Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Mother

So today is Mother’s Day.

I should probably take advantage of this opportunity to wax poetic about my own mother.  But I can’t get her to read this blog, so there’s no point in sucking up to her, now, is there?  I do love my mother, of course.  She has many excellent qualities.  But am I heartbroken that she happens to live on one coast of the United States while I live on the other?  No, I wouldn’t say “heartbroken” is the appropriate term ...

There is another mother in my life, of course: she is the mother of my children.  Mother’s Day has always been a bone of contention between us.  She expects me to buy her something, or do something for her.  I keep pointing out that she isn’t my mother.  Somehow she doesn’t seem to see this as a rational argument.  So I keep trying to encourage my children to do something nice for her that I can participate in.  You know, make me look good as an accomplice.  That sort of thing.

Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate her.  She and I have an odd relationship history ... I’ve been told (by more than one person) that I’m one of the few people that “it’s complicated” is actually appropriate for.  But it’s a relationship that’s lasted for nearly 15 years, so obviously something is working.

That something has everything to do with motherhood.  Obviously, I love my children.  They are the most important things in my life, and I wouldn’t have them without their mother.  Which is sort of self-evident.  If that’s all there was to it, I wouldn’t be saying much other than I value my parenting partner for her genes and her reproductive system.

But that’s just the beginning.

As children, we often resent the actions of our parents.  We say to ourselves that we would never act in such a way if we were in their place.  And then, of course, we grow up.  As Allison told us: it’s unavoidable, it just happens ... when you grow up, your heart dies.  Well, perhaps not so melodramatic as all that, but certainly we have a tendency to turn into our parents, whether we like it or not, and often without noticing.  I won’t claim to be immune to that, but I do have a tendency to refuse to believe in “accepted wisdom.” If we’re being generous, we can call me “non-conformist”; a more cynical viewpoint would be that I’m just pig-headed.  You know all those times your parents told you “when you have children of your own, you’ll understand”?  And then you did have children, and you did understand?  Well, I contend that you didn’t actually understand, you just came to accept that that’s the way it’s done.  Your parents did it that way, and it seems like everyone else’s parents did too, and if you know of any parents who didn’t do it that way, you think of them as a bit odd.  Thus, it’s very logical to come around to this way of thinking.  Unless you’re a stubborn bastard, like me.

With the end result that I am now one of those parents you think of as odd.  I’ve obstinately held on to those naive ideals I formulated as a child, when I thought of all sorts of unrealistic ways to treat children, based primarily on how I wished I were treated as a child.  It turns out that most of those ways aren’t as unrealistic as we’ve been led to believe.  These are techniques that can be very effective ... if applied consistently.  Which means that all the people involved in the parenting have to agree.

Now, imagine for a moment, if you will, me: possessed of all these bizarre ideas—ideas which are literally childish, having been developed as a child—on how to raise children.  Treating them like people, being friends with them, having a set of rules you can count on the fingers of both hands, sending them to a school where there are no classes, and more.  What are the chances that I could find a woman who would be willing to go along with even one of these insane ideas, much less all of them?  What are the chances that I could find a woman who would go even further, and bring a few insane ideas of her own to the table?

So when I think about the mother of my children, the primary thing that springs to mind is how lucky I am.  How lucky I am to have found someone who was not only biologically capable of producing the children that I always wanted, but mentally capable of understanding and agreeing with my non-traditional ideas on raising them, and emotionally capable of putting up with my eccentricities and perspectives (well, usually, anyway).  Spiritually capable of both standing up to me and standing by me.  Psychologically capable of raising well-adjusted children.  Educationally capable of teaching our children at home when we can’t find a school that suits our needs.  And geographically inclined to want to move across the country with me.  That’s a whole lot of luck right there.

No, she’s not my mother, but she’s an awesome enough mother that I’m a bit jealous of my children.  When I think of how little they have to complain about—really, the worst they could come up with is that she constantly wants to take pictures of them for her scrapbooks—I’m practically green with envy.  Think about them looking back on their lives one day, remembering that their mom was their teacher and their friend, that she took them to museums and zoos and to the beach, that she planned family vacations for them and fought to get them more Christmas presents, that she let them sleep in her bed with her at any age, that she let them stay up late and didn’t make them eat things they didn’t want to eat, that she taught them to be polite, and independent, and loving, and encouraged them to try new things, and played video games with them, and treated them with respect, and kindness, and so much love that they thought their hearts would burst with it all.

One day my children will write these things for themselves.  Today, I will celebrate her for them.  And thank her for them.  Because this mother is pretty important in my life too.  And for that, I am grateful.

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