Sunday, May 13, 2007

wishing all a guilt-free, angst-free mother's day

Today as I sat in sacrament meeting and listened to the speakers combining thoughts and memories of motherhood with the topic of prayer, I let my mind drift back to when I was able to spend more mother's days at home. I thought about the ward tradition of having all the mothers stand at the end of the meeting to receive their gift from the ward. There were always a few teary eyed women who remained seated as the happy mothers collected their plant or flower surrounded by children clamoring for a peak at the gift. I remembered an awkward mother's day while I was still in college when the ward decided to be more inclusive and I was handed a rose with the "real" mothers - I felt silly but glad women weren't being left seated. At the end of the meeting I happily collected my giant chocolate chip cookie from my friend's husband as I exited the chapel knowing I am not the intended recipient. The obligatory Sheri Dew quote was read about all the opportunities to mother, even if you never have children and how everyone is a mother in Zion but I was not comforted. But I did not dwell on it, I was more anxious to get out to the street and call my mother, especially after I read her text that she could not wait for my call to open her present that had been sitting wrapped in the living room for two whole days.

I did not watch the other women receiving their cookies but I did notice that the 4 other women who rushed the elevator with me to be the first to leave were also single. Why is mother's day so full of emotion? There is the high for kids and mom at taking a sloppy breakfast into mom who has been patiently cooperating by staying late in bed for the surprise meal. There is the joy of taking a day to truly be grateful for the woman who gave us life. But there is also the sadness of those women who are trying to become mothers but feel they are failing, the sorrow of single women who feel the window of opportunity is narrowing and they may be left out of the club. There is also the defeat of mothers who may not feel that they measure up to the unbearably high bar of Super Mom set by others, forgetting they are already Super Mom to their children and perhaps they are the unatainable standard in the eyes of someone else.

More than anything, I want to wish my mother and my friends a mother's day free from comparison - you are each your own Super Mom.


When I was in high school, there was a tradition in my parent's ward of having seniors graduating from seminary speak in sacrament meeting. This usually meant Mother's Day consisted of teary Laurels lauding excessive praise on their near-saintly mothers. It always left my mom felling inadequate, as if she fell short of something, despite our insistence to the contrary. Instead of recognizing all of the amazing things she has given to her children, given up for her children and even what she thankfully did not do for us, she focused on what she saw as her shortcomings.

I was not one of the Laurels asked to speak on Mother's Day in 1993 despite the fact that I completed all the make-up worksheets that allowed me to graduate from seminary (to overcome my absences). I do, however remember a couple of the girls who spoke and amazingly, I remember a great deal of what one in particular had to say. This classmate of mine spent most of her talk recounting every ridiculous little thing her mother did for her - including, carrying her from her bed to the car when she didn't want to go to school. If she was 8 or 9 when this happened, it may be a bit indulgent, but not shocking. But no, this wasn't a memory from early childhood, this was a current and seemingly recurring event. Piled on top of all the other stories throughout the years of the seeming super moms who did no wrong - the absurdity of it all hit me, and finally, my mother too. How could my own amazing mother compare herself to these inflated, bordering on the absurd, stories? Granted, she never carried me as a teenager to the car but there is no way I would have ever allowed it even if it had been physically possible!

My mother's gifts cannot be summed up in a teary antidote or in a description of a single attribute, my words are limited and inadequate in their ability to adequately describe her influence, beauty and abiding presence in my life. Nevertheless, knowing her humility will not make it easy for her to read this, I want to try and express my gratitude for all my mother has and continues to give me.

The salient gift my mother has given my siblings and me is independence. She instilled in each of us values, courage, hope and trust; then she let us explore, let us get hurt, let us fail and allowed us to soar.

Self-sacrifice. Sometimes I am afraid of motherhood for the simple reason that I feel selfish. I have watched my mother always give to others first, herself last. If someone is going without, it is usually her. She tries to do this to this day and when we are thinking my siblings and I force her to sit down, relax and enjoy while we fetch the forgotten items for the dinner table or encourage her to indulge in herself. She has often confessed that one of the hardest things was learning to share the brownie bowl with her kids . . . she loves to lick the bowl!

My mother hated that she was forced back into the workforce due to our financial circumstances but she taught my sister and I to better arm ourselves for the unexpected. She emphasized that education would open doors and grant more flexibility.

The phrase that echoes in my ears each time I walk out the front door is two words from my mom: "Be Good." It is all encompassing and I am sure I will one day find myself repeating it to my children.

My mother knows me better than I sometimes want her to. I cannot lie to her or even omit something I don't want her to know - she has a way of asking the right questions and working a confession out of me. But even when I disappoint her, she stands by my side.

