by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
May 4, 2008
'M' IS FOR MOTHERHOOD, MISTAKES AND MAGIC
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. - "M" is for the million things she gave me. "O" means only that she's growing old. "T" is for the tears she shed to save me. "H" is for her heart as pure as gold. "E" is for her eyes with love-light shining. "R" means right and right she'll always be. Put them all together they spell "Mother," a word that means the world to me.
I can still see that simple framed ditty hanging on my grandmother's kitchen wall.
Wouldn't it be grand if a golden word or words insured gold content? You know. America. Apple pie. Home. Mommie. Mother's Day.
On the other hand, wouldn't it be interesting if some mean poet like me wrote a book entitled "How to Survive Your Grown Children"? Or maybe somewhere some grown child is contemplating writing a book titled "I Hate My Mother Because I Married a Jerk."
Sigh. I have failed at a lot of things in my intense death-grip on the tree of life, shaking it angrily to get all the goodies that might fall from the tree. Yet nowhere, but nowhere, has any experience been as full of both joy and pain as my blundering down motherhood lane.
I think I need several more lifetimes to get it right.
To spank or not to spank. To guide firmly or stand back and watch as children stumble toward an age when the world says they are old enough to go get killed in one more evil war. To push them out of the nest and groan as they spread inexperienced wings, wobble off into mid-air - and drop with a thump to the unyielding ground. Or to pray they will never leave the nest but stay where it is safe from a world that eats the innocent and inexperienced and calls the young to believe happiness is always outside themselves - getting and having and forgetting that real power is internal.
To yearn for enough sense to be a good parent. To study. To seek help for parenting ignorance. To admit "spanking" is just a nice word for "a good whipping" and that whipping is only a slightly better word than beating. To stop in the middle of an because-I-said-so tirade and declare "I will never again lay a hand on a child. Never again demand obedience just because I can. Never again undermine the wonder that arrives with the booties and the eyes full of innocence and trust."
Many of us come to the platform of parenting with little or no examples of good parenting. And, much worse, some of us come out of unwholesome abusive parenting situations.
My gentle, sweet Ozark Mountain mama was submissive by nature and by biblical admonitions. It was a time when women walked symbolically 10 paces behind the "head of the house" even though many of those women were about ten paces ahead of their husbands in intelligence and simple common sense.
I laugh often remembering one of my mama's helpless-woman tricks. If the "head of the house" didn't know how to fix a leaking faucet or a lawn mower or any of the other honey-do chores required of men, my mother would watch his failing efforts and then say softly "What do you think would happen if we tried it this way?" He would. It worked. And guess who took credit for the fixing and boasted about it later.
My mother walked the silent road of not interfering in the curses that fell on her children's young heads. Almost every morning our father got up in a bad mood, and I can still feel how hard it was to swallow a bite of biscuit with "You ain't fit to kill" ringing in my ears. Nor did mama voice a protest when daddy's huge hand "boxed the ears" of his offspring. I often wonder if those hard blows are the cause of my and two of my siblings' ear problems.
Spare the rod and you spoil the child, the women of my mother's generation sang sadly to each other. No mention was ever uttered about the Bible verse near that one that said "If you catch a man in the act of adultery, stone him." (Modification, mine.)
Children as possessions. Children who ought to obey even if the obeying reflects cruelty and stupidity. Children who ought to sally forth and live out our dreams. Children who should "do as I say and not as I do"; be a good "chip of the old block." Children who rarely outgrow the pain of bad parenting.
I raised - and later adopted - the daughter of my youngest daughter. That strange and awesome experience was nothing like my green, ignorant, misguided first attempts at motherhood. It was my first experience of love without reservation or conditions, of choosing to put a wee urchin's welfare and needs above my own, of getting up at night to see if she was safe in her bed or had I dreamed the magic.
I was awed into silence at how quickly she learned and how hungry she was to know the slightest detail of everything around her. She used to sit on the bar in the kitchen while I cooked, sing-songing all her Disney cassettes verbatim. At around age 4 she got upset that I didn't jump up and cook her an egg somewhere between lunch and dinner so she went to the kitchen, climbed up on a foot stool and cooked it herself ... and did it well.
She came to vegetarianism on her own declaring she was "not gonna eat something that was once somebody's mother." Around 10 she studied mythology and frequently bounced Zeus and his relatives off me, leaving me to squirm in my myth ignorance. Much later she was to subsidize my income so I could step out of the rat-race and write. An unexpected gift that made one stubborn, independent poet cry.
Today she wears a Navy uniform, is raising two small munchkins under 6 by herself, talks about going to Germany with the casualness I talk about going to the post office.
Did Mother Nature get it all wrong? She uses young women for making the physical babies yet she pauses, laughs and gives to most grandmothers the common sense and appreciation necessary to raise emotionally healthy children. Or maybe pure awe of a baby comes only after we claim our colossal parenting mistakes with the wee ones of our first motherhood years.
I don't know. I only know that by the time I got it about half right my oldest daughter was walking out the front door. I have yet to retrieve the piece of my heart she took with her or that of the other three who followed her out into the great unknown.
"Sit in your rocking chair and rock away the last of your carefree life," my mother said to me when I was pregnant with my first child. "You will never know another carefree moment."
And I never have.
Are they safe? Are they warm? Is that son-in-law I don't like ... is he good to her? Would she tell me if he weren't? How does she discipline her urchins? Does she need me to come and hold her after her husband took off with that home-wrecker? Do the married daughters who also work outside the home put in 16-hour days while he puts in eight? How far away is Germany? Would she like me to go with her? Who, if anybody, is coming home for Mother's Day?
There is not a lot in this daily wonder that is my simple life that I know for sure, but this I do know: My mother was a better mother than her mother. I did it better than my mama, refusing to let husbands or boyfriends "spank" my children or discipline them with demeaning verbal harshness and I do not regret putting one of those men in jail for daring to lay his pedophile hands on one of my daughters. Today I believe that all four of my daughters have a greater appreciation of their children than I experienced in my young and ignorant motherhood.
Perhaps that is the way it is all supposed to unfold. Perhaps each generation learns how to do everything a little better. Perhaps from our mistakes comes our children's determination not to repeat them.
I hope so but I don't know that either. I just know that we write our personal pains and joy on the soul of any child entrusted to our care. And, if I had it all to do, over my urchins and I would have more picnics and less tv, more brownies and less lettuce, more waltzing around the living room instead of vacuuming it. I'd stop all the clocks and throw away all the calendars and every Sunday would be Christmas followed by the Easter bunny on Monday and The Good Fairy on Tuesday. We would practice writing sonnets to the sun and tend with laughter and love the rabbits and ducks and cats and dogs and rosebushes in the back yard.
And all the other days would be Children's Day and every night I would put them to bed with "God bless all the little children in the world. May they walk in sunshine all the days of their lives and may they forgive mothers and fathers who don't always get it right."
AR Correspondent Elizabeth T. Andrews is a newspaper columnist now living in Cartersville, Ga. Her own Website, www.treefamilyfoundation.com, contains other columns and poetry by her. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 816, Cartersville, GA 30120.