Today is my mom’s birthday. I am so incredibly grateful that I have a mom that is still alive, relatively healthy and I want to have a relationship with. I know many people who are not so lucky.
Motherhood is a strange thing. From my perspective, it is this completely strange and foreign thing...that I was not prepared for despite having a good example of a good mother.
I will start by saying that I personally had no idea what I was getting into. I will then say that none of us do otherwise we would not ever sign up for it! Being a mom is hard, amazing and taxing on levels that nothing else I have done in my life can compare.
There is a lot of sacrifice. Staving off your own wishes, desires and dreams in order to be there for your kids. We all know this from watching our own mothers, social convention and just walking around on this earth paying marginal attention. I also realize that there are many, many children who do not get those mothers. They get the mothers who are addicted, mentally ill and sometimes pathological. Those kids do not usually fare well. Some do but only with great personal effort and a lot of therapy.
I think both my mom and I could see a life for ourselves where we were not moms. I think there was a huge drive in both of us to be women who did not marry and did not have children. I know there was a part in each of us that did not really want to sacrifice so much - there was a part that wanted to remain single and focus on our own lives. Yet here we are. Mothers both.
I know my mom would say that her path was greatly influenced by her fear, lack of self acceptance, societal norms and lack of personal insight and conviction. I could say the same. I think I come from a line of women who would have been fine without a man or children. We would have contributed in other ways. We would have been satisfied to have a career and live our lives sans children and marriage.
Perhaps our ultimate sacrifice was discarding the person that really didn’t want to be a mother or wife. Perhaps that feeling of honoring self before others is what lays on our own personal sacrificial alters.
But that is the life not led. We will never know whether that path would have been better, worse, more rewarding or hollow. It is the path not taken. The best we can do is acknowledge it and as Cheryl Strayed says
“I'll never know and neither will you about the life you didn't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
It may seem strange to bring up my mom and then talk about how much she maybe didn’t want to be a mom. I do this to honor the whole woman that is my mother. She signed up for a life that was replete with opportunities to give herself away. Being a wife, then a mother, being a career Army officer’s wife, not working or being able to have a career due to our constant relocations, Whether she knew it at the time or not, she picked a life that required that she become more of a prop than an actor with any kind of staring role. For her, accepting the role of wife and mother, kind of obliterated playing any other role. Well, not until much, much later anyway.
I have watched my mom come into her own. I have watched her grow up over these past 50 years. I have seen her ruled by fear, addiction, neurosis and lack of confidence. I have watched her struggle in silence a great deal. As her child, I have had the privilege of watching her struggle while engaging in my own struggles. But there is a lot I observed and learned while remaining close but separate. I have come to see her as a complete woman: one with fear, desire, ambition, resignation and sacrifice. She did not do it perfectly and I think if she was really honest, given another chance, I think she might not have done it at all.
It is this most honest and basic knowledge of the person most influential in my life that I want to honor today. She didn’t make it look perfect, she made it look real. None of us can know what we are getting into when we cross the threshold into motherhood. No one can prepare us for how much being the central force in another person’s life will alter our own path. No one can do it for us or even really with us. Motherhood is a solitary journey regardless of whether you are partnered.
On my mom’s birthday today I want to acknowledge all that she gave up to be my mom. All the dreams she didn’t get to realize. All the paths she didn’t get to take. I want to thank her for putting her own life on hold so that I could have the life I have today. I want to thank her for being a great example of a complete woman: with superhero strength and an Achilles heel. Watching someone raise me who was real, honest and self possessed gave me a rope to follow when my own path became so dark that I could not see the next step forward.
Happy Birthday Mom! I love who you are, what you are and what you sacrificed to become who you are today. Thank you for making me a priority to your own detriment. Thank you for showing me how to love and give and sacrifice. I am very grateful for all you have done and the honesty you did it with. I am very grateful you are my mom. Given the choice to pick any mom, I would always pick you...my greatest example, teacher, cheerleader and confidant. Thank you for showing me how to be a whole person and be a mother. Two tasks that are hard to rectify. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your evolution. Without it, I could never have owned my own. Thank you for talking to me about your ghost ships, thank you for showing me how to salute them from the shores of my present life. Thank you for showing me how to love those other lives while never forgetting that they were not really mine.