Last night I visited a lovely woman who is a member of our fellowship. She is around 85 years old or so, and lives alone. We were expecting a major snowstorm, and I wanted to know if she was prepared. She was quite prepared, and delighted to see me. I followed her into her home – a hodgepodge of collections from all eras of her life as well as leftover Christmas directions that have yet to be boxed and put away. My guess is that they may linger awhile. I wanted to chat quickly, give her some things I had brought, and get out to go home and warm myself by my own fire. Living alone often includes being lonely. Perhaps not everyone alone feels that way, but H is a very social woman who needs connection. She is now the recipient of Meals on Wheels. And as she stated, “I don’t need the food. But I do need the company.”
Our conversation wandered as she pointed out photos of the people whom she loved and who had gone on to the next world. Her beloved husband, a professor, and who was once a tall man who but ended up looking into her eyes at eye level. She is about 5 feet tall. How hard it must have been to watch the man of her dreams slowly become bent and stooped, but how proud she is of the opportunity to take care of him during his later years. They were married 33 years when he died. She maintains he was the love of her life. For him, he believed the third time was a charm. I think he was right.
She also showed me pictures of herself as a beautiful 17-year-old, photos of her mom as a lovely young bride, and a faded hard-to-see picture of her father. Then we branched onto the discussion of children, and her eyes saddened terribly. She had been telling me about dancing with her beloved this past New Year’s Eve, her arms tightly wrapped around herself, and her head leaning on her own hand as she imagined the spirit of her husband with her. But the jolt of discussing her daughter brought such open grief. She could rejoice with the memory of those she had lost but grieve one who is still here.
The daughter who continues to complain about her mother not being there for her. The daughter is now 62. The daughter who invited her to come live close to her a state away perhaps to assuage her own conscience. Which would mean her mother would have to forgo all the friends she has here, along with her home, to live in a new possibly hostile place with a daughter who can only end conversations with screaming about her mother’s shortcomings. I don’t think so.
Do we all have one child that harbors a hard heart? I have so many friends who have at least one child who can’t accept his or her mother for who she is and was, and who continues to cause grief to that mother’s heart? I pondered on it this morning. Where did we get the notion that mothers are supposed to be all suffering and all giving? Self-sacrificing to the end, and loving, generous, complimentary, supportive? This woman spent her daughter’s young life working to keep food on the table and a roof over her head. Her husband, this daughter’s father, was a useless gambler and alcoholic. Where did this idea that parents are supposed to be wise and loving through all of the difficulties of life?
Perhaps that is inherent in the question. They aren’t. If we grew up with perfect parents, how could we possibly accept our imperfect spouses? Or our imperfect children? We are all, after all, only human. ” To err is to be human.” That is the way of knowledge, wisdom, and growth for us, the fallible humans. Both mothers and fathers. And mothers are human.
Here is the final tragedy. This lovely woman wants to divorce her daughter. She wants some final relief and release from the anger and hostility that her daughter continues to harbor. I have no idea if this can be done legally or not. In actuality, she needs to stop taking the painful phone calls that end in the same ole, same ole recriminations from a daughter who has refused at this point to take responsibility for her own life. If you were fortunate enough to be born, you probably had a lousy childhood. Get over it. Get help. Stop blaming everyone else – especially your mom – for your problems. Better yet, have your own child and find out how hard it is. But before you do, get help. Gets lots of therapy. And find out just how difficult it is to become an imperfect mother.
I write this entry because I was such an imperfect mom. I screwed up more times than I care to count. But I’ve finally realized that if I’m going to take the responsibility of being a the occasional terrible mother, I get to accept the credit for being a sensational one at other times. And so the human race continues. I love my children, I don’t often understand them, but I’m their mom. For now, I don’t want a divorce.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.
Even as we enumerate their shortcomings, the rigor of raising children ourselves makes clear to us our mothers’ incredible strength. We fear both. If they are not strong, who will protect us? If they are not imperfect, how can we equal them?