Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Shoes for Mothers

Mother's Day is soon to arrive.

This will be my 9th Mother's Day, and I have decided that I rather enjoy this holiday. 

Unlike my birthday, this day has a rather direct purpose. Mother's Day is all about the Very Hard Work that makes up 95% of my life lately. Birthdays are all about being glad that you are here, and that is well and good. But, it isn't very specific and often is just a day of happiness. I like the specific aspect of it, the honing in of the day's purpose. A day to honor, celebrate, appreciate, and recognize mothers. 

I'm in that time of life where I am honored and I must honor. I have children, but I also have a mother and grandmothers and a mother-in-law. There is quite a bit of recognition to be remembered. But what, exactly, are we recognizing?

Birthing a child is no small endeavor, and if a mother does nothing else for you, you are still indebted for this Very Big Sacrifice. If you never knew your Birth Mother, you can honor her for the gift of life. If you do know yours, you can squeamishly look her in the eye and apologize for the pain you gave her unmentionable parts. 

Mothering, or being mothered, is so much more than just birth, however. While we are thankful for our physical life, we need ever so much more than this in order to grow. We use the word 'nurture' to describe the work of a mother, because it is a shifty, opaque word. Sometimes it means wipe their noses, other times give in and eat extra chocolate, and still others to spank their grubby hand. It is a good word to use, but a much harder word to put into practice. Mothering doesn't come with a handbook, so they say, and even if it did...well, it doesn't apply to my child. 

I've heard many times that God or The Universe or Karma or whatever you believe in is responsible for placing you with a family that is just right for you. Codswallop and hogwash, in my opinion. How many people are in the family that is just right for them?! I've met few people that feel they are understood by those in their bloodline. If we were in our perfect environment, there would be fewer runaways, fewer beatings, and much more love. History is filled to bursting with families that didn't understand one another. Workaday fathers disapproved of artsy sons, who then disapproved of their political sons, who then disapproved of their intelligent daughters. Overall, mothers and daughters who have the same calling in life are a rare breed. Fathers and sons that have similar temperament aren't the norm. 

I've always found it interesting that fairy tales often portray a motherless daughter. We watch the poor child grow and learn and look for love. She falls by the wayside, she becomes ever so beautiful, and at some point emerges strong and assured and ready (usually) for her adventure to end in true love. 

Aside from your feelings on 16 year old fairy tale brides, what do you think of the motherless aspect? Why would so many stories take the nurturing love of a mother out of the picture?

In a practical sense, we can note that women have not enjoyed long lives until fairly recently. The business of keeping humanity alive has drained woman of her own heartbeat. The saying 'gift of life' no doubt hails from such a time, when a mother would often give her life in exchange for that of her newborn child. 

I don't think this was the case, however. Fairy tales set many rules aside, and I don't think that the omission of a mother is a nod to reality. Why, then?

I do not disrespect my mother in saying that she and I are not perfectly matched. In fact, I'm quite sure we aren't polar opposites as much as planetary opposites. Our differences are marked and staggering. She is interested in the things that I find dull to the point of hair-pulling desperation. Our sense of fashion and taste follow suit, and we speak very different versions of the same language. We often need a translator, else we end up in a heated argument. 

Nevertheless, my mother she is and God and The Universe and Karma saw fit for humor or horror to put us together. 

As my three girls grow, I'm astounded to learn that the differences between us are growing. On a recent trip to Justice (clothing store for girls) my 8 year old was utterly perplexed at my taste in fashion. I kept holding up things that the 4 year old Moira would have loved. 8 year old Moira, however, wasn't quite as keen. She continued to surprise me with the things she wanted. She didn't pick out prostitot fashion, she wasn't going for a 'new look'...she just wasn't who I thought she was. She wasn't who she used to be. She has grown, and I hadn't noticed.

This trip, funny though it was, really made me reevaluate my mother-daughter relationship with both generations. Perhaps there was a time when my mother did know what I like to eat. Maybe she did know my favorite color, stuffed animal, movie. Maybe she is just being herself, and urging me through her stalwart views on life to choose my own path. I didn't want Moira to buy clothes she hated. I was trying to help her find something she would enjoy. Luckily she just thought my taste was bad, and not the fact that I was suggesting something. There is a difference, and an important one at that. 

I can't keep up with the changes in my daughters' lives. Sabra wants with all her heart to be an architect. But then she will die if she can't be a singer. Teacher? Wait...fashion designer! Do I quietly roll my eyes and wait for her to discover the 'real' dream? No!

I'm finding that the best way to know my kids is to go along with each of their dreams, however long it lasts. I can't do them the disservice of acting as if they will 'grow out of it'. If Isla wants to restore art at The Louvre (keeping my fingers crossed) then she should keep that dream. If she wants to own a flower shop, she should keep that dream! They are finding their purpose and preference through this process, and my job is to encourage and listen, instruct and inspire. I'm surprised to find that it isn't hard to believe that my daughter is good enough to be a doctor/astronaut/governor. The hard part is believing that the office of governor is good enough for my daughter. 

For the first, very short phase of life, mothering is all-consuming. The involvement almost kills you, sometimes physically and sometimes emotionally. And then, before they can tie their own shoes, mothering is often about staying away. Yes, you need to be there to help. But the shoes can't always be tied by the mother's hands. Mothers have to teach by showing through example and then stepping away. 

The stepping away part, I'm finding, is just as hard. Watching a toddling child fall breaks your heart, but you are teaching her how to carry herself. Watching a preschooler struggle with books kills your nerves, but you are teaching her how to learn. Watching a 2nd grader buy a garish sundress makes you grit your teeth, but you are teaching her about individuality and how to find her own taste. 

I like to think that fairy tales lack mothers because they are too complex to pen. History, for so long told almost exclusively through the eyes of men, doesn't know the secret thoughts of a mother's heart. If Cinderella's mother was present, she wouldn't have had an unhealthy friendship with mice. She also might not have married the first man she ever danced with, but as he was a prince, well...no mother is perfect. 

I don't mean to imply that fathers are less important or complex. (Well...maybe just complex) Fathers bring an entirely different set of gifts to their children, and one is simply their presence. A mother's work stands in the shadows not because the mother does, but because that's how her work is done. A mother grows her child within her, sometimes in body and others in heart. Almost always, for good or bad, with tears. 

Cinderella, like many fairy tale daughters, has a mother that we don't see. She also has mother figures that come to her rescue when her own mother could not. I've had many a fairy godmother to dress me (literally, as I don't dig the western wear my mother would choose). I've cried in the garden for them when someone broke my heart, and they always answer.  I hate to think of the times when I might not be the best choice for my kids, but I'm also glad to know they are surrounded by crazy women with magic wands. 

Mothers, I believe, do try their best. Sometimes they fall very, very far from the mark. I do not ever want a jacket with fringe, but I also recognize the love of a mother who wants to give me something. My daughters might do better with a set schedule, but hopefully they are learning how to go with the flow. The present isn't the same as the offering, and we have to remember to look with the eyes of love. And, when we still are dressed for the ball in cowboy boots, fairy godmothers are there to find better shoes.

Happy Mother's Day to the team of wonderful women that have taught me, and teach me, to be who I am.     

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i realy loved this-- i still have my mom, and i adore her. we were very poor, and she thought that Jesus was coming back any moment--hence i am an only child. i was brought up as an adult. i have 2 daughters, 3 granddaughters , and 2 daughters- in-law. everyone parents differently than i did, but everyone is a good mom.----i was so much more like my mother in law than my own mom. love you tiffany and happy mom's day. cathy