Mother’s day is approaching. It’s hard to forget it if you are on social media, as sentimental posts about the glory of moms flood the news feeds. Ostensibly, these images were created by men and women for their mothers, but obviously, they were created by moms for themselves. More than anything, they are a reflection of how we hope our kids feel about us. We share them as a tribute to our mamas, but really, we are just sending them as love letters to ourselves. A mother-child relationship is infinitely more complex. It’s a wonderfully complicated combination of love, devotion, and gratitude, with a healthy dose of resentment, and old wounds mixed in. If you don’t have mixed emotions about your mom, then you’ve done a lot of inner work, or you’re in total denial.
I know that traditional Mother’s Day offerings are flowers, brunches and pretty cards, but is there space for a little bit of honesty too? A bit of gentle teasing about all the things your mama really taught you?
The first things that come to mind about my mom can’t be romanticized, though they can be appreciated. She taught me how to burn chicken, go to church, play Scrabble and clip coupons. She taught me to love the beach, dancing and the Jackson Five. She taught me to prioritize travel, education and physical activity. She taught me self-discipline, thriftiness and that reading is a wonderful way to spend your time. I’ve used all those skills and they have served me well. If you want lessons, I will give you her number.
But there were some things my mother couldn’t teach me, because she didn’t know how to do them herself. My mother does not snuggle, except with babies. Her hugs are all shoulders and hipbones, even for those she loves deeply. Handholding is inefficient and slightly uncomfortable. Strong emotions are suspect, to be squashed if possible. Tears are dehydrating. Poetic language beyond her. If she feels something, you might know it, but probably not because she told you herself. Risk-taking is synonymous with irresponsibility, as is following your instincts and eating out too often.
Though they aren’t my favorite qualities, I understand where they came from. They are part of a family legacy, passed on to her from devout, depression-era parents, who raised eight children, making sure everyone got some, but no one got more than enough. That was true of candy bars, soda pop and probably even love.
While those are the easiest things to rattle off about my mom, they certainly aren’t the whole picture, so I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you a little more. It is Mother’s Day after all.
This is my Mother’s Day card for Sylvia.
For better and for worse, I am my mother’s daughter. I have learned and unlearned a thousand things from her, but these are the ones that I hope to carry on.
She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends. She shows up to every event on time and she does not gossip. Sylvia’s got your back. She is deeply faithful to her God and her husband. You do not make mass every Sunday and stay married for forty-eight years without saying to yourself, every day, “I’m in this for long haul.” She shows up where she’s needed. There is no task too big, or too small. From rocking a baby, to mopping the floor, to organizing charity events, Sylvia is on the job. Her home is open and so is the kitchen. Children, grandchildren, friends, friends of family, and friends of friends from foreign countries have all found a warm, clean bed and a full fridge in her house, just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. No checkout fee required, only the hope of a good conversation.
Finally, my mother loves her children deeply, though she rarely says so. Words are not Sylvia’s forte, but ironically, they are mine. I need things spelled out for me and so for years I mistook her acts of love and service as her children’s inevitable due. I thought that sacrificing a career and personal creativity, making meals, driving carpools, and planning family activities was just what moms did. I thought it was their job. I know better now.
It was a choice and it’s a choice she continues to make for all of us. Her job is even bigger now that we are all married with kids of our own. Instead of the four she started with, she now has four daughters, four sons, and twelve grandchildren. She makes sure everyone has some, and hopes that it’s enough. But I have to admit, she set our expectations pretty high and though she won’t say so, she probably feels stretched thin, meeting the “needs” of her ever-growing family.
So Mom, here is my Mother’s Day “gift” to you today. I’m sorry it’s in my native language of words, expressing perhaps too much honesty and emotion. Tomorrow, I will try to show my love for you in your native tongue of action. When I see you, I will give you a sideways hug, play a game of Scrabble, and clear a table. We can do some dancing, cuddle some babies and walk on the beach. Together, we can show our family how we love them.
P.S. If you think I’m being hard on my Mom, whom I love and respect dearly, I write this knowing full well my own children will have a laundry list a mile long of the things they need to unlearn from me and my “love.” It will probably include an overemphasis on deep breathing, inspirational quotes, and self-awareness, as well as an obsession with laundry day routines, repetitive menus and the reapplication of sunscreen.