Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Attempts At Mothering

Motherhood has definitely been a life-changing experience for me, but not in the way that I thought it would be, going in to it.  I thought that becoming a mother would somehow produce this family-thing that would finally make me ‘normal’.  I was not exactly sure what that ‘normal’ would look like, but I knew that it had to include Sunday pot roasts, weekly scout meetings, and trips to the park.  Those were ingredients that I thought would surely create this ‘normal’, happy family that I wanted.
     My ‘ideals’ were not necessarily what my realities have been.  The idea of the thrilling ‘rush to the hospital in the middle of the night’ labor experience was replaced with my first baby arriving over two weeks late, after 23 hours of induced labor and a fairly traumatic birthing process for both of us – not exactly as I envisioned it.  Once babies number two and three arrived, I began to get the idea that maybe my ideal ‘normal’ was not going to be my actual ‘normal’.  I could not get the hang of the whole maternal ‘Florence Nightingale’ bedside-nurse role.  When one of my kids would vomit, I would head the other direction so as not to vomit, myself.  Once, at a restaurant, one kid threw up at the table, so I hastily got up and grabbed the non-vomiting kid and headed for the waiting area, leaving my husband to tend to the vomiting kid (with the assistance of a sympathetic father of five at the next table).  It was sheer instinct, on my part.
     When she was about 9 years old, one of my daughters became attached to a neighbor who was in the midst of a recurrence of cancer.  She knew that he was sick, and we prayed for him daily.  It was very important to her that she be able to give this guy particular gifts that had great significance to her.  Occasionally, she would visit him or write little notes to him, but mostly she spoke to him and his wife as they walked past our house during their daily walks when he was still able to make it down our street and back.  The guy died, and my daughter was devastated.  In my attempt to comfort her, I explained that dying was simply a part of life.  I told her that many of the people we knew at the time would probably be dead by the time she reached adulthood:  our elderly neighbors, her elderly grandmother, many of the great-aunts and uncles she had become close to, and so on…just like the book of Ecclesiastes says: “For everything, there is a season:  a time to be born, a time to die,”  I said matter-of-factly as we drove to a restaurant for lunch the day following his funeral.
     “Thanks?” came the reply from the back seat.  “I think you are trying to help me feel better?”  And then my daughter launched into some dialogue from the movie “What About Bob?”, when the psychologist’s neurotic son, Siggy is trying to explain to Bob the reasons why he is so dark and depressed all the time:
     “We.  Are.  All.  Going.  To.  Die.  There is no avoiding it.  You are going to die.  I am going to die.  EVERYONE is going to die.  There is NO way to escape this truth.  We are all going to die…”, which was followed by silence in the car for about one full minute as everyone took in that profound inescapable truth.  Then all of my kids started to laugh.
     Perhaps a different type of mother would have had the ‘right’ words for that moment.  When I think back to that time, I wonder on the one hand what in the world I was thinking.  I didn’t exactly give the warm and fuzzy comforting answer over a glass of milk and a plate of cookies that June Cleaver might have given (I am not sure what that would have been, anyway), but that example typifies my mothering style:  kind of hold-your-breath-and-jump-off-of-the-high-dive style of mothering.  This has resulted in some awful ‘belly smackers’ sometimes, and some fairly successful dives, at others.
     In mothering, have had to deal with issues with ‘the law’, issues that necessitated the hiring of ‘professionals’, and screw-ups too numerous (or painful) to mention, that occurred on my watch.
     Parenthood is nothing like I imagined it would be.  It is more difficult, more demanding, more troublesome than I ever thought possible.  It is also the thing I am most proud of having accomplished/survived so far.  My kids are stable, functioning members of society who have a tender heart for others and are not content to live into the ‘status quo’ of our current society.
     I don’t always handle all of the surprises in the ‘correct’ way, but I have come to see that the important ingredients are not always the things we assume they are in the beginning of creating this ‘recipe’.  Instead of pot roast, scouts, and trips to the park being THE things that molded and shaped these people that have been entrusted to my care, I realize that these shaping things are much more ambiguous:  things like love, surrender, grace, and sheer stubbornness at times.  When faced with the proverbial ‘vomiting kid’, I still sometimes run the opposite direction.  I have learned when to stand my ground, and am getting better at learning when to surrender.  I am rarely very ‘graceful’ at much of anything when it comes to mothering in a politically ‘correct’ fashion (I am NEVER ‘fair’; I rarely expect anybody to ‘do as I say, but not as I do’), but I do my best to be honest (sometimes too much so), and I think my kids know me pretty well. 
     Hopefully, I have prepared them for this incredibly confusing journey of life.  Who knows? Only time will tell.  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat. 

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