One of the best things about being a mother is being able to share my children with my mother and vice versa. Mom has been such a part of Zoe and Theo’s upbringing from the start, with the books she brings, the time she spends, the stories she tells them of her childhood and mine. My children are eight and eleven now; Mom still cares for them at least once a week though it means driving out here to Jersey from her home in Manhattan. When she comes, she cooks for them, helps them with homework as needed, plays with them and listens to the stories they share of their lives. She never judges or criticizes them, but loves with an open mind and heart.
My mother had been a presence in their lives since the beginning. I had to schedule my first prenatal sonogram on a day when my husband was away on a business trip. I did not want to go alone because the event was momentous for me: I was going to see the image of my child (who, at the time, bore a strong resemblance to a thumbprint) for the very first time, and wanted to share it with someone who, well, shared it.
My mother had just gotten home from a trip to Spain and did not yet know I was pregnant. I’d been cautiously secretive about it to protect myself and others from disappointment. I had worked for several years at an adoption agency, counseling couples who had struggled with infertility before choosing adoption as the way to have a family. Since infertility was a common theme in my daily life—also since my body had lived through so much eating disorder trauma—I assumed I too would face challenges conceiving. I didn’t, though it took a few tests to convince me that the second line in the window was real. So my seven week sonogram—whose purpose was just to make sure everything was “viable”—was a big deal. Inviting my mother was how I told her I was pregnant.
After the sonogram—which took place at the hospital where I’d ultimately give birth—we walked together the seven blocks to my OBGYN’s office, my mother clutching the sonogram printout in her hand.
“Got a picture there, Grandma?” said Dr. Finkelstein, when we arrived. My mother beamed; it was the first time anyone had called her that.
My mother, having been a school teacher for over fifty years, teaching everyone from first graders to masters candidates, was what she would call child-oriented. She started teaching kids almost as soon as she stopped being one. Between caring for her younger sister, teaching, parenting me, tutoring and caring for my children, my mother’s life has revolved around kids. She knows them—intellectually, instinctively and emotionally. As a mother, she was so tuned in to my needs, she met them almost before I knew I had them. (Her mother, cold and often distant, did the opposite; I’m trying to find a happy medium.)
So, though we don’t see eye to eye on everything, though we’ve had our struggles, mostly in the context of our food/body image legacy (which I think has its roots in the death of my great-grandmother, who left my grandmother motherless and full of rage at six), we’ve always been close. I am so lucky to have had her all my life; I’m lucky and grateful to have her now.
Specifically, I am lucky to have a mother who listens to me, no matter how hard it is to hear what I sometimes have to say. I am lucky to have a mother who champions me, even when I can’t see the value in what I do myself. I am lucky to have a mother who knows me, truly, who accepts me and who has never, ever given me cause to question her unconditional love. Generous mothers like mine are easy to take for granted because they never demand credit for anything. For this reason, it is important for me to honor my mother, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day of the year. She may not know it but I do. My every interaction with my children is influenced by her in some small way. I often bookmark the funny things they say and do because I know how much she’ll appreciate them. I know how much they mean to her, how she loves to hear stories that highlight Zoe and Theo just being their smart, funny adorable kid-selves.
There are two things my mother has said about being a grandparent that I know will stay with me long after I am one myself. First: Zoe was about six months old, crawling, interacting and generally being her quirky, funny, interesting self. Having spent the whole day with her while I was at work, my mother said to me when I got home:
“She was such a delight. It’s like having you again, only without the guilt!” As a grandmother, Mom is free to enjoy my kids without the worry of shaping them and doing things right.
The second thing she says has to do with my children remembering her. Mom had me on the “late” side. I too was considered an “older mother” when I had my son at thirty-seven. Which makes my mother older than many of my children’s grandparents. When my kids were very small, Mom worried: will they remember me? She feared—though she had no health issues at the time—that she might not be around long enough to make an impression on their newly developing minds. Somewhere, she had read that eight was the age of fully remembering experiences and people (though I know I have strong memories of earlier periods in my life). Now that my youngest is eight, she says, at least I know they’ll remember me. With all Mom has given them, done for them, taught them, with all the stories I know about her, either because she told me or I lived them first hand, I know there’s no question.
Happy Mother’s Day.