Mother’s Day

My mom is a great mom. Not a perfect mom, but much much better than average. Growing up she was loving and attentive. She served us home-cooked healthy meals. She attended our sporting events, our plays, anything that was important to us. With all six kids. She still does. Her and my dad try and make it to as many sporting events for their grandchildren that they can. And there are a lot of grandkids. I mean, more than 20 easily. They came to a Friday night baseball game for Carson the other day. Impressive, since I barely wanted to spend my Friday night there.

My mother’s upbringing was unstable at best. She tells us often that she had no intention of having kids of her own at all. She was serious about it. But from the second she had my sister Summer, she was determined to do it right. She intentionally tried to bypass all the mistakes her own parents made. In my opinion she was incredibly successful on this front.

Mother’s Day is always on Sunday. Which means that on Mother’s Day growing up for me, there was always church. In my memory, my mom left in the middle of every single Mother’s Day sacrament meeting (much like mass for those of you who don’t know) in tears. My mom is not a crier. My mom is stoic and tough as nails. I didn’t understand why she kept leaving at the time, but I do now. The talks (much like sermons for those of you who don’t know) primarily focused on all the ways the speaker’s mom was amazing. I remember a specific talk a woman gave about how her mom would put her school clothes on the heater vent so they would be nice and warm when she got ready for the day. I thought at the time, and still think, this is a beautiful act of love. But all my mom heard was “I am not doing enough”. She promptly got up and left the room.

My mom did a lot of heater-vent type things to make us feel loved. She baked home-made bread, cooked home-cooked meals. She cuddled us, she did anything we needed her to do. In fifth grade I called her crying because I forgot my glasses. I didn’t really need them. My eyesight was pretty decent. I am not sure why I made a big deal about it. She knew this. And probably knew I just needed to know she cared. She took time out of her day and brought them to me. The most important thing my mom did for me though was listen. She listened to me talk about my day, my drama, my friends.

I was always so surprised when she knew specific details about my life. About who was mad at who, and who had a crush on this boy or that. I would gasp and say “how did you know that??” It wasn’t until I was a teenager that she revealed that the reason she knew so much is because I would tell her… and then forget. She found it amusing.

I have always amused my mother with my chit chat. She seemed to find joy in the things I would say. And in turn, growing up I thought she hung the moon. There was never a moment that I was embarrassed by her presence. I was proud to show her off to my friends. And I repeated her wisdom to anyone who would listen. If my mom said it, it was gospel.

They say all kids go through the phase of “cutting apron strings”. Kids need to differentiate themselves from their parents. They need to create their own identity. They need to test their independence. As the third of six children, I witnessed my older sisters going through this with my parents (my mom). And it wasn’t pretty. For both sisters, it happened early in high school. My mom tells me she was convinced I was going to bypass the whole thing. Because up until my senior year I was still sure she could do no wrong. What a rude awakening for both of us the day I realized my mom was a human person.

School did not come easily for me. My grades were average at best. And after talking it over with my mom, I decided college was not for me. Part way through my senior year, she changed her tune, and convinced me to apply to a private college a few hours from my home town. I got in, by the skin of my teeth. She told me years later that she just needed me out of the house. I had become a real pill.

Like I said, my mom is one tough cookie. It takes a lot to make her cry. But I did it my senior year. A lot. I clearly remember my sister Merry getting me out of bed early on a Sunday morning, telling me mom wanted me to come down and help her in the kitchen. It might have been my dad’s birthday? I had a bad time the night before. I had faced some rejection from a boy I liked, and I was in a mood. My mom tried to make conversation. She asked me about my night. I gave her rude one-word answers. Eventually she broke. She threw a glass in the sink. It shattered. And it scared me. She screamed at me “you would treat a stranger on the street better than you treat me!” She was right. I would. I apologized. I tried to hug her. I told her I had a bad night. But the damage was done. I broke her heart.

Eventually we got past this phase. I am close to my mom. And in a lot of ways, I still think she hung the moon. But that is evened out with my understanding that she is a fallible human being.

My teenagers have been pretty good to me. They are not perfect. But they talk to me. They seem to like and respect me. I give them a lot of space while simultaneously trying to stay close. We are good. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the cutting of apron strings. I deserve it. But so far so good.

I am like every mother that ever existed. I worry constantly that I am doing it wrong. That I am ruining them. That I will be the reason they need therapy for the rest of their lives. I do not attend sacrament meeting anymore, but I am sure that if I did, I would leave each Mother’s Day meeting in tears.

I didn’t give much thought to whether or not I would have kids. Because of my upbringing and the culture I identified with at the time, it was just expected. You got married. You had kids. You made them your world. I got married at 22. Had my first child at 25, and intentionally had three more by the time I was 30. It was chaos. I cannot express this enough. They are all approaching adulthood now, and it is still chaos. But so so fun. My world view has changed a lot since I started having kids. Knowing what I know now, I think I would still have had them. Every last one. I guess I was lucky. Having kids was what I truly wanted, expectations aside. And I was lucky enough to have the choice.

But let’s take a second to recognize all of the women in our world who don’t have kids. I know a lot of them. Some who chose not to have kids, and some who would like to have, but never got the opportunity. This is a hard place to be, both culturally and biologically.

A woman I know mentioned that she thought she was going through menopause. She is in her 50’s. She doesn’t have any kids. I didn’t think much about it at the time. It’ part of life right? All of us ladies will have to deal with it eventually. She got the confirmation from her doctor that she was indeed going through menopause. When she told me, she burst into tears. She said something like “you know, they tell you you have all this time. That you have plenty of opportunity later, but that’s not true”. It was a heartbreaking moment.

Is she less of a woman because she did not fulfill her “divine” role as mother? Does her life mean less because she does not have children?

Having children is a blessing and a privilege. But it is not the sole purpose of a woman’s existence. The women in my world who have chosen not to have kids, or have not had the opportunity are valuable women. Beautiful women. Innately wonderful just as they are. This particular woman is very kind to my kids. She is important to them. Without her, I could not raise my children as effectively as I am.

When I was in high school, my dad was called to be the bishop (much like a pastor for those of you who don’t know). He put the kibosh on the whole “my mom was so great” sacrament meeting talks. He was tired of watching his cherished wife, and mother of his children, leave the room in tears. And he understood that she was most likely not the only woman who struggled through the Mother’s Day talks. If my amazing loving kind mother left sacrament meeting feeling low, how did all the non-mothers in the congregation feel? Go dad.

Mother’s Day is approaching, and here is my appeal. If you are a mother, doing your best work to raise your kids with love and patience, give yourself a break. You are doing just fine. If you are a woman without kids for whatever reason, you are valuable and wonderful as you are. And you are playing a key role in raising the children in your community. Keep loving those kids. They deserve it. They didn’t ask to be here. We brought them here. So for mothers and non-mothers alike, just love them. It is all they need. Everything else is just gravy.

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