Oh, how I love mothers. Every day, of every second, I love mothers. I love the mother in the checkout line with the toddler screaming; the mother in church collecting flailing toddler limbs and struggling to stay serene; the mother with teenage daughters at the mall haggling over an item of clothing; the grandmother patiently awaiting the arrival of children and children’s children back home. I love them all. Everybody has a mother; everybody loves their mother. And on this day, I particularly love my own mother; my mother-in-law; my grandmother. The women who have loved, cuddled, collected, controlled, haggled, struggled, forgiven, enlivened, encouraged, and nourished me. It has taken me far too long to say so.
An older mom friend told me recently that she can “wait 20 years for the thank you” from her teenage daughter; for now, said, she’s the mom. For now, her mission is teaching, training, diapering, bickering, nigh-waking, cuddling, loving, and moving through all the ups and downs of pouring oneself out. I’ll wait, she said, smiling.
Twenty years. That’s a long time. I’m sorry to say it has taken me even longer. Now that I’m doing it myself, I suddenly look back and think – wow, these women were good at this! How did they enforce the green beans like that? Make bedtime so fun? Now that I’m in the midst of engaging in battles over bathtime, the cover has been lifted. Oh, I think, looking back. I guess I shouldn’t have done…all that.
Now that I am a mother, I am repentant. I realize: I should not have put my clean, folded laundry back in the dirty laundry. I should not have stuffed my vitamins in good hiding places all over the house. I should not have tried to climb out my window with a jump rope. Twice. My mom used to say to me (in warning?), “someday you will have a little girl just like you!” And it’s true: I see myself all before me now in a bundle of blond ponytails and flashing brown eyes as my own daughter flies down the stairs in her pajamas and a princess cape, telling me she’s ready for school.
“How was your day,” my mom would ask when I returned home, her eyes on the paper, appearing uninterested, but now I know that she was OH SO INTERESTED but playing it cool, because looking eager for information is something the Mother must not do.
And that’s all she’d get until bedtime. And I’m pretty sorry for it, because now I look in the rearview mirror at my little ones and listen to their “good” and I want to pull the car over and extract every memory of every moment of our time apart out of their beautiful little heads. But what did you DO? What did you THINK? What did you SAY? Now I wish I had told my mom everything. But she would make me a snack. And I would not say thank you.
I think about this in hindsight, and I hope it gives me foresight.
My mother is now a beautiful Grandmother, doting dutifully on her quiver of adoring grandchildren, spoiling them with treats and gifts and time spent reading on her lap. I watch my mother now, and I have to think hard, because I don’t want another thirty years to pass by before I once again look back and think – oh no, I missed it again. I missed her again. Her presence. Her advice. Her listening ear, her commiserating look, her laughter. I don’t want to forget to say thank you for the ways she is my mother now, even that I’m grown. I’m not sure, but I think I’m still a handful.
We can take our mothers for granted, because unlike the rest of the world, the mothers will always care. Children will always scream in all the wrong places. They will always whine about combing their hair. They will wheedle and beg and sometimes make scenes in the checkout lines. But even as I fume inside as I haul my little balls of fury to the car, to time out, to the Potty Chair AGAIN with soiled clothes… if I give it five minutes and a dimpled smile, all wrongs are gone. Cleared. Wiped Clean. I love them; they are mine.
So I look this Mother’s Day at my mother, and at my mother-in-law, and my grandmother. These remarkable women who have never stopped caring, stopped giving, stopped wanting the best for their own. Sometimes it is hard to stop and see the person who is always standing there in front of you, who is there -- all the time. Sometimes we mean to say thank you, but we’re pulling the groceries out of the car with one hand and holding the phone with the other while grabbing for the baby teetering off the hip. Sometimes we think that people know how we feel, so we don’t say it. But now that I’m a mother, I think this is wrong. Yes, I can wait 20 years to hear it from my daughter. (It’s only fair, after all.) But I can’t wait another 20 to say those oh-so-important words now.
To the Mothers in my life: I love you. I appreciate you.
And for that thing I did when I backed the Jeep into the Minivan - I really hope I don't relive that.