The best things that ever happened to me in my life, occurred on the birth days of my four children; although I might not have admitted to it immediately post labor. Becoming a mother and growing into the kind of mother I always wished I had, has been the most essential healing journey of my life. Lest I paint some overly rosy glow of the challenges and frustrations of raising children, let me say that this love affair between mother and child may well be the most intense, complex and significant relationship we create in our lifetime. Certainly, it is the primary relationship, which instructs and influences our capacity for sustaining all those that comes after.
My days of child rearing are almost done. I have just about run out of kids, with my third child graduating from high school in a few weeks and the last one following next year… Throughout my life, I have struggled with the Mother’s Day holiday, both as a child and a mother. As a child and adolescent I could never muster the feelings described in the Hallmark cards for my distant and often absent mother. Swinging between anger and grief about growing up without my mother’s attention and support, I would search the rows of cards for something I could say and mean. Usually some innocuous card, about having a great day would have to suffice. As a devoted mother, I hoped I would merit those sentiments from my own kids. Yet, even when I recieve the cards that capture the recognition and gratitude that I long for, one day rarely feels like enough.
Consequently, over the years, I have given up the Mother’s Day celebration and have come to think of every day as Mother’s Day. As my kids have gotten older and we all have come to realize how precious little time there is left in this first relationship, I don’t take the small interactions where love passes between us for granted anymore. In fact, I have set aside most of the work I used to routinely bring home to focus all my attention on the moments that I have with them. Now, when I see mothers with younger children hurrying through the store or buckling someone into a car seat, I wish I had not been so distracted back then. The years when my life was so steeped in little children that I was totally saturated by mid afternoon, I would long for something of my own; some way, any way that I could be witnessed and recognized as me, not someone else’s mother. In retrospect, when I think of the ways my kids would put their sticky hands on my cheeks to turn my face towards them, I remember them as some of the most deeply intimate moments of my life.
Who else but my children will ever find my body as a home, a haven and respite. Maybe my grandkids?
Ironically, now I mostly seek the recognition of who I am and who I am trying to become from them, my kids. And I never really know when it is going to come. Sometimes it comes inside a Hallmark card on Mothers Day, but more often it comes during a drive to school, or late at night as someone is leaving with a fresh $20 in their pocket. It’s true in so many ways that we don’t really know what we have until its gone, or at least until we are. And so it is with my young adult children, living out on their own, and recognizing from the absence of my continuous attention and support, just how much of it there was. Now, they are generous with their recognition and freely empathize about their younger teen siblings. And I am proud and honored to still be high up on their list of who to call when things aren’t working.
It is hard for me to imagine what days of empty nest will be filled with; I know something will take shape, but unlike some parents who breathe a sigh of relief when the daily mothering days are done, I will miss the immediacy and intensity of knowing them, feeling all their ups and downs with them, problem solving and holding. I will miss it every day.