Saturday, May 7, 2011

You Were Right, Mom. Thanks.

"You better write your thank you notes before you forget."

"Stop touching your face."

"Everything tastes better at the beach."

"You may think he's a nerd, but he might make a great husband someday."

"NO WIRE HANGERS!" (Kidding about that one.)

"Push your sleeves up."

"Women mourn. Men replace."

"Always be prepared to be outraged."

"Did you write your thank you notes yet?"

"Of course I took your dad's last name. I only married him because I couldn't find a 'Smith.'"

"Stop playing with your hair. Teenagers play with their hair."

"When planning anything, guests are always the most important thing to consider."

"I never sign anything I don't have to sign."

"You just have a different relationship with your body after you have a kid. You kind of don't care anymore."

"I live by the golden rule. That's my religion."

"Babies look best in white."

"Shit happens, and we try to make the best of it, and also to appreciate all the good fortune that we have."

"Okay. Sit down right now and write your thank you notes already. And stop playing with your hair."


My mother has been a very strong presence in my life, and she has given me a lot of good advice over the past 30 years. I think I have heeded most of it, forgotten more than I would like to admit, ignored some, and pretty much internalized the rest.

We have very different personalities but we have grown closer as I have learned to navigate the adult world. Lately, I have been leaning on her advice heavily, as my life has included first-time-home-buying and childbearing/rearing, as well as such critical issues as finding attractive post-maternity work clothes that are, depressingly, 4 sizes bigger than the size in which I started my "maternity." Because I now have a baby, I feel closer to my mother than ever, and I think I understand the mechanics behind our relationship a little better.

When my daughter first smiled at me, I gasped in fear because I had never seen that expression on her face before, but her smiles delight me now. Last night she was up past her bedtime and seemed for the first time to recognize a special occasion, flirting and giggling and milking it for all it was worth until she crashed. These moments are like waking up to a bright and early sunrise the morning after daylight savings time ends: disorienting at first, but actually very awesome and fun to point out to someone else. I find the first person I think of to share these moments with, after my husband of course, is my own mother.

There is also, obviously, a more difficult side. Babies are demanding. Their needs don't go away when you are sick, sleep-deprived, in a bad mood, or alone while the other parent is traveling. Babies do indescribably disgusting things in which you sometimes have to involve yourself. I guess people don't talk about that side a lot because if they did no one would have babies ever again. (Those who do talk about the gross stuff usually end up here.) The bright side of the dark side is that I have in my mother a caring, understanding, knowledgeable resource who does not hesitate to do whatever she can to ease the pain.

Soon my daughter will probably be throwing fits at birthday parties and sassing us. After that, I'm sure she'll sneak out with a boyfriend/girlfriend we hate. She'll just generally make huge mistakes and break our hearts from time to time. And after kicking around the latest issue over an adult beverage or six with my husband, I'm pretty sure I know who will be the very next person I will call to strategize, commiserate and cry.

Through all the work and sick and ick and tears, I believe something always compels you, as the parent, to do everything you can to make sure your little one feels safe and happy and loved no matter what is going on. It's not just the sense of adult responsibility. It's a powerful, visceral parenting feeling that must be a product of millions of years of evolution. It's hard to put into words, but the best way I can describe it is, "Nurture this thing, it has a part of me in it."

And I'm only six months into this gig. My mother's got 30 years on me. I guess that compelling "something" never really goes away, maybe even intensifies with time. That could explain, in part, why we've grown closer. Her reaction to me trying to buy a house is probably like mine to seeing my daughter's first smile: that surprise sunrise, a strange and momentous first. But after the initial gasp, the feeling kicks in: "nurture this thing." Comfort this thing through the hard times, celebrate the good with it, help it succeed and feel good as much as you can.

My mom has taught me countless valuable lessons about all aspects of life. But this Mother's Day, I want to thank her especially for teaching me both by example and by lesson to try to be almost as good of a mother to my daughter as she is to me.


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