Last week, I wrote a piece thanking the mothers of my friends and explaining that I am the beneficiary of their life's work. I feel their legacy in the ways that their children, my friends, support me on my own path of motherhood.
Upon reading this piece, a friend shared that "grandmothers, mothers and daughters are our mirror of love received and love given." This beautifully-worded sentiment made me stop to think about my reflection in the mirror, the one shaped by the love I receive from my own mother. Just as it made me think about the reflections that I am shaping for my children by the love I am giving them.
The gift of love is truly that -- a gift. This gift has accompanied me for my entire life. I have not known a single day, or even a breath of air, that hasn't been filled with love. In and out of time and over years, I have been fortunate to have been loved by many; my family, my friends, my neighbors. Yet, the original love that welcomed me into the world and was bestowed upon me before I was even able to see the light is the love of my mother. This is a love that I could not understand until I had a child myself.
Because the unconditional love of my mother surrounds me, it allows me to release my own love to my children. Yet while I love my children always, they test the limitations of that love often. At times they frustrate me or worry me, and moments later they can fill me with pride or make me swell with joy.
One of the most important things that my mother taught me is that a mother's love is fluid and able to adjust as needed. As I look back on different times in my youth, I am able to see her love manifest itself in different ways. And so as I love my children, I can accept that I may feel conflicting emotions about them at times, but all of these feelings fall under the constant power of a mother's love. The love I receive from my mother has at times been firm, and patient, generous and fierce depending on the occasion.
1. A Mother's Love is a Firm Love
As a teenager, I once stole an ugly pair of red and blue shoes from a bowling alley. When my mom realized I had them, she not only punished me, but also insisted that I return the shoes immediately and issue an apology in person. My mom drove me to the alley and scolded for most of the ride. The 10-minute trip felt like an eternity of misery to my teenage self. With each passing minute, I was filled with more and more dread over the mortifying idea of going back into the alley and admitting to my theft. When we arrived at the bowling alley, my mom was still hot with disappointment and frustration. She jerked the car into a parking place, threw it into park and stared at me hard. I gulped. In a steady and firm voice my mom offered to take the shoes into the alley and apologize on my behalf. I cried with relief.
As an adult, I've talked about this incident a few times with my mom. She claims that she knew all along that she would walk the shoes into the alley for me. This plan was all a part of her strategy to punish and reinforce to me that I needed to reverse my action, yet show me that she had my back and would always be there to support me, even when she was furious with me.
And so at heated times when I am upset with the decisions of my own children, I know that I am able to love them with firmness just as my mother loves me.
2. A Mother's Love is a Patient Love
My brother and I often laugh about how my mom would get so frustrated with us that on more than one occasion, she stormed out the door and got into her car. We were not young babies and old enough to remember these events. But when this happened, we would immediately stop our bickering and give a concerned look to each other as we'd hear the garage door opening and the car backing out. We wondered to ourselves if we had really sent her over the edge this time.
Solemnly, we would stand in the front window and see her car driving past our house as it circled the neighborhood once, twice and sometimes three times depending on how maddening our behavior had been. With each pass, we'd shrug and say to each other, "Well, she's still in the neighborhood," or, "Five times?! She must be really mad."
While we joke about this now, my mom taught us an important lesson that it is OK to take space when you need it, but that love always remains. And so in the noise and chatter and arguments of my own household now, I know that it is OK to pretend to be using the restroom longer than I really need to, or to send the kids to the basement to deal with each other while I sit in quiet. And when I need a moment, I pause, take a deep breath and try to find a way to love with patience.
3. A Mother's Love is a Generous Love
My mother is a kindred and generous spirit without the limitations of self-consciousness. Even at the risk of making herself look foolish, she has never been afraid to play a joke, or offer a hearty laugh if it helps make her children smile. She's a true subscriber to the power of play and she's creative and resourceful with her tools of imagination. She once furnished my Barbie Dream House with pieces created out of hairspray caps and cotton balls.
A few months ago, during a family meal at a Japanese steak house, my son couldn't participate in the act of catching food in his mouth due to food allergies. As a 9-year-old boy, he was pretty disappointed. But after the meal, my mom took him into her formal living room and threw popcorn into the air for him to catch in his mouth, as we all rolled with laughter at how silly and ridiculous the scene was.
Another time she was playing with my children and took an old pair of pantyhose and covered her face in a silly game that distorted her features. The kids laughed with delight and I was reminded that she taught me to never take myself too seriously.
Thanks to my mom, I appreciate laughter and love with a generosity that will never let my own concerns with self or image get in the way of a sharing a moment of happiness with my family.
4. A Mother's Love is a Fierce Love
Fun and games aside, when I allow my mind to pull up an image of my mother from my childhood, it is an image of her hard at work, hunched over our dining room table grading school papers.
My mother is a retired elementary school teacher and spent 30 years giving herself to not just us, her own children, but to the community's children. Not only did she teach children, she co-authored a book full of teaching lessons and used around the country.
In her work ethic I learned a sort of fierceness in love. Because of the love of children and education, she threw herself into every lesson, every student and us at 110%. I felt the power of that love and now know that to love someone is to love them fully and fiercely.
Firm, patient, generous and fierce. Each of these qualities is reflected in the love I receive and the love I give. As I struggle with the daily joys and frustrations of motherhood myself, I realize that the love I show my children will take many different forms, yet remain steadfast and true not just throughout their lifetime, but before and also beyond.