My mom has always been my greatest ally. At some point in high school I was reluctantly cajoled into attending youth conference with my ward at BYU. After one day and a night, I was beyond miserable. I was lonely and desperate for a way out. I called my mom. She had taught me that it is okay to say I don't "feel well" because it is the truth if emotionally I wasn't well. She didn't question me, she knew I gave it a shot and she came and picked me up.

Now, as adults, my mother and I continue to become better and better friends and I have gained a better appreciation for who she is and how she raised me. She is an inspiration to me and has set a high standard for motherhood, one to which I hope one day to measure up.

I could go on and on about all of my mother's amazing attributes and qualities but in many ways I know she will remain unconvinced of her super mom abilities. Over the years I have watched so many of my friends become mothers and they too compare their perceived weaknesses to the strengths in others. So often, I want to turn a mirror to them, as I have wanted with my own mother, so they can see the unique supermom that I see.

Happy Mother's Day Mom and Happy Mother's Day to all the moms in my life, I am continually amazed by all that you sacrifice and accomplish each day. There may not always be glamour but I envy and admire you for the job you do.


tiff said...

Alyssa, this is so beautiful! And everything you said is right on. I agree whole-heartedly about all moms, moms-to-be, and moms-maybe-never-to-be. I think what I've learned clearer than anything is that being a woman is hard. Period. And maybe that's too specific. Life is hard. My gosh, we all get some unique challenges.

I wish I would have heard this as a talk in sacrament meeting yesterday. Instead, I got to hear some twenty-something MAN talk about how to be a better mom and how working mothers are breaking down our society.

Too bad I had to strangle him in front of all those little kids during the closing hymn, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

autumn said...

Great post. You know, I like to believe that children are sent to the moms that are best suited for them. The moms can teach their kids only certain things that they alone could teach, and in turn, the moms learn something special from their kids.

And I agree with Tiff. Being a woman is hard and mother's day is both a great day and a hard day.

Ma said...

I'm glad I didn't have time to read this when I was at work. It really did bring tears to my eyes. It's always been difficult to see that neither of my daughters has had the opportunity to be a mother yet, and until very recently, neither had either of my sisters. My greatest joy in life has been being a wife and mother even though I'm not the great happy homemaker that we all assumed that we are supposed to be. It took many years, but I really don't beat myself up about not being the perfect mother anymore.
I realize that the best memories I have of raising my children are the fun "bonding" times that we had. I can laugh now at the perceived mistakes I made in raising my kids because I realize that my kids all turned out to be great adults. I know they have also made and will make mistakes, but I still love them all no matter what.
I realize that it really doesn't matter that my children weren't the first of their peers to be potty trained or that they didn't attend the most prestigious preschool. They all learned to walk, talk, read, multiply and everything else at different ages or levels, but it really didn't matter. Some I had to do a lot more bribing than the others to get them to do what I thought they should be doing, but it didn't seem to ruin any of them since we couldn't ever afford to bribe with the big items like a new car when they turned 16. We all survived.
I remember a little magnet that one of the kids gave me for Mother's Day or something that had a picture of kids calling their mother at work only to argue with their siblings over the phone while the mother tried to settle the argument. I can really laugh at that now because that happened quite often to me.
I can even feel good about all that have I learned from being a working mother. I would probably still be trying to figure out how to use a computer and the internet if I had not started working outside the home. My kids probably wouldn't be as independent as they are and maybe they wouldn't be as accomplished as they are now. They all had to learn to just do things themselves. Of course, even when I wasn't a working mother, I refused to do the kids school projects for them. I always made them do it them selves so that they would learn. I did try to help them when they really needed help even when I fell asleep while helping with all those AP class flashcards. My kids were all too smart for me by high school, but I tried to help when I could.
It was always very enlightening to sit up very late at night listening to the kids talk even when I was so tired that all I wanted to do was go to sleep. That seems to be the times I learned the most about what they were all doing. If I were to give young mothers a piece of advice, it would be that you have to listen to your children when they want to talk, not the time that you want to talk even if it's not the most convenient time for you.
Alyssa, it is one of my greatest desires that you have the opportunity to be a mother. I pray for it constantly, but I want you to always know that you have brought more joy than you will ever know into my life right from the moment you were born. I will never forget when a man that we didn't know at all told your dad and I that anyone who could have a baby as beautiful as you were should have a dozen. You have always been a great joy even during the times I was so frustrated with you that I wanted to slap you.
What a great blessing it has been having you as my daughter.

Soul-Fusion said...

wow - now you know why my mom is so amazing!

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