I spent my Mother’s Day up to my neck in tissues. The antihistamines I had taken did little to ease the discomfort of allergies, and so, as I sat propped on my couch, I had an awful lot of time to sip tea, blow my nose and think. Mother’s Day is the one day of the year when I indulge myself. I insist on breakfast in bed, time alone, a home cooked meal. No cleaning, no laundry, and no guilt, just a day of pure relaxation. But this was a Mother’s Day of firsts. It coincided with the college graduation of my eldest daughter. It was the first mother’s day where I wasn’t focused solely on celebrating me. It was the first mother’s day I had spent in decades with my mother and sister. And what better way to spend it than with the two women who have seen me through this motherhood journey for the past twenty-one years. When my daughter walked across the Syracuse stage to accept her diploma, we cheered loudly. She hadn’t had an easy time of it which meant that neither had I. But with the support of my mother and sister, my daughter and I made it through. It felt as if it were the three of us who walked across that stage with her. We’d been on the rollercoaster ride together, buckled in for the fun and fear of seeing a child through their journey to adulthood. For twenty-one years, they talked me through, cheered me on, scolded, and encouraged me when I didn’t know which way to turn. When I was tired, they came. When I needed to work, they took a load off. When I didn’t have enough, they chipped in. The role of fathers of course, is equally valuable, but it feels like motherhood is more of a group effort. I believe it takes a village, a family and a whole lot of friends.
When my oldest was an infant, I joined a playgroup. I was new to the area, away from my family and the women I met with weekly were strangers. We were different racially and culturally and united only by our first time mom status. Some were relaxed, others were neurotic. But in our times together, clustered on the floor, babies crawling around us, we shared our insecurities about navigating the world of motherhood. Eventually, I confided to the moms in my playgroup that before having a baby, I imagined motherhood would be a breeze. I pictured long walks, my cheerful baby in tow, strolling through the park. A white linen dress was involved as were smells of freshly baked bread when I returned to my meticulous home. Somehow, in the midst of breast-feeding, diaper changes and sleep deprivation, my pristine dream dissolved. My vivid imagination is most often an asset to my writing, but applying those same fantasies to the real world of parenting can only lead to disappointment and feelings of failure. As a group, we figured out that perfection is not what we should be striving for. And that through all our differences, we each needed to find our own way as mothers.
But that discovery didn’t take away the worry. That persistent, gnawing fear that began early and continued through teething, first words and steps and mushroomed into concerns about kindergarten and teachers. And then it was friendships and sports, and onto dating, drugs and college admissions. Through it all, I’ve met scores of other mothers, whose views, attitudes and differing parenting styles have impacted my own. Their honest assessments often helped me shortcut a world of heartache. The benefit of an alternative perspective is a gift to our children. To see our children through someone else’s eyes is to experience them in a new, often less critical light. For the most part, mothers and women are an honest lot, willing to share their own struggles to help you through yours. I’ve been brought to tears when talking to another mother about one parenting woe or another and she says the two most beautiful words you can say to a person in crisis—“me too.” Some mothers though strive for the ever elusive perfection. Children, homes marriages–Perfect, perfect and perfect. Maybe they’ve figured out some magic formulas the rest of haven’t, but I doubt it. To share with other mothers the hardships and challenges you face, says less about your failure as a mother than it does about the simple fact that this motherhood thing is no easy ride. Sometimes it is, but a lot of times it isn’t. And if you are prepared for that reality, you are better equipped to hold on tight when life goes into freefall.
With my mother and sister seated beside me, I cheered as much for my daughter as I did for the role they played in getting her across that stage. The role we should all play in getting each other through. We are all to be celebrated for striving to make it across life’s stage knowing we did the absolute best we could do. And maybe, if we are lucky, our kids will recognize it, and give us a hand for the effort.