10 May 2009

Mother's Day 2009

I spent an hour browsing images to include in this post. Besides the usual Google search, I looked through image files on my computer and flash drive hoping to find pictures of me, my son, my mother and her mother, my son's wife and her mother, my grandson. This Mother's Day I am thinking about mothering, its myriad definitions and stylings in the larger culture as well as the microculture of my family.

Historically, immense romance, mystery and hype have surrounded Mother in the popular mind. It seems we each have a dream of Mother -- like our dreams of love and home, happiness -- and the dream usually holds a high emotional charge. I know it does for me. I can't resist books and films about Mother. A few years ago my favorite theme was "mothers and daughters" but more recently it's been "mothers and sons". And, no matter what media I'm consuming, I take it all very personally and respond emotionally.

I've been essentially estranged from my mother for most of my life. I have a picture of her somewhere but I can't find it today and that feels symbolic. "Mommy where are you?"

My mother was an excellent provider for the child I was: basics like clothing and food and shelter were never lacking, even when she carried the responsibility for four minor children mostly alone after the divorce.

In retrospect, I'm humble and awed by how many luxuries I enjoyed -- piano and dance lessons, vacations, gadgetry and supplies to pursue hobbies, high quality formal education. There was a washer and dryer in the house. There were musical instruments in the house. We had a playroom and a library.We had subscriptions to Ebony and Psychology Today and Seventeen and Glamour. Lots of recorded music. We lived in a single-family dwelling that sat on a huge lot.

Except that I was not once taken to a dentist during my childhood, I concede my heritage of privilege in terms of physical maintenance. Thank you, Mommy.

I was, as they say "raised well". Etiquette and poise were taught and drilled and required. I knew the rules for behavior around adults and rich people and extended family and strangers and boys. All four of us were obedient. We made our beds every morning and put our dishes in the sink after meals. We had chores. We did not receive an allowance. We had a designated bedtime every night but Friday.

Like my mother, I was a single parent. Foremost in my approach to mothering was a near-obsession to provide what I believed I had not received as a child. Social poise and an active life of the mind were cherished features of my childhood and I made them a part of my offering to my son; but there were things I had longed for my entire life (and not found or received) leading up to my son's birth. So both my endowment and my demons shaped my mothering.

I suppose that's the deal for all mothers, huh?

It is assumed that mothers love their children. Even to think otherwise is unsettling, to say the least. And when we hear stories about mothers who did not or do not love their children, we frown or cry or cringe or spit. It's upsetting. Those stories collide with our dreams of Mother.

Mother --the popular icon as well as our private dream -- is a challenging role to play, an awesome ideal against which we measure our mothers and, for some of us, are measured by our children and society.

As I move steadily into the autumn of my life, coming to accept my limitations and acknowledge gratefully my gifts, I understand more and more about how what happened to me as a child shapes who I am today. I observe how some of what I did and did not do for my child, a man now with his own responsibilities, manifests in his life. For the 12 years that he lived with me, music was ever-present and today music is a primary force in his life. We were cash poor and lived in rented spaces throughout his childhood. Today, he goes to work every day, no matter what, delaying his own gratification to be a good provider for his family -- and they own their own home.

Recently a friend wept as she talked about her adult daughter. The relationship is difficult and often painful. I understood her pain because I could feel the gulf between her dream of being Mother and the reality. And I understood because I've been there, weeping the hard, hot tears that only conflict with your child can evoke.

Nobody wants to feel that kind of pain. When she asked, "How do I cut her out of my life?" I responded, "I think it will be hard and, if you succeed, I think you will come to regret the decision." I've never desired to end my relationship with my son but I consciously maintained separation from my mother for many years. Neither route has been easy or pain-free.

I love this picture of Gwenyth Paltrow and her mom, Blythe Danner. It's a great illustration for my personal dream of Mother: both mother and child are beautiful and full of light; both mother and child bring their gifts to the world and (at least in this publicity shot) support each other; there is physical and psychic intimacy; the mark of genes and blood and nurture are visible; Mother is a warm, dark, embracing shadow and She has your back...

There are no clear and simple ideas about Mother for me. There are questions and regrets, poignant memories and opinions. I am both a mother and somebody's child. Mother begins and persists as a trope, a rich blend of ideas and feelings about legacy, unconditional love, safety, the human body, food, art, religion, psychology, courage and mortality. Mother is Legend and Myth.

As the official day of observance approached, I reminded friends to do something for their moms and sent an e-greeting to mothers in my circle of acquaintance. Composing the greeting, I pondered what I could say to all the mothers in the recipient list. What would fit for every mother? I finally decided on "All of you are doing a great job. The World thanks you and I do, too." Luckily, there are no flagrant abusers or crack-pots among my mother friends.

This is another great image I found on the theme. It's another image that serves my dream of Mother. I especially like the detail: Mother Earth weeps, even as she continues to nourish and protect. Even as she is taken for granted and her body is plundered. Self-less generosity is a common dream of Mother. Self-less generosity is the protocol for most of the mothers I know.

Is there such a thing as giving too much -- even for a Mother?