Monday, May 13, 2013

What I've Learned About Mothering

Sometimes people say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger; I have to say, though, that that's a sentiment with which I cannot agree.

I don't feel stronger as a result of the challenges I have encountered, but I do feel changed - and I recognize that I have learned some things from those experiences.  Much of what I've assimilated is on the pages of this blog, and I suspect there is even more to come, from grief and perspective and just life in general.  Many of those things, I am realizing, can be valuable, useful lessons, serving to make me more solicitous, more introspective, and more appreciative of what I have - all of which are easily applied to perhaps the most challenging thing in my life: mothering.

From the road I've traveled, I've learned that the life I have won't last forever; it will change in many ways, some over time and some quickly, some for the better and some tragically, and that because of that I need to work hard to appreciate and remember each day.  

I've learned that it's easy to take it all for granted - and sometimes to wish it away.  I've learned that at some point there is an end to the sleepless nights, the piles of laundry, the hectic mornings filled with things like looking for a missing shoe and packing lunches and kisses goodbye, the nerve-wrecking parent-teacher conferences, the disarray of toys and books scattered everywhere, the lazy summer mornings that stretch into afternoons, the shopping for what I hoped was the perfect birthday or Christmas gift - the Tickle Me Elmo or the Jessie Cowgirl doll or the Furby that I stood in long lines to buy, ready to elbow my way to the front of the aisle to get my child what I thought her childhood wouldn't be complete without.

What I have loved most of all was seeing the trust and happiness in my children's faces, hearing their infectious giggles, feeling their hand in mine, and recognizing things in them that they had learned from me.  Little by little, those days of not being able to shower or go into the bathroom by myself have transformed into closed bedroom doors and teenaged eye rolls of embarrassment that only a parent can still interpret as love, and somewhere along the way it hit me that it's impossible to go back and do one single minute over; I can't take back words said in anger or exhaustion, and I can't rewind the time from even one day to allow myself to better remember or to better react.  All I can do is hope that what I've made up on my own and what I've figured out with the help of those who have advised me or in some way mothered me has been right, or at least right enough, and then try to do my best with what comes as time marches forward, as we go through more proofreading, conflicts with friends and teachers and roommates, texting, phone conversations, choices of class schedules and fashion purchases and even more important things, being sure to celebrate the victories - both big and small, and just trying to keep up with everything.

These days I'm amazed when I think about how I used to think that mothering a baby was so easily definable as the hard part; it's really all the hard part, especially, as I now know, letting go as they make their own decisions, watching them stretch their wings, realizing that they are their own people, swiftly moving towards adulthood and independence, despite the feelings of joy and relief I get when they occasionally come to me for help.

When I look at the hundreds of family photos from over the years, I remember and I cherish the special moments captured on film - the birthday parties, the school programs, the first days of school, the Christmases and the Easters.  But the moments that I treasure the most when I think back are those that no one thought to capture on film, the everyday moments, those from days that I think were accurately and brilliantly labeled along the way as perfectly ordinary.

I wouldn't trade them for dollers or barbies either!