Being my mother's daughter was not usually easy. By the time I knew her -- that is, by the time I was aware of her as an individual, perhaps when I was 6 or 8 -- the joy I see in photographs taken when she was younger had seeped away. It was as if she had wrapped herself in a protective cloak to keep others from getting too close, from knowing her well, to keep her thoughts, emotions, and worries bound tightly inside. Needless to say, she was not outwardly affectionate, nor was she one to offer praise. Doing well, doing the right thing, and doing it without being asked were expected and, therefore, not reasons for praise. We were not pampered in any way; sometimes I think we wondered if we were really loved at all.
Though not a perfectionist, she was exacting and particular, especially when it came to her children’s choices and decisions. I think she didn't want us to make mistakes and so there were specific and definite boundaries. She generally made the decisions, both large and small – decisions that would have helped a child learn, grow, and develop decision-making skills.
Having said all that, I believe she did what she thought was the right and best thing to do for her husband and children. I believe she had our best interests at heart.
What did my mom inherit from her mother and fore-mothers? What did I inherit from them? Half of me comes from my female ancestors, and my daughters inherit half of who they are from their female ancestors. Yet I sometimes wonder: How much of who I am is determined by inheritance (from collective generations of previous parents)? How much is learned from my parents -- my mother in particular because I spent more time with her than my father? How much have I determinedly unlearned or relearned differently because of my mother? How much is the result of the environment (emotional, mental, spiritual) in which I live/lived? And how much of who I am is by purposeful choice?
I remember a story from Glimpses in the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley. It was told by Marjorie Hinckley's daughter, Kathleen, who recounted how easy she thought motherhood would be. She’d watched her mother as each new baby arrived and from her mom’s example believed that “all of motherhood was joy, bliss, and complete satisfaction.” She said her mom told her that “the experience of childbirth was akin to dipping into heaven for a brief moment and returning with this blessed new infant.” Soon after her own marriage Kathleen began hoping for a baby. She imagined herself holding, dressing, cooing to, and loving a baby. She wrote, “as that blessed state of impending motherhood descended upon me, I found myself sick! Very sick!. . . This wasn’t the way I’d pictured it.”
The night that first little infant was born didn’t exactly feel like a trip to heaven. It was long, miserable, and something I vowed I would never repeat. When she finally arrived, I thought the hard part was over and from this moment forward, the bliss part of motherhood would begin.I love that story. For a mother (and usually for individuals, too), there is never an ongoing normal. No routine lasts forever. Every phase in a child’s development (in life!) moves both mother and child to a new routine, a new normal, different from the previous normal. Every new normal brings its own challenges, often accompanied by fatigue and the need for major adjustments to schedules, habits, and routines. Somehow, we adjust and usually we succeed.
Wrong. I took the baby home, thinking the routine of my life would quickly be resumed. My fantasies of dressing her in bows and lace were just around the corner. She was so cute--in fact, she was beautiful. This was going to be great after all.
But I was ill prepared for what I faced. This tiny little six-pound bundle instantly took total control of my life. She determined when I could sleep, when I could eat, when I could shower, clean my house, do my laundry, where and if I could go anyplace. Not only that, everything I did was done in a state of complete fatigue. About six weeks into this I looked around one day and knew that this was not the life I planned. And suddenly I desperately wanted out. Motherhood was not all it was cracked up to be. I wanted my old life back. I could not bear the thought of living the rest of my life out of control in a completely fatigued state. In a flood of tears I dialed my mother.
“I’ve had it!” I cried to my mother. “I’m not cut out to be a mother! I can’t do this the rest of my life. This child has taken over. I’m not even a person anymore. I want my old life back!”
She listened quietly as I unloaded for several tearful minutes. Then, quite unexpectedly, she started to laugh. “Well, guess what, dear,” she said through her laughter. “It’s too late!”
Her upbeat, jovial response disarmed me. I was completely taken back. She had managed with that simple, light quip to bring me back to earth. . . . And somehow her laughter let me know that she knew what this was like and that it wouldn’t last forever.
How did my fore-mothers handle motherhood? I especially wonder about Elizabeth Meinzen who had 15 children and Elvira Gerner who had 16, the first born when they were only 18 years old themselves. However did they manage without all the modern conveniences -- washer and dryer, electric oven, vacuum, etc.? In my mind they hold the highest of honors.
What will my daughters write about me 15 years after I’ve passed from this life? They will probably reflect on my limitations but I hope they will also know how very, very much I love them. Having them in my life has been a blessing beyond measure and I’m grateful to be their mother (knowing, of course, that there’s still room for me to improve).
To my daughter, about to become a mother: please don't be too hard on yourself, especially when you're tired (or your son's tired) and things aren't going smoothly. Be sure your boy knows you love him and be fair and consistent. You'll be a great mother!
Belated Happy Mother’s Day wishes to my own dear mother and to all the moms who may read this post. To everyone who reads this, tell your mother you love her!
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Pearce, Virginia H., ed., Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999), 112-114.