Happy Mother's Day?
“My most important job as a mother, it turns out, is to struggle with my own pain and anger, to live up to the vow I have made to myself: to love my child well.” Kate Brandt
Fuck, that hits me right between the eyes. Especially after yesterday. I am acutely aware of how much my own pain, trauma and anger interfere with my abilities as a mom. I wish it were different. I wish I did a better job. I wish that I was like other mothers...seemingly able to just clear the path, let love prevail...to love my children well.
I try to clear the path but I seem to stumble all over the rocks often. Even tiny pebbles on motherhood’s rocky trail cause me to falter. But then again, so does pretty much everything in this life.
I went to dinner a few weeks ago with mostly young mothers. It was refreshingly exhausting. All of them in that place where everything they do, all they think about and struggle with, is this concept of being a good mom. Doing the right thing for their kids. The right schools, the right food, the right sleeping method. Frankly, I was so tired when I left. Just thinking about those days and those struggles made me anxious and longing for solitude.
Those days are blessedly over for me. I am grateful. I think if I had to do it all over again, I would be a worse mother. I just don’t think I have it in me to begin again. Thankfully that is not possible for me. And I am careful to clear the decks when dating. I studiously avoid men with children younger than my own.
I do this because I didn’t know that motherhood was a spiritual journey. Perhaps that was short sighted but I didn’t know. I really didn’t when I began. I didn’t know that the above quote would call me out, cause me so much strife, worry and confusion. I didn’t know that my past would haunt my children. That what I endured and survived would also be something my children would have to survive as well...through me. I thought that the years of therapy and recovery would ensure them a better passage. I thought that my protective nature and ability to think things through would prevent them from peril. Little did I realize that so far, I think I have been the greatest peril they have had to endure is my anger, my pain, my past.
I tend to beat myself with this knowledge. I tend to think that if I knew this earlier that I could have done it better. Perhaps. But really what I know is that I really have done my best. There was not one single day as a mom that I thought, “Fuck these kids, I am going to half ass it today.” Never. One. Time.
Yet there are many, many days where my best did not rise above the mark. Far too many times when my best failed them, sometimes severely. And I feel regret. I feel remorse. But, at the same time, I could not have done it any better. I know this because I really did try. In fact, other than recovery, which is the foundation of my mothering, there is nothing I have worked harder for than my kids. Nothing I have anguished over, fretted about, worried, cried, hurt or worked harder to overcome myself. NOTHING.
I see some women who appear to have this mother thing down. I am more of an trenches kind of mom. I never feel like I have it under control. I go to bed every day painfully aware of all I could have done better and wake up each day with a hope that I can actually do it better today. And I try. And I fail. And I try again. Because here is the deal I cut (totally didn’t know that I was making that deal when I became a mom) that I would put their comfort, sanity, needs, futures, hearts, minds, bodies, souls above my own. I would willing trade my life for either of theirs. That my love for them would consume me, interfering with the love I had for their father and totally and complete humbling me. How can one know that this motherhood thing would completely destroy your heart then recreate into something better?
My heart was mine before I got pregnant, but the second I knew I was pregnant with my son, everything changed for me. What I ate, how much I slept, prayed, meditated, drank, it was all about him, his needs, his requirements. And that hasn’t changed a lot. And my heart is no longer mine, my children occupy it, hold it hostage at times and return it less frequently than I would like. And despite all of the above being true, my heart is still way too hard towards them sometimes. I would think that by now I would have learned to surrender. But I am a fighter and not one to easily submit.
Mother’s Day is always fraught for us. Like so many holidays, it is complicated by expectations and desires, and the unmet needs of all of us. This year I have no expectations. I made no grand plans and don’t really care what they get me or don’t. This year I am grateful for the ability to take my mom out for brunch and to then have the day to spend with my kids, doing something...though I haven’t a clue what that might be at 4:19 am on Mother’s Day.
As a mom, I have trudged. I have worked hard at this vocation. I have fucked it up at least as often as I have gotten it “right." I had a good example to follow...my own mother being a wonderful role model for how to love and give and show up. She sacrificed a lot because that is part of the job of being a mom. We do without so that our kids can have what they need to flourish and grow and hopefully evolve to be wonderful parents themselves.
I am not the best parent. I think that I have done a better job with the pets, than I have the kids. But then I look at the children, one who is sleeping next to me now...they are kind, they are loving, they are not wasting their lives by checking out with booze and drugs (at least so far...that I know), they do well in school, they love with their whole hearts, they still want to spend time with me even in their adolescence! So I can’t have fucked it up too badly. They are good people however challenging they might be in their current life stage and personality. They are good people who know right from wrong and what to do when they fall on the other side of morality.
But to mother is to assess yourself, constantly. Where can I do better, where is my pain and anger kicking all of our asses? Where am I in the way of the love that flows so easily to and from my kids? My heart overflows with gratitude for the opportunity to be a mother. To have been mothered by such an amazing woman. To be part of a lineage of mother’s who love without condition or restraint. And to now be in a place where I see and accept that my work will never, ever be done. I must keep clearing my own decks, to create a clearer passage for my children. So that they can always find me, always have a direct route to the person that loves them unconditionally and cheers them on no matter if they are achieving great feats or just phoning it in. I love them forever and that is the privilege I hold as a mom, mostly because I was loved by my own mom in this way. I can give it away because it was given to me, so I have it, in my heart and soul, to give to my kids because my own mother worked on her anger and pain. She did the best she could to keep those hardships of her life from marring mine.
So on this Mother’s Day, I am humbled by the opportunity, the privilege and the duty that motherhood has bestowed upon me. A mantle that I for sure did not know I was picking up when I became a mom. But one that I carry nonetheless...sometimes begrudgingly, often sloppily, forever imperfectly. But carry I do because that is my greatest gift I get in this life: to be a mother to my children through the hard, the sad, the splendid and the exquisitely painful. Motherhood is a life sentence, all the lives, yours and theirs. Forever intertwined with love, pain, joy and duty.
Happy Mother’s Day to my own mom, thank you for walking the path and lighting the way. I have followed in your footsteps even if I tend to wander off the path more than you did. I am forever grateful for your example, your life, your love and your willingness to return again and again to your own pain and anger. You inspire me to do the same.