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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Perfect Mother

My brother and I were talking about our mother the other day. This is not a good subject.  In 1960's standards she was not a physically abusive mother. Using a belt or hair brush on a child's bottom was not frowned upon the way it is now. It may have even been encouraged, honestly. "Spare the rod spoil the child." A well known and even revered way of child rearing in those days. I don't know if I was ever left bruised, I couldn't see the part of my anatomy that had frequent dealings with Mom's wrath. I do know I was sore for a few days after. Again though, it was more normal back then. Even some schools used corporal punishment in those days. I remember rumors of a spanking machine at my elementary school, all false of course, but you know, it kept some of us in line, just in case.

My mom's issues were more of the emotional kind. Those are the ones that left the deepest scars. I really, truly believe my mom never really wanted to be a mother. If she had been becoming a twentysomething today, I think she would make the choice to be childless. In 1950-1960 America, that wasn't a choice. If a woman went to college, it was mostly for finding a suitable husband, not as the beginning of a career path. I think she would have been a lot happier as a career woman. There was no choice for her with that.

To sum it up, we did not have the perfect mother. She was flawed, she was human. It is so easy for people, including me to get all wrapped up in their parents' flaws. To play the blame game when our lives don't work out quite the way we want. Really, though, is there a "perfect mother?" I know I wasn't one. Is it right for me to blame my mother for not being perfect at something I could not perfect? Do I think I was a better mother than she was, yes, I do. I know I was. Maybe that's the trick, each generation needs to do a little bit better than the last. The point is I guess, to try your very best, and hope it all works out. My sister and brother might argue that Mom did not try her very best. Maybe that is true, but maybe it isn't.

I do believe that my mom did her best in her way. It took me a long time to come to this. When your mother  is angry at you on your high school graduation because the auditorium was hot, and the speaker droned on for an hour, it takes a while to forgive. You kind of want your mom to be proud and happy for you on such occasions. Do I think she could have handled that better? Yes, do I think she meant to make me as miserable as she was? Yes, but do I think that she still did the best she could? Honestly, yes, she showed up. I'm sure she has no desire to be there, but she showed up anyway, that was the best she could do. Now, it isn't that she wasn't proud of me, (and this is what it took me a long time to figure out), she was, but she hated social things, with large groups of people. So, the fact that she was there, was a big deal. She never went to anything my entire high school career. If she wasn't afraid of being judged cruelly for not going to my graduation, she wouldn't have been there. But she was there.

Maybe it sounds like I'm rationalizing for her. I believe with all of my heart though, that she did the best she could. Was it the best other people's parents could, no. I do believe she loved me, she just loved herself a little bit more. She wanted her life to be about her. Today, she could have done that, back then, no.

It is easy to dwell and blame. Here is the thing though, she had control of the first twenty years of my life. What she did then, was then. I have had control of the last thirty. How my life turned out is how I made it. Whether I had the perfect mother or not, I made my choices. Blaming Mom for my mistakes is as ludicrous as praising her for my accomplishments. I made my choices!

My mom passed away twenty-two years ago, yet her shadow still lingers. How her shadow lingers is up to me. I like to remember the good things. There were a lot of them. Others choose to remember the flaws and lay blame. I did that for a long time, not any more.  My life, is mine. I made it what it is today. If I was influenced by her flaws, I was also influenced by her good traits as well. Her love of the arts. Her dedication to her friends. She had a wry sense of humor, that I think I have inherited. She loved wild flowers.

Is there a perfect mother? Absolutely NOT! Are there great mothers and bad mothers? Absolutely! Even great mothers can end up with a child who turns out to be an ax murderer, because of the choices the child made. In other words, once we are adults, we call the shots. What we make of our lives is up to us.

I love you, Mom!

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