May 6, 2016 by Julia
I know my mom did all of the daily chores of motherhood, all the things that cared-for children generally take for granted, and she did them well. She cooked real food on a regular basis, which we ate at the dinner table as a family. She gave us chores and did chores. She taught us the things we needed to know, and made sure we graduated. She made holidays fun and took us on vacations. (My dad was there too, doing lots of similar things in his wonderful Dad way.)
My mom did all of the things she was supposed to do as a mother, and thank God for that, because I understand how damaging it can be when kids don’t have a sense of security in their lives. But are those the things I remember? Not really. They are the background, the base. I remember who she was, who she is, separate from me and her role as my mom. That has formed me just as much as the things she’s done for me. The things I remember, the things that have influenced me the most, are when my mom’s natural identity shone through into our lives. Things she did because she wanted to, for fun, because it’s part of who she is.
We should remember this, as mothers. We can’t help but focus on all the things that must get done no matter if we feel well or energetic or happy. We think about how all of the boring tasks drain us, how the sounds and smells and physical activity of motherhood deplete us. The sacrifice and difficulties of motherhood simply can’t be avoided. There will be stress and work.
But the good news is, who we are as women is just as important for our children as what we do as mothers.
My mother is, and always has been: energetic, adventurous, passionate, artistic, opinionated, spunky, fun, down-to-earth, mischievous, ambitious, brave, and good in a crisis. She has always done a lot with her life, a bunch of things at the same time, and doesn’t seem to see these things as overwhelming. She definitely has a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out) with a dash of YOLO (you only live once). She never wants the party to end, especially if there is deep conversation or funky music involved. She grew up out in the countryside of Ohio and is not squeamish. She and my four-year-old son have about the same sense of what constitutes “clean.” I think she might honestly believe it’s good for a kid to eat dirt or let a dog lick inside her mouth.
I remember in our old split-level house she used to swing from the upper floor landing over the stairs, until she fell and broke her arm when I was eight years old. My mom broke her arm swinging over stairs. Isn’t that cool?
I remember us rolling the dirty laundry down all those same stairs to the laundry room, because that was a more exciting way to involve us kids in chores than trying to carry it all in baskets.
I remember late night drives home with all of us kids nodding off against the windows because why worry about getting the children to bed on time if we’re having fun at another family’s home? Put the baby to sleep in the master bedroom so we can keep the laughter going. Needless to say, these are good memories, not ones of wishing I’d gone to bed earlier.
I remember that she and my best friend’s mom took it upon themselves to start a theater program within our home-schooling academy, wrangling a bunch of kids and somehow pulling together a production of The Sound of Music from scratch, making the dreams of many a kid come true in the process.
Mom has always been extravagant in her ideas, scoffing at pessimism or anxiety.
I remember her questioning authority. She doesn’t like being told what to do, but it’s also that she has this tough integrity. She has to speak her own truth and stand up for things she believes in. It was only a matter of time before we broke free of the conservative trappings I was born into; my mom has feminist blood running through her veins.
There were camp outs and nature walks and crafts and cooking lessons and only a casual adherence to routine. I realize now that this may have been part of the reason that my mom enjoyed home schooling us in the earlier years – she wanted to follow inspiration, not standards. She also didn’t want to miss out on the fun teachable moments. She likes last-minute and let’s do this. Gusto is an appropriate word here.
I am the opposite of Mom in so many ways. I worry, and insist on being reasonable with every venture or scenario. I tend to accept intellectual thought rather than challenge it, and to play by the rules, and to make schedules and overly thorough plans. I am always trying to preserve my own peace, and she is always trying to shake things up, get a little life into the proceedings.
But despite our personality differences I carry the seeds of her soul in my heart, too. Her presence in my life has planted certain unshakable ideas in me. I can’t help but speak my truth, albeit more comfortably in writing, and I feel a strong need for justice. I long for spiritual connection and greater meaning to life. I too want to experience everything life has to offer me, refusing to hold back in fear. I am constantly getting ideas and creative urges and I want to do it all, just like her. I would rather engage the world and try to make it better than retreat into safety, even if I am quieter and need more solitude than she does. This is what a good life looks like to me, because it is what my mother sought for herself.
What good is there in you, mothers? What are the best parts of you that you want to show your children simply by being yourself? Who you are matters.
My mom has shown me that.
Never forget it, even while getting snacks, or vacuuming, or driving the carpool.
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, with extra care for those who have lost their mothers, or are struggling to become a mother against all odds. I am privileged in both respects, and I do not take this for granted. I want to share some of this with you, even if all I can do here is give you words of comfort. You are loved, truly. And despite loss, despite pain and deferred dreams for our lives, there are many ways to mother, or to be mothered.
(If you don’t believe this to be true, please send me a message. I mean it. I’m a mess in my own way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share your burden.)
(Also, the title of this post was inspired today by the Harry Connick, Jr. song about a good father, He Is, They Are.)