Another Mother’s Day is upon us and it has occurred to me that I can’t possibly imagine NOT being a mother. Built into the psyche of most women from my generation and before, was a determination to get married and give birth to children, both endeavors thought to be the epitomy of romance and as such, a not-to-be-missed venture.
Never mind the down side—sleep deprivation, the first trip to the emergency room, the terrible two’s, sibling rivalry, and for numerous years, being on duty 24/7. None of these realities were on my radar screen when my pregnancy actually occurred– nor was growing them up—bigger children, bigger problems!
It is hard to believe that a good two thirds of my life has been inextricably intertwined with my two sons. I was most certainly a mother hen, took pride in my progeny, willed and pushed them to bright futures, and one day they just left—first for college and after that, life! Suddenly there were two vacant bedrooms, a family dinner table set for two instead of four, and as time went on, fewer phone calls and less contact. Having an empty nest had never been on my wish list—there was a momentary hole in my heart.
For sure, I have never regretted one minute of motherhood. In fact, it has been the job I most treasured. So to suddenly be retired from that profession was almost unthinkable. On good days I refer to the motherhood role as simply outlived—that we have our kids for about 20 years and then it’s over—a natural progression of the life cycle, my husband insists. Still, it has taken me far too long to accept the inevitable– so much so that I’ve taken to memorizing the immortal words of Kahlil Gibran from his book, THE PROPHET in regards to children: Your children come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
No doubt parental love is potentially the purest form of love, but also the most painful. “We must give those we love their independence,” said Sister Wendy Beckett, “we cannot make their choices for them—they cannot live by our hard-earned experience—this is part of love.”
Although I know all this intellectually, retiring from motherhood was something I gave into quite unwillingly, probably because the child within me pretends that nothing ever ends. Still, I’ve kept my longings pretty much to myself like so many other truths, never uttered because the time wasn’t right.
I recall a story of a young man going off to war. Dressed in his crisp uniform with his duffle slung over his shoulder, he kissed his parents goodbye amidst brave smiles all around. When the door closed behind him his mother collapsed, her tears uncontrollable. Minutes later the soldier reappeared to retrieve something he had left behind only to be stunned that his parents were so obviously bereft.
We put on such a brave front for our children knowing they derive security and strength from our strength. Launching them is our major job—enduring life experiences and working with their challenges is theirs.
It occurs to me this Mother’s Day that I have been dwelling too much on what’s changed and not enough on what’s lasting. Perhaps it is time to delight, not in what they are doing, but who they are being– enthusiasts for sure full of bombastic energy, tough warriors, independent men moving onward not backward with humor and resilience.
A good friend suggested that raising a child is the one relationship that, if you do a good job, it ends in separation. And quoting from THE PROPHET once again: “We are the bows from which our children, as living arrows, are sent forth. Let the bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.”
This Mother’s Day, I will cease to dwell on days gone by and instead, call forth gratitude for the fresh lives my boys have made for themselves.