We don’t make a big fuss about holidays around here anymore. With just the three of us (Jim, myself, and my mom) in town, our celebrations are really low key. My mom doesn’t like to eat in restaurants, and really doesn’t like to leave home much at all anymore. It’s a struggle to get her to come to our house, and I can tell she’s not really comfortable here. So for Mother’s Day this year, she will do what she does so often - make a meal for us. I know that’s what gives her pleasure.
When Jim and I set our wedding date lo those many years ago, we weren’t thinking about the fact that it was the Saturday before Mother’s Day. This caused a few difficulties, not the least of which was that we had a tough time finding a florist willing to do a wedding on their busiest weekend of the year. Then it occurred to us that we would be on our honeymoon on Mother’s Day. So, like the dutiful (and perpetually guilt-ridden) only children that we were, we called our mother’s first thing from the hotel in Niagara Falls on the morning after our wedding to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day.
I had hardly ever spent a night away from home before, and to initiate my permanent move out of the family home on Mother’s Day was like rubbing salt into her wound. But I was young and in love and eager to set off into my own life. She was gracious about it, as she always is, and never revealed any sadness she might have felt.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know what a cruel blow it must have been for my mother to be separated from me for the first time on that day of all days. Something like the way I would feel about 20 years later, when my son moved to Florida at the age of 18, shortly thereafter married a young woman from another country, and settled out of state permanently. As for Mother’s Day, in the almost two decades since, I’ve actually only spent only one of those holidays with my son.
It’s a little bit sad, but as I said, we don’t make a big fuss about holidays in our family.
One of the most important lessons I learned about motherhood is that you have to get out of your children’s way. You can’t be the security guard who stands at the crossroads of their lives, pointing them in the direction you want them to take or the one you think is best. You can’t put your arms out and block them from stepping into the future they want. The ability to do this takes a lot of skill. And you will get plenty of practice as they grow from the completely dependent blobs of neediness that erupt from your womb into full grown people with very strange and rebellious ideas of their own.
But as I wrote in Life In General, “there is nothing easy about this process. There’s no magic pill you can take to stop missing your children, to keep your heart from aching when you’re apart on birthdays and holidays, to prevent you from wondering what they’re doing or how their day is going, if they’re in a bad mood or on top of the world."
My mother, as much as I dearly love her, was not terribly good at getting out of my way. I had to learn that motherhood lesson on my own. And my son was a very good teacher. He had definite ideas about what he wanted for his life, was responsible enough to take charge of getting those things done, and simply refused to be held back.
So, I stepped aside and got out of his way.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if I stepped back too far. If I should have held on a little tighter, should have protested a little harder. I was so eager to prove that I wouldn’t be like my own parents who wanted to keep me so close, maybe I let go of him a little too easily. In contrast to my experience, where sometimes I felt loved too much - where the warm blanket of parental care and concern occasionally threatened to smother me and suck the life right out of me - I hope he felt loved enough.
Now he’s 35 years old, with a growing family, a busy career, a home to maintain, plans for the future. He works incredibly hard, is a faithful husband and loving father. Nothing stands in his way, certainly not his mother. And I’m incredibly proud of him for all of that.
And most of the time I’m proud of myself for having the courage to get out of his way and let it happen.
But there’s still that shadow of a crossing guard mother in me, the one that wants to go back in time and stand on the corner with her arms outstretched. “Stop! Wait! Look every which way you can before you cross that street! It’s dangerous out there where I can’t protect you."
And then enfold him in a tight embrace where I can keep him close and safe forever.