Sunday, May 11, 2014

5/12/14—Remembering Mom on Mother's Day

I love this picture because, even though there were five before me and one
is literally crawling on top of her as she tries to feed me, she
still looks delighted to have just given birth to me. 
Most of what I know of love either came from my mother or from being a mother. 

Not to bash the men in my life, but for the most part, they haven't been demonstrative when it comes to love. And when it comes to romantic relationships, I still have to credit the patience, cooperation, allowing, thoughtfulness, etc. to my mother, as well as to observing the relationship between both of my parents. 

My mom got cancer when I was 16. It's one of those "do you remember where you were when you heard?..." moments. I was in rehearsal for a high school musical and my dad came to get me. It didn't sink in right that moment, but my job of being a kid and a daughter changed in that moment. For the next few years, my job would be to not do anything that would make my mom's life harder. After that, it would be to care for her when she couldn't care for herself. 

Prior to that, I guess we had a typical relationship. When I was little, I was adored and indulged—much to the consternation of my five older siblings, I'm sure. Then when I grew an independent mind, she and I locked horns. We were just way too much alike, especially when it came to being stubborn. I know there were times I cried thinking she didn't love me. But I also know there was never a moment she didn't love me. 

Every time I see a picture of all of us together, I just
shake my head. I don't know how this woman
did it. We're only 8 years apart. How she managed
to raise us all and make us feel loved is beyond me. 
My mom was a big reader. She always had her nose in a book. I remember more than once after she was diagnosed crawling into her bed between her and her book and she would stroke my hair with one hand while she was reading, holding her book in the other. It was a safe place to be. 

She would also call me in sick to school when the local department store had a big sale. We would go and shop and have a ladies lunch. Without those shopping days, I would probably have had perfect attendance. I don't regret for a moment leaving high school with a less than perfect attendance record. :D

My mom didn't have a perfect life. When she was high school aged, she lived in England. It was WWII and her town was constantly under attack. It was her job in the family to decide who ate and who didn't each day. In a way, we both had to grow up early, but I think her situation was much worse than mine. She married a soldier to get out of her life and he ended up being an abuser. She escaped him and made a career for herself in the USA, a foreign country for her. Many years later, she met my dad. 

It wasn't her idea to have six kids, but she had them anyway. And she put aside her ambitions to raise us. From the stories I hear, she was harder on the boys than on the girls. And she could be a total drama queen. But I think she did a good job. When I went to kindergarten, she wrestled my dad for the right to work and eventually won. She ended up having a respectable "man's" career on Capitol Hill, one that paved the way for many females in the wake of the women's movement. 

All parents screw up their kids in one way or
another, but I was fortunate to have parents
that loved each other even more as time went
on. The passion seen in this wedding picture
was a pretty common sight growing up. 
Over the years that the cancer consumed her, our roles switched a little. I would sit by her bedside in case she needed me during my waking hours. She always told me I could leave and do other stuff. She probably wanted some alone time...haha. But I wouldn't leave, because I didn't want to risk that she'd get scared when left alone to her thoughts. Or maybe I didn't want to get scared. I don't know. 

During that time, she gave me the greatest gift of all. After years of needing to blend into the woodwork while the family struggled with her disease, she made me one of the most important people in her life. She literally put her life in my hands and trusted me above others. In her final lucid days, I was the only one she allowed to care for her. After all those years of locking horns, we both surrendered to our unconditional love for each other...we finally "saw" each other in ways we couldn't before. The greatest moments of grace I've witnessed have come from people who are faced with death. 

My dogs are the benefactors of the legacy she left through me. What I didn't learn from her about love, I learned from them. There has come a time early on in each of my dogs' lives that I've "given up the fight" of trying to mold or train them into everything I wanted, and started accepting them and loving them as they are. The generosity and completeness with which a dog loves is probably the best teacher there can be for a willing student. I have learned to just let go of all the crap and just love from my love them as they love me. 

A beautiful and gracious woman. 
Everyone else loves with conditions in life. But a mother loves without condition. My mother loved without condition. Many are fortunate enough to have a father like that, too. But I think mothers are uniquely qualified to surrender fully to loving their child. Maybe it has to do with the whole birth thing. Or our female hormones. Or the cycles we go through. Or maybe I'm being unfair, so I'll say in my experience, women have a special talent to love their children unconditionally. It simply cannot be underestimated how powerful a force a mother's love is. Even crappy mothers feel an indestructible connection, though they may not know what to do with it. 

This year, for the first time I can remember, I received a Mother's Day card and a plant from my dogs. I knew a friend of mine had sent it. She has four human children of her own, plus pets and grandchildren. But she left it anonymous. And it made me cry. Because I love my doggie family and treat them like humans (some would say better than humans.) Getting a card and gift from someone who is a good mother herself, made me feel like I was a member of the "club". Like I was a mother worthy of the title of "mother". 

There is nothing in my life that compares to even the simplest
of moments spent with my "babies". Probably the best thing
I can say about myself is that there's nothing in their lives
that's as good as being next to me, too. Except bully sticks.
They really like their treats. 
It's all a matter of personal choice. But I feel like I got the best of both worlds. I had a mother who was a far better mother to me than hers was to her. And I have gotten to raise four dogs so far that I can be very proud of and who, as someone recently remarked while we were on vacation, are very devoted to me. The only thing that teaches unconditional love better than a mother is a dog. 

I'm proud to say that the woman I've become is a lot like the woman who raised me. But no matter how much I accomplish in life, I will never measure up to the woman she was. I got one of the good ones. And though she's been gone 30 years—I've lived 60% of my life without her—her spirit lives on in me and my siblings. The challenges she overcame live on. The sacrifices she made live on. Her good work lives on in my sisters who are great mothers. It lives on in two of my brothers who are/were devoted fathers. It touches the lives of all 10 grandchildren she never met and the one she did. They will raise their children, in part, the way our mother raised us. And it radiates beyond that with the kindnesses and love and grace we put out into the world due to the foundation she established.

That's the power of the mother. I'm sure it doesn't feel that way when you're cleaning up barf or dealing with a difficult teenager. But imagine what this world would be without the soft edges a mother gives it...without a brand of love that's given freely no matter who you become or what mistakes you make. Outside of life itself, there is no greater gift to humanity than a mom. 

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful story; so full of Memories and Love