Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mother's Day inheritance

Me, my week-old son, my mom and my grandmother together
My mom, me, and my grandma with a brand-new SuperSam

Mother's Day this year has me thinking about my mothering. Why do I do that? Where does that come from? Where did I learn to sing that song? And, most importantly, what kind of mother am I turning out to be?

Self-reflection is fine, but it's hard to get very far with that question without thinking about the kind of mother my own mother was and is (and her mother before her). We get a lot of stuff from our mothers. I realize that the things I've inherited could very well be the things I'm handing down.

It's a unique collection of traits they have passed on to me, a mix of assets and shortcomings that together have shaped who I am as a person and as a mother.

So, what can I thank my mother and grandmother for this Mother's Day?

A talent for making incomplete projects (such as prom dresses and curtains) look beautifully finished, at least from a foot or so away
Lovely cursive handwriting
A self-martyring tendency- slam cabinet doors rather than humbly ask for help unloading the dishwasher

The ability to draw friendly-looking vegetables with smiling faces and other equally whimsical things...on bathroom walls, on church bulletins, on paper napkins, or wherever they might be needed

The secret knowledge of where to hide the dirty dishes when unexpected company shows up

An intimate acquaintance with the gut-wrenching fear of not being perfect

The blessing of thick, dark hair that will go perfectly, beautifully gray
A distinct lack of talent at swimming
The skill to fold fitted sheets so that they look like flat sheets
The patience for endless repetitions of This Little Piggy and Pat-a-cake and Ride-a-little-horsey-down-to-town
The capability to play most ordinary pieces of music on the piano on sight...well enough to be convincing, anyway...and to carry a voice part with conviction and accuracy, if not with operatic quality

The foresight to always have a small mirror in my bag, and the ingenuity to keep a young child entertained with it for half an hour, at least
A knack for making up new lyrics to old tunes to accompany activities of daily living (because every little girl needs her own personal hair washing song, especially if she's terrified of getting soap in her eyes)

There are no family recipes. There are no heirloom gowns or linens. There are some handmade doll clothes and a song about the twelve apostles that ends with "and Bartholomew!" - but I can't remember how the rest of it goes.

It's an interesting list. Some of these things are definite assets. Some of them I could probably do without. Some of them are challenges to be overcome. Some of them aren't things I want to pass on at all. Still, my mother and my grandmother shine through this list: their flexibility, their creativity, their strength, their self-reliance, their attention to detail. I'm grateful for the ways in which these qualities are woven into the fabric of who I imperfect mother who was mothered imperfectly by an imperfect mother who was mothered imperfectly by an imperfect mother.

Coming to terms with this list isn't always easy. It's much easier to list the things I hope my children will inherit: self-confidence, loving concern for others, a hunger for social justice, a sense of awe and wonder at the world. I hope, too, that they each get some of the creative flexibility and spunky strength that have come down through at least three generations of our family.

What we get from our mothers is always a mixed bag. Part of being a grownup is learning to accept the difficult parts with the amazing parts and figuring out what to do with it all.  My children are getting some great things from me, but every now and then, I see glimpses of myself in them that I'd rather not see, and I know they'll have to deal with the less-than-great things, too. One day, I hope they find joy in what has been passed down to them, even if it wasn't exactly what they were expecting.