When I was a little girl, I never thought of Mom as a person. I mean, yes, she was a person, but not a person who was once a little girl, or who had fears or hopes or things she liked to do other than be a mom. She was just there to know, love and serve me. Sure I had to share her with my brothers and sisters, but she was there for me, not the other way around. She did know me; better than I knew myself sometimes. She did love me; more than I loved her. She did serve me; but she insisted I pull my own weight, too.
Once I asked Mom how she knew I liked science. I always got science books for Christmas. She told me it was obvious. She took me seriously; not like Dad who told me a rock I found was a petrified potato. I went to school and told Teacher, “Look what I found: a petrified potato.” Teacher never even told me the truth. Mom would have. That’s for darned sure. She had a streak of no-nonsense in her. Even if she did like to laugh at a lot of stuff, she never laughed at me, except when she thought I was clever, even if sometimes my cleverness was on accident. Like the time I said, “It’s a bug, step on it.” When we played count-the-cars on our way Up North and I spotted a VW beetle.
Mom suggested I pursue a career in science, when I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. Mom thought about moving the family to Chicago, so I could go to better schools.
As much as Mom knew me, she did not know me from the inside out. That’s why she got me lipstick and nylon stockings for my twelfth birthday instead of a microscope. Oh, for Pete’s sake. That was the worst birthday present ever. I never wanted to be bothered with girly-girl stuff. Never in my life. I wanted to spend time learning stuff and thinking stuff up, and writing stuff down, and building forts up in the hayloft. I was never going to wear lipstick, and especially not nylon stockings. It was bad enough she made me wear a bra.
I’m pretty sure there was a bunch of stuff about me that she shook her head about and asked Dad what he thought. Like the time I took a bite out of her rubber spatula just because it looked like it might taste good, or when I said I wanted to try answering the phone with a tuning fork like the murderer did on the Outer Limits. To tell the truth, I probably could have thought those things through a little more.
When I got older, in my teens and my twenties and even into my thirties, Mom hurt my feelings a lot. She just never seemed to understand me. She said and did queer things: she prayed to the patron saint of lost causes for me; she told me Dad got drunk the day I was born because he thought he had a son; she wondered out-loud what would have become of me if I never met Loved-One; she said she was tired of walking on egg shells around me because my feeling got hurt so easy.
The older I get, the more I appreciate my Mom. Sure, I saw her through a whole different light when I had kids of my own. I saw how she understood me in ways I did not understand myself. I saw how sometimes the best of intentions back-fired. I understood that Mom was human, just like me. Yesterday, I began to understand how we got to be such good friends. My son revealed it to me.
I know a lot about my son because I paid attention while he grew. I know things that interest him and a little about how he learns; I know what he likes and dislikes. I know he’s clever and has an eye for detail. I know he loves order and predictability. I know he’s strong and athletic. I know he seeks peace in his life. That said, I do not know him from the inside out. My 40+ son told me that he has nightmares about high school. He dreams he forgot an important assignment, or he dreams he did the assignment and left it at home. I never knew he carried school-anxiety around inside him.
Learning this new thing about my son, made me realize something. Mom’s secret to success is three-fold:
- You never know your child from the inside out;
- You never stop learning things about your child;
- The end of childhood is the beginning of friendship.
There’s probably a lot more. I’m still learning. I invite you to share what you learn from your mother and what you learn from your children.