Mother’s Day has come and gone. What to say about such a holiday, a single day to honor something that encompasses so very much? Motherhood is a really big deal, and after having been a daughter, a mother and now a grandmother, I have a lot of perspective … and yet all I really know of motherhood is my own experience.
I was a pretty self-absorbed kid. My mother had it made, because I could keep myself entertained for very long periods of time. She’d have the house pretty much to herself, since my father would be at work, and when not at school, I typically stayed outside as long as possible. When I was inside, I generally hung out in my bedroom, making things, reading or listening to music. My imagination kept me very busy.
I didn’t really get into a lot of trouble, but when I did, it was usually a doozy. I didn’t think a lot about my mom back then and the incredible role she played in my life. She was always there, a staple in my life, something you count on but never realizing it until the one day when it isn’t there anymore.
I lost my mom when I was a junior in high school. She was 51. It was a weird time to lose a parent. High school is a time when you are surrounded by your friends and the chaos of just being a teenager. It’s generally a time when you aren’t friends with your parents and you wish for more freedom than you are granted.
After being angry about the rules for so long and wishing your parents away, you come home one day to discover you don’t have a mom anymore. And that’s a real special kind of guilt.
Sure, others step forward in an attempt to fill the void, but the truth is, there’s no one who can. Your mom is your mom, and thus irreplaceable. So you stumble through the next decade of life trying to find your way without a compass. You get a little wild and you make a lot of mistakes.
Eventually you find someone to spend the rest of your life with, but your mother can’t be at your wedding. You start a family, but there’s no one to ask questions of. Was your labor difficult? What was I like as a baby? Did I do this? Dozens of questions that can never be answered. You hear your friends complain about their moms, and you silently wonder if they realize how lucky they are to have that problem.
I remember being totally blown away by the deep feelings I felt after becoming a parent. I had never felt all my feelings quite so keenly as I did once I became a parent. I was more anxious, angrier and more frustrated than I have ever been, but I was also more amazed, more joyful and more delighted than I have ever been.
I wrote my feelings down in a card and sent it to my father. I wanted him to know that I finally understood the depth of the love that he had for me, and that those feelings never subside no matter how old the child gets. It’s an incredible feeling, to realize the heart’s full capacity for this kind of love.
Being the youngest of three, I had very little babysitting experience, so I was flying into it blind. I always tease my daughter that she taught me how to be a mother, and she really did. You get the hang of it, but they change as soon as you figure out the current phase they’re in. And again, you only know your own. Spending time at a playground is strange, because you realize how different other children can be, and you start to understand how deeply you can know and understand another person.
When my oldest was barely a few months old, her father came home one day telling me that he had offered my services as a sitter to friends who had children that were several years older. They were going away for a weekend and needed someone to watch the kids.
I panicked. Three days?! I didn’t know anything about babysitting and was worried I would be overwhelmed and do a terrible job of it, and the kids (and myself) would be miserable the whole time.
I told him it was like asking a teenager who just got their driver’s license to drive the Indy 500. There was just no way it was going to work. I felt terrible about it but had to decline.
As the kids got older I relied on parent magazines for good advice. My spouse and I didn’t agree very often on punishment, though, so raising children was a lot like having only one oar in the water. I think they turned out pretty good though. At least people tell me so from time to time, which is always lovely to hear, because just like the song says, “For all the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can ever tell.”
Now I watch my daughter being a mom, and it’s marvelous. It’s really fun to hear her say things to her children that I said over and over to her when she was a little girl. I try to not let her catch me smiling at those moments.
I never knew my mom as an adult, so I couldn’t compare notes at any given point. My children will never know her except through old photos and stories. I’m sure she would have had a lot of advice and funny things to say about being a mother and watching me as I raised my family. She had a great sense of humor.
She taught me a few curses and insults in Polish, which I said often enough that my children picked them up. What’s really funny is to hear my grandson now try to pronounce some of those words. Somewhere, I know my mother is pleased, proud and laughing right along with us.
And as the days and years go by, the reflection in the mirror looks more and more like the face I miss from so many years ago. I bet she thinks that’s funny, too.
Originally published May 13, 2016 in the Portage County Gazette