Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who's Your Momma?

I was the most intense, dramatic and sensitive adolescent; my nickname was "handful." I tortured my poor mother. I felt like she never listened enough. I wanted more one-on-one conversation with her. And it seemed as if she understood nothing. She always seemed so preoccupied with work or my father or one of my other siblings or the world around her.

So I punished her. Before the age of seven, I ran away a lot. Usually I just walked down the street in my nightgown. My mom got so tired of my threatening to leave that she began to respond by packing  a lunch for my travels. Naturally, this pissed me off to epic proportions--so I'd sit on the corner (a block from my house) for a whole hour so she'd worry, sob and come running after me. She never did--since she could see me from the driveway. Eventually, I'd get tired of sitting and would lug my lunch and my suitcase back to the house (oh yeah, I packed a suitcase--a short-distance runaway needs certain things, you know). My mom would merrily open the front door, smile and say, "Welcome home!".

In addition to her almost always being distracted, my mother's constant happiness and upbeat nature seemed to purposefully mock or agitate my more brooding one. Our dispositions were on opposite ends of the spectrum, far away from one another. Moody longed for sympathy; happy-go-lucky demanded rose-colored glasses for everyone.

I wanted one-on-one connection and my mother was a busy whirlwind of a woman who had four children, a husband, a job (as a teacher) and a home to manage. She was social and in love with life itself. She visited her mother and her aunts and brothers and sisters regularly. She never missed a niece or nephew's graduation, baby shower or wedding. The children she taught were practically as important to her as her own children. She volunteered and was prominent in our community.

I faulted her for all of this for many years because I wanted more of her attention. In my mind, there wasn't enough of her to go around and I wasn't getting my fair share. But once I became an adult, and especially a mother, I realized that my mother was a human being long before she was my mom. She was a person who loved people and herself. She had an intense need to help others, experience the world and give back to her family, the one she was part of before she was part of us.

I read this statement (from an April blog post) made by President Obama about his mother in the New York Times and I'll never forget it:
"But he did not, he said, hold his mother’s choices against her. Part of being an adult is seeing your parents “as people who have their own strengths, weaknesses, quirks, longings.” He did not believe, he said, that parents served their children well by being unhappy. If his mother had cramped her spirit, it would not have given him a happier childhood. As it was, she gave him the single most important gift a parent can give — “a sense of un­conditional love that was big enough that, with all the surface dis­turbances of our lives, it sustained me, entirely.”
I think part of growing up is discovering that parents are fallible and extraordinary people just like anyone else you know in your lifetime. They cannot be exactly who you want them to be simply because they're your parents. The wish for perfect parents is a child's desire. An adult is able to see parents as idiosyncratic, experienced beings who love with who they are and in the way they know how, rather than in a way that someone imagines, prescribes or demands.

I hope that in their lifetimes, Sabine and this little bun in my oven, can appreciate and forgive all that I have to offer, mistakes and triumphs alike. And once they're grown and have gotten to know and accept me as a human being as much as their parent, I plan on dragging them on endless walks and talking with them for hours under autumnal trees and breezy, blue skies. We'll laugh and hold hands,  remembering all the cliches I resorted to, and all the times they locked themselves in their rooms or pretended to run away.

Image via Observando


Zoe said...

Thanks for the reminder that parents are people too. I still get irritated with my mother and certain things she does. Maybe it's me, not her.

Hannah said...

Man, this is so true. It took me so long to realize this. I hope my own kids figure it out sooner than I did.

Alison said...

I think this is true but I also think some parents are shitty, selfish parents and don't make enough effort. It's hard to forgive or accept these parents. I don't think people shpould have children if they don't want to put in the work. We all have a choice.

Alice B. said...

It makes me wince to think it's inevitable that my kids are going to hate me for SOMETHING while they're still young.

Anonymous said...

On one hand if we accept everyone, parents included, for who the are, we are better off. On the other hand, not everyone deserves acceptance. Some parents are just crappy people.

Cathy said...

I totally agree. Once I saw my mom as a human being instead of just as my mom, we were able to cultivate a wonderful friendship.

Miss A said...

I don't really think I've begun to understand my parents. But it's a complicated history with them.
Well I might have had. Really if they had been honest.
This maybe applies to what I call normal parents, which I wish I had.
One of the things that I know is true is that kids need somekind of resistance, they need to prove themselves against their parents, it's healthy (to a certain degree).
But how could your children not appreciate you?

Laura Mauk said...

@MissA, yes, for the most part, i think this applies to "normal" parents. but i also think in some cases, not normal ones. but not all of them. i mean, i don't really know, but it sounds like you appreciate the time you had with your mom (so she would sort of fit into what i'm talking about in this post). but with your dad, it seems like you are very validated in the way you currently feel about him and this post wouldn't necessarily apply. in any case, somebody did something right with you since you seem to be such a warm, kind and hopeful person.


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