“We need parents, when we are older, to learn things from…to help us become clearer to ourselves.” –Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatjie
The powerful love that sweeps over you when your child is born is an amazing thing. Even years afterward, you can be overwhelmed with emotion at the oddest times. A slight inflection in their voice, a look in their eye, a unique point of view they casually toss out for discussion, the arrival of unexpected flowers, a card for no special occasion with a hand-written expression of their feelings for you, a laugh shared, or an unanticipated moment together can reduce a mother to tears of exquisite joy.
I just want to protect you, you tell them, and they say they don’t need protecting anymore. But you made a promise when they were born. You held them in your arms and promised to be there for them, always – no matter what. You promise yourself, and them, that you will do your best. You will hold their hand, assuring their safe passage to the other side of the street, that you will always be by their side.
But we’re inadequately prepared for motherhood. We learn by doing, giving the dice our best shake and tossing them into the world beyond our front doors. We don’t all come up with the same numbers, but we try to do the best we can.
If one thing doesn’t work, we try something else, but mothers are human, like everyone else, and sometimes we make mistakes.
Sometimes good things happen, but sometimes things go wrong. There is nothing worse than something bad happening to your child. Nothing. Your first inclination is to help, to save them from their mistakes. It doesn’t matter if they are five years old or fifty, the inclination remains the same. A mother’s pain doesn’t recognize the difference in age as more or less deserving of her attention.
When a child is born and the mother holds her baby in her arms for the first time, she promises to be there – no matter what – to laugh and to cry with her, to share in his happiness, to stand by her side. A mother doesn’t run when something bad happens. She turns neither her face nor her heart away. A mother squares her shoulders and offers them to her child for solace, for strength.
A mother says, “I’ll be there in your happiest moments and in your worst. I’ll hold your hand, I’ll do what I can to help. I will remain at your side, offer advice, or sit quietly nearby when you want to talk or to just cry. I will love you no matter what you say or do.”
No matter what. That’s a mother’s promise.
Looking back, I see my own mother battered by life from the day she was born. Harshly treated by her father, betrayed by the first man she loved, and physically beaten and publicly humiliated by the one she tried her hardest to please.
As a child, I was vulnerable to her shifting moods. What I didn’t realize then was that she was just as vulnerable to mine – often more so. Her life has always been a struggle for survival built on the shifting sand of others’ caprice.
Some of us idolize our mothers, refusing to acknowledge the faults we know they have. We are all human, we all have faults. But we can still have love. Others hate their mothers for not being like other mothers, showcase moms. They blame them for failings so similar to their own. We make assumptions, knowing so little about their inner lives or the hopes and dreams they had before we came along. We don’t know the secrets, the backstory, that fashioned who they are.
“Youth and death shed a halo through which it is difficult to see a real face.” – Virginia Woolf
To love a mother fully, you need to see her real face. Take a good look at her and accept all that she is. For she is not some ideal of perfection placed on a pedestal to be admired and worshipped from afar on one day of the year. She is a woman, at times fragile, at times strong. A woman like any other who sometimes chooses wrongly, says things she regrets in the heat of anger, frustration, or pain of her own, a woman and mother who shows she loves you in so many little ways every day.
Mothers cry themselves to sleep at night when their children are in emotional pain, and they love without judging, they love unconditionally.
My maternal grandmother showed me by example what it meant to be strong and taught me to stand tall, to face adversity head on. She told me I could do or be whatever I wanted. And though she had been cruelly denied those options herself, she never allowed the severe abuse she suffered at the hands of her own parents, for the crime of being born, to stand in her way.
My own mother I have not always understood. My mother who deserved a better daughter than the one I gave her in those moments when she needed me most. She loved me anyway, unequivocally. My mother, injured by the harshness of her early years in the care of abusive grandparents, worked hard, clawing her way through life to overcome the disadvantaged beginning that scarred it.
Through it all she managed to keep my sisters and me with her instead of shipping us out to foster homes as others told her to do, taking what meager jobs she could find to make sure we had food to eat. My mother, beaten down by a life far from beautiful, happy, or easy, was strong when she had to be in the ways that counted, though I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t see that as clearly then as I do now.
We haven’t always gotten along as we should have. Haven’t always enjoyed each other’s company. We didn’t walk in the park for no reason. Didn’t go window-shopping. Didn’t write much to each other. Didn’t talk things out. We didn’t say I wish, I want. Didn’t say Help me, I’m sorry, Forgive me. Not until much later in life.
And though I felt cheated for far too many years, she was the one who was.
She couldn’t give me what she didn’t have and hadn’t been given – but she was what she had to be and did what she had to do when it counted the most. When it was needed for the sake of her three little girls.
She wanted us to have a better life than she had. She wanted to protect us and held our hands as we crossed the street. She was there, every day of our lives, just as she promised she would be when we were born.
This is for the mother I didn’t know I always had: Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you more than ever.
Call your mom today – tell her you love her. Tell her again. Give her the gift of yourself and time spent in her company. It’s the only gift she wants – the only one that matters.