(A little love letter to my Mom…)
I wrote about how I was irritated with my Mom for not coming to Portland in advance of my first being born. How could she not be there for me when I needed her most? But of course, my Mom in her infinite wisdom knew that I needed some time – just a couple of weeks – to get my feet under me and claim my new identity of “mother” before she came to support me in the new way that I saw myself, rather than fledgling along trying to be some half as good version of her.
My Mom and I have always had a strong relationship – I feel very close to her – but it’s also been a relationship that’s okay with distance. Not emotional distance, but physical – or rather, we’re both okay and secure in our knowledge that we love and respect each other very much. And if we only talk every 2-3 weeks, despite being thousands of miles away from one another, it’s okay.
My older sister, Kathleen, has a very different relationship with my Mom. I think they talk several times a week – sometimes, several times a day. That’s just not how I operate. And both Mom and me – we’re okay with this.
My move away from home was to be temporary – only for one year. I packed up my life after college graduation and threw whatever I could fit into my friend Adrienne’s VW Cabriolet and we cut across the country from Indianapolis to Portland, where she dropped me off for my year as a Jesuit Volunteer.
A very long story short – I never went home again. I’ve lived away from my Mom, Dad and all of my 5 brothers and sisters since 1991. This was never my intention, but here I am. On the day to day level, I’m really happy to be here. I have a strong community of friends and “framily” that have filled in during major holidays and birthday celebrations. I miss my own family terribly, and would love it if they all decided to move here – but that’s not going to happen. We’ve had to bridge the distance of being away from one another over the years, but I’ve still had all of them, especially my Mom, to lean on in my parenting journey.
Whatever relationship we might have with our own mothers, when we become one ourselves it all becomes crystal clear. From my hospital bed, with my brand new baby in my arms, I called my Mom – not to announce the birth, but to apologize. “For what?” my Mom asked. “For all the stupid crap I did when I was a kid!”I sobbed into the phone, “For all the times I said I’d be home at midnight and stayed out ’til 2! I’m just so sorry – I get it now!”
There’s this overwhelming flood of raw emotions that can shock a new mother. “How is it possible that I could love you so much?” you wonder as you gaze at your newborn. It’s frightening to think of what you would do to protect your child. And the movie, “Sophie’s Choice” becomes so much more poignant and painful – you could sob just at the thought of it!
But what of those women who become mothers not only far away from their own mothers, but without them completely?
This happened to a friend of mine, when her mother succumbed to lung cancer while Beth was pregnant with her first. She was young, too young, to leave this world and never meet her grandbabies – but I couldn’t help to feel even more sorry for Beth who would become a mother without her own mother there to turn to for advice, a listening ear, some encouragement that “This will all get better soon,” and “You’re doing a great job!”
I feel like I should interview my own Mom and ask her how she did it. She grew up without a mother and somehow managed to be the best example of motherhood that I know. I think if I asked her, she’d probably talk about what it was like to raise her children over the years when so many other new, young Mommas were at home doing the same thing together. All of them cracking up at the words of Erma Bombeck as she so accurately described what real mothering looked like on a day-to-day basis. My Mom gleaned a lot of information, I’m sure, from some of the books written at the time, and I know she loved Dr. Belt, our lifelong pediatrician, for all of the free advice he would throw her way at our regular appointments.
But there was something else at play that I think is a little bit lacking in today’s generation. My Mom always seemed to have a level of confidence in the work she was doing as mother. Some of this was reflected by my Dad when he would announce at the dinner table, “Do you all know how important your mother is to this family? This family would fall apart if not for all the hard work that your mother does each and every day!” And it was true. His words provided all of us with solemn respect for the work she did every day to keep our family functioning.
I’m forever grateful that she is just a phone call away when I’ve needed to vent about my 3 year old’s tantrums, or my 7th graders’s angst. When I’ve called her to say that I’ve already yelled at my children 3x today – and it’s only 9:15 am. It’s so nice to go to “the source” and get so much good advice on how to do this parenting thing not perfectly, but pretty great.
When I talk with her about all of this, she laughs and tells me that I must have a selective memory, as I don’t seem to recall the days when she raised her voice, or lost it with any one of us. But honestly? I don’t! That means there is sweet hope for me and my own parenting journey – that my children, whether they be close by or far away – will remember me as a Mom who loved them dearly and wanted only what was best for them. Even if that means they move 2,259.5 miles away. And I hope that each one of them will feel like they can turn to me when they begin their own parenting journeys. I hope I can help them half as much as my Mom has helped me.
Note: I realize that I’m so very lucky in this regard and that not everyone enjoys this type of relationship with their own mother. In this case, it’s so important to identify those in your life who can stand in as your “Mom” as you begin this journey of parenting. All of us need to have great role models for parenting.
Do you live near your parents or far away? Does this make things easier or harder for you as a new parent? Who do you turn to for parenting advice?