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|