My mother is approaching her 92nd birthday.
And I am thinking about how funny it is that when you are a child, you have no idea who your mother is or what her story is. You just know that you need her to be there.
Actually, maybe it’s not funny.
Maybe it’s kind of sad. Sad because it isn’t until much later, sometimes too late, that we see and understand the bravery, love, devotion and sacrifice our mothers make.
My mom was no exception.
When I was a little girl, my mom was everything. I was born in the 1950’s when mothers were supposed to be at home making sure their children and husbands were taken care of. My mom always had our meals ready, sweets when we wanted them, and somehow still had the time to drive us to games, practices, dance lessons and recitals. She decorated our bikes for parades, made us costumes for Halloween and created holidays that held magic and wonder.
Although she was not always the most appropriate sports fan, she was there to cheer us on and to notice when the referees weren’t in our favor. She was in our corner, especially if we were the underdog.
“There’s no bitch on earth like a mother frightened for her kids.”
I wonder now if that was what she wanted to be doing, or if she had other dreams and aspirations, but was limited by the times in which she lived. I love that it always felt like that was what she wanted, even if she had a secret longing for something different.
I had no idea that beneath all of that was the living breathing heart of an actual human being.
Sure I knew that she had come to Canada as a War Bride, leaving her parents and everything she had known in England. I also knew that she had lived and worked in London during World War II, and watched her neighbors homes be blown into oblivion.
She lost loved ones, most likely her sense of safety, and a lot more during that war. I knew that she had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and worked as a radar mechanic on airplanes.
I knew that she had delivered 5 babies and I don’t ever remember hearing a word of complaint.
I don’t think I ever stopped to appreciate all that she did.
I raised my children during the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and was torn between the need and desire to work while having a life outside my home, and the even stronger need and desire not to miss a moment of their childhood. I wonder what it is like for mothers now, but think perhaps though our outside circumstances have changed, the longings and needs have not.
It is only in recent years after having raised my own children and watched them raise theirs, that I am really beginning to understand that my mother had a story of her own; she had a life of triumphs and heartache.
Becoming a mother means (at least for some of us) leaving behind restful nights, romantic evenings, exotic holidays and the body you once had.
It means that no matter how old your children get, you will never stop worrying about them or loving them as much as you did at the moment when you first looked into their eyes.
It also means that during the teen years, they will pull away from you in a way that feels like your heart is being pulled right out of your chest, making it hard to breathe. It means you may even hear them say they hate you and hide in embarrassment when you drive by one of their friends.
It means they will think you are silly and annoying and can’t imagine how you know so little about life. It also means you will have a love so deep that it will run through your veins.
“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.”
Motherhood is not meant for the weak of heart or for those without great courage and an endless supply of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and generosity.
As I watch my mom experience what it is like getting old and lose the freedom, body, and ability she once had, I feel some regret about my teenage years and the many times I should have said thank you or I’m sorry. I am saddened that I didn’t take more time to listen to her story and to be proud of who she is.
One of the things about mothers is their almost infinite capacity to forgive, and I believe my mother forgives me.
As I think about what my 92 year old mother has given me, I am filled with gratitude and pride for who she is and what she has done in her life. She is brave and courageous, she is generous and kind and she has taught me what it means to love another person so much that it sometimes hurts.
I know better now, Mom. I know you are a living breathing human being with a story of your own. I know you have seen triumph and tragedy, love and loss. I know that each of us has a story and needs to be seen and heard.
I know that if we are very lucky, it is our mothers who teach us life’s greatest lessons. Now we just have to listen.
I’m all ears, Mom.
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