Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mothers with feet of clay.

In case social media somehow missed out on informing you: Here in the United States, today is Mother's Day. What started simply as a day to honor all mothers has become ridiculously commercial. Hallmark started it with Mother's Day greeting cards, but soon the florists, restauranteurs, and spa owners got into the act. Nowadays, you're not supposed to just tell Mom thanks for all she's done for you -- you're supposed to gather the family to wine and dine her and shower her with gifts.

I'm not the sort of person who would turn down flowers and a meal I don't have to cook. But I'm mindful of the folks for whom this is kind of a lousy day: women who want to be moms but aren't, for whatever reason; women who are no longer in contact with their children; women whose mothers have died; and women who have learned, or who have come to realize, that their mothers weren't exactly the Hallmark ideal.

It's late enough in the day that we can talk about imperfect mothers, right? Brunch is long since over and the grandkids have gone to bed. It's just us grownups. We don't have to sugar-coat the holiday tonight. We can admit that not every mother is perfect.

My mother died in 2008 at the age of ninety-three. She was born before the Depression, one of six kids in a family headed by parents who were immigrants from what was then Czechoslovakia.

As a child, of course, I thought she was perfect. Then I got older, and became certain I would raise my own kids differently than she had raised me. But she was still Mom to me.

Then I had kids of my own, and yes, I did a lot of things differently -- but not everything. And now she was Grandma as well as Mom -- but I still didn't think of her as anything else. I had long since stopped considering her to be perfect and I got annoyed with her a lot, but it didn't occur to me to think of her as a person apart from the relationship I had with her.

It wasn't until she began losing her memory in her final years that I could see her as a separate person. A woman. Human. Imperfect. A product of her time, yes, and of the family she had grown up in -- and of ours, too. All the things she had experienced in her life had made her who she was. And then dementia began to take them away.

Given time and perspective, I think, we are all capable of reaching a point where we realize that everyone we meet is doing the best they can with what life has given them to work with. It may take us longer to realize that about some people than others.

So today, I can say, "Thanks, Mom. I know now that you did the best you could with what life gave you to work with."

That's not a bad epitaph, all things considered. I hope someday my own kids will say the same of me.

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Speaking of families of origin: Progress on Mom's House, my memoir, has been suspended since we began packing for the move. We're in the new place now, and while we still have some stuff to wrap up at the old place, I am just about ready to pick up the book again and -- at long last -- get it out the door. Look for the launch in the first or second week of June.

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These moments of familial blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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