Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

I have a very hard time associating Mother's Day with myself for some reason. I think it feels like it's a day for women much older than me - women who wear pink flowered shifts and orchid corsages and go to church. It still feels like a day for my grandmothers and my mom, although my mom would never wear a pink dress or go to church.

Thank God.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what my mother did right. Usually, as adults, we think about all the things our parents did wrong and we blame them for all of the messes we've gotten ourselves into, and yes, they are probably partly to blame, along with the genetics we share, but since I became a mother myself I have been able to see my own mother as an actual person. People, especially mothers, are complex creatures. Every single mother on this planet has messed up and made mistakes. Every mother has regrets and every mother has done something to permanently fuck up her kids in some way. It's inescapable.

But most mothers, except for the very worst, which are a minority, have triumphed as well. Mothers have successes amid their errors. Lots of them. Most of our mothers have done a lot of things right.

My mother faced some serious hardships during my childhood and she was very, very young but somehow she managed to make more good decisions than bad. She may have gotten some of the small things wrong, but what really counts is that she got the big things right.

Today I want to celebrate what my mom got right.

Education is the most important thing. Period
My mom always tells me how when she was growing up she never thought college was an option for her. No one ever encouraged her to do anything except get married and depend on a man for the rest of her life and as we all know, that usually doesn't work out in this day and age. Because no one ever told her she had other options, she assumed she wasn't smart, except she was really smart! It just took her a long time to find that out. One of the smartest things she did for me was to tell me that I was intelligent and capable and that I needed to go to school and she sacrificed tremendously for me to have a good education. Even when I screwed up repeatedly, my mother never ever gave up on me and on telling me I needed to go to college and finally, she broke me down and I went. I am forever grateful because college is where I found myself and my true passions in life.

She talked openly about sex.
My mom never hid anything from me. She never minced words or taught me that sex was dirty or something to be ashamed of. She talked explicitly about our bodies and how they work and how to be responsible and respectful of them. I know so many people whose parents screwed them up royally for life because they couldn't deal with talking about sex to their children and because they themselves had issues with sexuality. Speaking candidly about sex with kids of the right age is essential to their lifelong well being and my mom understood this and because she did, my first experiences were positive and responsible and gave me confidence rather than scarring me and making me terrified of intimacy.

My mother scared the living shit out of me about substance abuse.
She may have done too good of a job on this one because to this day, I've never been drunk and while I briefly experimented with a couple of drugs as a teenager, she caught me every single time and used the experiences as opportunities to scare me some more. I honestly think that not a day went by that my mother didn't talk to me about the dangers of substance abuse and she discussed it with the same openness as she did sex. She never glossed over the fact that several family members were alcoholics. She showed me, and I mean really graphically took me and showed me, what addiction can do. She described the deaths and destruction of people she had known and from a very young age I understood that addiction is an illness that you inherit but that you can choose to get sick or to be well. If you don't touch the stuff, the drugs, the drinks, you'll stay well. I chose not to get sick and my mother gets all the credit. 

Women Cannot Depend on Men
This sounds cynical, but it isn't meant to. What my mother meant was not that men aren't dependable, but that to be in a truly healthy fulfilling relationship, a woman must have her own independence. Some men leave, many cheat and where are you left when that happens if you can't take care of yourself? Even if you're in the happiest relationship in the world, tragedy can still strike. What if your husband dies or is disabled? You must be strong enough to take over and take care of yourself and your family. If nothing happens and if you are so fortunate to have a great man who is healthy, loves you to pieces and stays alive, you still need to be independent for your own confidence and happiness.

Be elegant
Always be a little more dressed up than everyone else. Red lipstick always looks good. Take a little extra time to fix yourself up. It's not about attracting men. It's about feeling good and standing out in a crowd. It's about being the most beautiful woman in the room because you love yourself and how you look and setting that example for all the women around you. 

Happy Mother's Day and thank you to my mother and all the mothers out there.

In the comments I'd love if you all shared some of what your mothers did right for you.


Anonymous said...

I love my mother for always telling me that I could do or be anything I wanted to and for telling me that I was beautiful even when I felt ugly. I love her for constantly being my cheerleader whenever the good things happened in my life and for letting me crawl into bed with her and sob when the awful stuff happened too. -Kira

Anonymous said...

V, I have to agree. Your mother is very smart and elegant. I can imagine her leading a great exhbition into Figi or as a museum curator. Very intelligent lady who is very versed about the world.

-Kir Kir

Melanie said...

This is a lesson that I learned from a person I'll just call my "mother figure":
She taught me that if you really care about someone, you will never give up on them, even when they're ignoring you and/or acting stupid.
My mother figure knew how to walk the fine line between showing someone that they are loved, but without getting into a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship with that person. I'm glad I was able to see her model that for me, because it has helped me walk the same fine line with some of MY relationships in the past few years.

kerry said...

I love this!

I was able to see my mom as a person when I was in my mid-20s, and I recognized that she tried very hard to get things right, and for the most part, she did.

I never got the teen-girl magazines that show impossibly perfect teens, a standard real girls can never live up to (but we think we have to and we try). I'm not sure I knew about them at all. Good thing - they make girls (and women, probably) feel bad about themselves.

She let me make mistakes. Sometimes she took decisions from me until I could make the choice she wanted me to make, but a lot of the time she let me go astray on my own.

She loved us. Still does. Was a lot of years before she could say so, and it's still a little awkward, but we are trying.

She got me to go to college. Granted, I didn't finish the first time when it would have been easy, but I did get there and she came to graduation.

She showed me the right way to be stubborn. We're Finns, and we define stubborn, but sometimes it's better to let it go if you can. She didn't put her foot down often, but when she did, you'd better hope you were on her side.

I'm glad I'm an adult and don't need to hate my mom anymore. I can see her as a person, and I can admit that I love her, and I can enjoy her company and miss her when we're not together. I see that she tried, and I appreciate all the things she did.

Lesley said...

I guess whatever my mom never told me about life I made sure I told my daughter. About office politics, about trust,about the psychology of men, how to know when they are sincere or when they are just not interested, etc.. Having my kids and grand kids over for lunch and tea for mothers day was the best day of the year for me. All the fuzzy cards and hugs are better than any gift.
I got a card with tiny orange hand prints on that were meant to look like flowers on a flower pot & a Tracfone SVC for seniors, with big keys & letters on so I don't need my glasses to make a call.
I found it important to give a lot of emotional support to my daughter as she was growing up, which brought us closer together in her twenties. said...

I am closer to your mother's age than yours (in my sixties w/ twenty-something daughters) I 'm writing to thank you for demonstrating so nicely that daughters DO get over the apparently unavoidable late-teen/twenties breach with their mothers. . One of mine already has so I did know this, but as the second is still in the throes of anger about my divorcing her father, I appreciated the reminder very much. Your post today was a lovely, unexpected Mother's day gift for me.

Happy Mother's Day To you.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I meant Fiji not Figi

Yasmine said...

What a beautiful post! The things your mother taught you are certainly worth celebrating. As a new (step)mother myself, these are some things I would love to be able to effectively teach my daughter, too. =)

My own mother taught me the value of unconditional love. No matter how much I back-talked as a child, how much I spat, "It's a free country and you can't MAKE me!" in response to her requests to do various things (chores, etc.), no matter how stubborn and difficult I've been at times, she still loves me without fail. Her heart is bigger than the world. I wonder if I could somehow make mine grow that big.

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