It was Mother’s Day on Sunday in North America, and on my walk yesterday I ruminated over the dark side of the day that I kept bumping up against over the weekend.
- The father of young children whose mother died too soon. Her young boys braced for a Mother’s Day where the empty space where her unconditional love used to be loomed large.
- A mother estranged from her teenagers due to a difficult family break-up.
- A note from an acquaintance on social media to “everyone, but especially to those who never got the mother they deserved. Today can be a rough day, but I’m here with you. I see you.”
As I walked ideas bounced around my brain, but when I arrived at those two very different side-by-side lawns, it led my thoughts to perfectionism and unconditional love (freely given, withheld or ripped away).
The lawn at the bottom of the picture is Perfect Mother as we all want to be: an unblemished Plato Ideal.
But the lawn at the top is the mother we really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.
I imagine that the carefree state of the lawn at the top drives the owner of the dark green manicured lawn crazy, its imperfections judged and remarked upon. Every mother knows what it is to be judged. Too lenient, too strict, too involved, too arm’s length, too busy working, too much at home, too preoccupied with appearance, too slovenly . . . too, too, too . . .
We are human beings that make mistakes. We lose our tempers. We’re tired. We can never live up to the many variations of Ideal Perfect Mother, and our children are the first to home in on our failings and foibles.
If we’re lucky, our children grow to understand and accept our imperfections and love us unconditionally, but that’s not always the case.
The lawn at the bottom is Perfect Child: the unblemished Plato Ideal.
But the lawn at the top is children as they really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.
Parents usually come to the task of parenting with the misguided belief that their children will grow into miniature versions of themselves who will follow the paths laid out for them. Surprise! Children are singular and self-directed and not at all what we expect.
They are human beings that make mistakes. They’re figuring out who they are and trying to find a way to love whatever that is. They can never live up to the many variations of Perfect Child, and parents are the first to home in on their failings and foibles.
The most important thing parents can do is love their children unconditionally as imperfect as they are, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it happens, but the parent is taken away too soon.
A rough day
Messages all around us on Mother’s Day portray the Perfect Mother and Child ideal. One could easily be mislead into believing that every family situation is unblemished and shiny like that manicured lawn, instead of complicated, sometimes painful, and ever-evolving.
On my walk, the first lawn struck me as falsely green, drugged into submission and more concerned with appearances than authenticity. I preferred the messy lawn. No pretense, no trying too hard, and no plastering over imperfections.
I enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend, I hope you did too. But if you had a rough day, it’s okay and ever-evolving.
A memory from the years when my children were in their early teens: I went grocery shopping one morning, without my children, of course. We all know that teenagers would rather insert burning hot needles into their corneas than be caught in public with a parent.
I stopped by the breakfast cereal and debated whether to stick to high fibre, healthy stuff or submit to my son’s plea for Reese’s Puffs. As I stood contemplating these options, a young mother with a baby about ten months old in her cart turned the corner. I watched her approach. She wasn’t looking around at anything in the aisle. (No Reese’s Puffs for her!) Instead she bent forward over her baby and crooned to her with unadulterated, innocent, devoted mother love. I could tell that, in her eyes, her child was perfection itself, incapable of any wrongdoing.
I thought “She has yet to learn that her child is a human being.”
Well, actually, if I were a perfect person, I would have thought that, but I’m a complex, independent, imperfect human being, so what I actually thought was, “She still hasn’t learned that her child can be a little rotter.”
Don’t get me wrong. My children are fabulous, and they make me proud every day. But they’re human, so they are complex, independent and imperfect. They are learning, and they do that by making mistakes.
I still remember the exact moment I learned that my daughter wasn’t perfect, that she wasn’t going to instinctively sense all I wanted her to be and fulfill those expectations. She was three, and her baby brother had just learned to crawl. She didn’t bother much about him before he could move under his own steam, but the minute he crawled across our family room floor and picked up one of her toys, well now, that was a different story She sensed the threat to her domain. My daughter jumped up and began hiding toys out of the reach of her brother.
I watched, aghast. My perfect child was not perfect! She wasn’t instinctively and selflessly going to share everything? What?
My son also had issues with sharing, but his revolved around food. My daughter wasn’t big on sharing toys, but she did share food willingly and joyfully. With a big smile on her face, she offered up french fries or spoonfuls of ice cream without being asked. But my son? No, no, you never could take food away from him. If he sensed an invader, he wrapped his arm around his plate to protect it and shoveled food in before anyone else might get to it.
That day in the cereal aisle the jaded mother of teenagers who had witnessed her children succeed and fail in different ways wondered what that mother’s moment of revelation would be. What would that beautiful, perfect, imperfect baby girl do someday that would open her mother’s eyes to complexities and to the human capacity for meanness or selfishness? What would happen to make that woman realize how different her child was from herself?
Because that’s what the real challenge of motherhood is: Opening our eyes to the complexities and imperfections of our children and accepting them and loving them exactly as is.
One day a few months ago, my son and daughter relaxed in the family room. My son worked on a homework assignment, and my daughter crocheted a scarf. Absorbed in their work, they ignored me, but I watched them. They are 16 (almost 17) and 19 now, so I breathe a little easier. My husband and I invested a lot of love, time and energy into their lives early on, and the investment appears to be paying off. I am proud of the confident, competent, responsible, caring people they have become, and I told them so. That day I said, “You know, you guys make me really proud. You are such wonderful people, and I’m really happy to say that you are my children.”
They barely moved. My son nodded slightly, looked up for a second and then went back to his homework. My daughter said, “Uh, huh.”
They didn’t need to hear me say that; they knew it already. Some people might have been offended by the lack of acknowledgement of the comment, but I took it as a compliment. It meant I did at least a few very important things right.
Over the years I volunteered at my kids’ school, I was a Girl Guide leader, and my husband coached hockey and baseball teams. During that time we saw lots of needy kids—the ones who stuck right by our sides on school field trips, desperate for adult attention, or the ones who stand on first base with their pleading eyes searching the bleachers for parental approval, or the heartbreaking ones who wandered out to the arena before their hockey game to see if, at least for that one game, a parent made it to the game.
If your children take you for granted, congratulations! Job well done.
The past is over.
The future may never be.
The present is all that exists.
Live each moment to the fullest.
Those words came with my Mother’s Day present from my daughter: a Buddha Board.
Based on the age-old Zen “Be Here Now” or “Power of Now” principle, the board’s surface holds the water you paint on it, for a short time, and then it dissipates. The user lives in the present, values it, and then lets it go.
I love that it allows me to be creative. I love that if I make a mistake, I watch it disappear into the ether. I love that when I paint something beautiful, I cherish it even more while it’s there, because I know it won’t last.
I put it on my family room end table beside Ganesh. (We are an ecumenical household.) Perhaps using it, or just the sight of it, will help me to live each moment to the fullest.
Visit the Buddha Board site at http://www.buddhaboard.com/
Don’t skip the intro. It’s beautiful, and the background sound soothes. I had the site open while writing this post, and the audio makes me want to leave it open all day . . .
Earlier this week I received a message from Emjayandthem’s Blog. The title: Beauty Tips.
I clicked on it expecting lipstick advice or wrinkle reduction tips. Instead, I read four words:
Smile often. Laugh Hard.
Save money on expensive makeup and so-called beauty creams. Everyone is beautiful when smiling or laughing. Even the convulsive snort-through-the-nose laughter is beautiful.
May you create lots of beauty on Mother’s Day.
(Click on Emjayandthem’s Blog to see the Josh Turner “Why Don’t We Just Dance” music video included. It’s fun.)