well too.