Sunday, May 8, 2011
An Open Letter to My Mother (Happy Mother's Day!)
You probably guessed by the fact that I posted something on your Facebook wall that I didn't get your gift in the mail. Yeah. It's sitting in a pile on my "projects-that-need-immediate-attention" counter, right on top of your birthday cards. Sorry. Again.
I know that nothing I could write in 420 characters or less is really a good substitute for a Mother's Day gift. After all, you were in labor with me for how many hours? 12? 20? 36? And we won't mention the countless hours in doctor/dentist/orthodontists offices. Or the countless meals and loads of laundry. When I think about it that way, even if I got my gift to you on time it wouldn't even up the score.
So, why the open letter on my blog? Two words: Mother Guilt.
Remember when I was young and wore flowy dresses all the time? You know, the ones that I was constantly staining with the dandelions that I never did figure out how to make into crowns? Those were the days when, if wasn't wearing a dress, I was wearing my swimsuit and standing on top of the jungle gym singing my guts out. Those were the days that I used to go to your community health education classes and "help" you teach by drawing on the whiteboard and playing with the example baby and CPR dummies. Those were the days that I was carefree and I was your daughter and, most importantly, you were mine.
My mother-- the lady who picked me up from kindergarten and took me to the KFC drive-through for those chicken nugget sandwiches that were the perfect size for little fingers. The one who actually watched me at my swim lessons and willingly retold the story of how I jumped in the pool when I was less than two years old because I was destined to be a good swimmer. The one who had the nerve to tell me that all the kids at the bus stop were making fun of me because I was acting like, well, like a geek.
I don't remember when exactly it was, but there came a point--probably during my tween years--when I realized that you weren't just mine. There were things you had to do for other people. And things you had to do for yourself. I know you knew I didn't get it. You'd get this far away look on your face and a sort of heaviness would settle on you.
There was the day you told me about a box. That there was this box inside you. And it kept getting smaller. And darker. And you felt like you couldn't breathe because, even though the box was inside you, you were inside the box. So you were going to go back to school. You were going to try working. You were going to get out of that box. You weren't going to suffocate.
The look you gave me then--that searching look in your eyes, that lift in your eyebrows, the dip of your shoulders--that was the look of Mother Guilt. I know it is because I have looked at my own children with searching eyes, lifting my eyebrows, and slouching my shoulders. And what I feel is a crushing, frustrating feeling of Less Than: Of being less than the other women around me; of being less than my children want and need me to be; of being less than I want myself to be; of Mother Guilt.
I bet that when I was young there were times I told you I hated you. I probably slammed my door and yelled. I probably called you names and tried to sneak around you. I don't remember any specific thing, but I bet you do. I know I remember all the times my kids have yelled at me and said they hate me. Those moments were so shocking that they are seared into my memory. The pain of those moments fades with time but the memory of them is uncanny. And that give me a new kind of mother guilt.
Did I mention I was sorry?
A lot of folks at Mother's Day talk about how perfect their moms were/are, how preternaturally perfect women in general are. But you and I both know that while women the world over may have natural inclinations toward goodness, beauty, and truth they are also human and frighteningly imperfect. I remember the pain I felt as a child when you let me down and I now know the flip side of that pain when I let my own children down. None of us are immune from the frailties of mortality, not even mothers.
But here's the important thing. Mom, please don't skip this part. I'm glad that you weren't perfect. It's okay. In fact, it's more than okay. It's exactly as it should be. Please know that I learned and grew from the moments that you were wonderful and the moments that you weren't. Honestly, I wouldn't have you any other way.
Now, since you are a mother I'm pretty sure that you will still feel sad and embarrassed that you ever had shortcomings. You will wish I didn't mention them here. I bring them up only to let you know that I love you--and not just in spite of, but rather because of.
Because you had shortcoming and struggles and difficulties, I knew it was okay when I started to flounder. I knew it was okay when I started to question and wonder. Those things made you a person and, over time, made me into a person. So while neither of us are cardboard cutouts of Donna Reed, pictures of perfection in shirtwaist dresses and pearls, we are real. When people look at us they know what they are getting. And that's a good thing.
I love you, Mom. I love your good intentions and sensitive heart, your tenacity, your sense of humor. I love you like a daughter loves her mother and like a woman loves her friend. I hope you hear that love in my voice when I call you just because I'm bored or when I solicit your advice because my kids are sick. I hope it shines between the lines of Facebook messages and emails. And I hope you feel it now radiating across the ether.
I love you.
Happy Mother's Day.
And, yes, I will put your present (and birthday cards!) in the mail tomorrow.