I remember the first time I heard someone call my mother by her first name. I was young, very young, and I had to ask her why that person wasn’t calling her “Mom”. Wasn’t Mom her real name? The realization that my mother had a separate name, a separate identity, apart from being my mother, was shocking to me. She actually existed before I was born?
I laugh now at my childish, egocentric view of my mother, but I laughed even harder when I saw the very same view reflected in the kids’ comments as they leafed through an old photo album with me. One photo in particular, a man standing with his arm around me, instantly raised the kids’ eyebrows, and they regarded me with horror and suspicion, leaning in to whisper, “Does Daddy know about him?”
The man in question was an ex-boyfriend, long gone years before I even met the kids’ father. I nodded and told the kids that yes, Daddy knew all about him and was okay with it. Their eyes remained large, and one of them urgently leaped up to check in with their daddy. I smiled, seeing and recognizing the same shock and disbelief that I had existed and lived and knew people long before I came into the kids’ lives.
To me, as a child, my mother had only ever been my mother. She only knew me, my brothers, my father. And to the kids, when they were younger, I had only ever known their daddy and them.
That was years ago, when the kids and Gary and I first came together as a family. Since then, I have had many moments that made me think of my mother and appreciate her more. Taking the kids to a monster truck show with Gary, we scanned the swarming crowd and watched the kids like hawks. I remembered my mother taking me and my three brothers to Washington, D.C. every summer, all by herself, with four rowdy kids…and I felt a twinge of true understanding of the effort she put into making sure we had that experience, and how difficult it is to keep up with four energetic kids in a crazy crowd.
My mother liked to say, “Someday, when you are a mother, you will understand.” Things I considered old-fashioned and silly when I was a child now seem logical and purposeful. Why would you do it any other way? What I once brushed off as worrying too much, I see now as the urge to protect. And I find myself repeating key phrases and utterances I swore I would never say!
You know those Hallmark images of mother and daughter curled up together with matching Snuggies, delicate hands wrapped around steaming mugs of cocoa, smiling and beaming endearingly, trading loving sentiments and feminine hygiene secrets? Well, that is not my mother and me, and it never was (thank goodness). I’m okay with that. My mother is not perfect. Neither am I. But I like to think we learned from each other, borrowed from each other’s strengths, and have come to respect each other as women, as adults, as mothers, as individuals.
I cringe at what I put her through as a teenager, and it is testament to her patience that I never suffered deliberate blunt force trauma to my thick skull. In retrospect, I understand and appreciate so much more than I even tried to as a kid.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for all you did for me, still do for me, all you taught me, but most of all…for not making like a wolf spider and not eating your young, no matter how misbehaved and deserving of such that I was.