Every Day is Mother's Day
When I was a young boy of 5 or so, my maternal grandmother was dying of cancer. My mother went nearly every weekend to see her, and I would go with her. I remember at one point, she told me I didn’t have to, probably out of concern for my feelings about watching my grandmother waste away. I replied, “I’ll always go with you, Mom.” And I did, except to Mimi’s funeral, which I just wasn’t prepared for. And so, every weekend, we would climb into her ’65 Mustang, and she would negotiate Old Route 50 through central West Virginia driving a stick-shift while holding my hand.
Flash-forward 30 or so years. I was raising a young family in Florida; Mom was retired and living with her second husband in Conway, SC. I would dial her number, and if her husband answered the phone, after I said, “Hi, Jack, it’s Charles; is my Mom there?”, he would go through a routine he thought was hilarious (literally every time I called) of “Who? Charles? Who’s that?”, beating to death the dead horse that was the fact that my calls to my Mom were sporadic, and my visits extremely infrequent. And while I look back on that fact with at least a twinge of regret, I know that I am not alone in that dynamic; in fact, it seems that growing away from our parents, and particularly our mothers is considered “normal”. And that got me to thinking…
Although some people remain close to their mothers their entire lives, the fat part of the bell curve seems to start disassociating as teen-agers, usually in the high school years that precede leaving for college. And once we are out of the nest, many of us fly away, almost never to be seen again. In my case, I spent a total of half of one college summer at home, in 1980, when jobs were scarce, and I found that I simply couldn’t survive any longer couch-surfing and selling my plasma twice a week. At one point, I didn’t go back to my home state of West Virginia for over 10 years, and visits from my mother were pretty rare, as she simply didn’t travel often. So, while I never stopped loving my mother, it seems that I had consigned our active relationship to my past; to my childhood. The active part of my relationship with my Mom faded into the past, as I became busy living a life that didn’t seem to have room for her. As Cat Steven’s sang (of a father), “The new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu, but it’s been sure nice talking to you…”
Recent statistics show that approximately one in four adult Americans moved in the last five years. Americans on average live in 11 different places in their lives. The number for Europeans is four. And, as bad as we as a culture are at preparing our children for the real challenges of grown-up life (#adulting, anyone?), it seems as if we are singularly inept at sustaining close relationships with our parents as we transition to adulthood. Now, obviously, some of the blame for this will lie with the parental generation; they have challenges of their own reframing relationships with children who are taking on the rights and responsibilities of adulthood. But it is extremely difficult to execute that sort of family paradigm if we didn’t see it modeled, and most of us didn’t. The fact of the matter is that our mobile culture makes all sorts of people disposable, moms included. We lose touch with old friends; we make new ones. “Family of choice” replaces family of origin. For some of us it is a conscious escape from a painful childhood experience. But many of us are simply throwing out Mom with the mother’s milk, and that’s something we can change.
I know that those of you who are mothers understand a mother’s love for her children, but I’ll wager even a lot of you moms out there, like the rest of us, don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on our own mother’s love for us. It’s something that fades into the background, like the weather. We take it for granted. And we almost never return it with the generosity of spirit with which it is given. We end up “paying it forward” on our own children, which is understandable – even “normal”. But what if there’s another way? What if we could develop a close adult relationship with our moms? (Again, for those of you who have managed this feat, Bravo!) What if we allowed our love to transcend the hangover from childhood and the miles that separate us? What if we made it a point to not just honor our mothers once a year, but to actively return the love they poured into us all year long? And for those of us who are scrambling to find enough time raising our own children as it is, wouldn’t the time we take now to spend with our Moms be returned ten-fold, when our own children see us modeling an adult relationship with our parents, and they make it a point to form one with us? Also, I want to add that this motherly love we are returning may not be from a biological mother – motherhood takes on a lot of guises. Perhaps the Mom in our life was a step-mom, or a foster mother, or the mother of a close friend who took an interest in us. Their love is worthy of honoring, too.
I was visiting my sister in California – she was recovering from breast cancer and was between chemo and radiation. Our brother called us, and said that Mom hadn’t been doing well, and he was going to visit. He got there, and she was put in the hospital. Then he called us and told us we needed to get on a plane. We got to Conway in the middle of the night. We went straight to the hospital – she was in intensive care, and not responsive. I don’t know if she knew we were there, but I like to think she did. Later that night, she had the “episode” that took her life, and the next morning her husband and my siblings and I were forced to make the decision to remove her from life support. It was the single most difficult decision of my life, and one that haunts me still.
Even if our moms were imperfect (and Lord knows mine was), they still loved us. Before we were born, they loved us, and every day of our lives, no matter what we did, no matter how we hurt them, still they loved us. So I think it’s time we realized that as children, we have one job. It’s not to grow up and become a successful whatever – not to make straight As, not to get scholarships, not to get rich, not to brand ourselves with any of the trappings of success that we can show our moms as a way of proving we “made it”. It is simply to let our Mom know we love her. So, if your Mom is still alive, give her a call. Not just this Sunday, but often. Let her know you love her every way you can. And if you’re lucky, when she’s gone, you’ll be able to remember all the times you called, and whoever answered the phone said, “Honey, it’s (insert your name here) AGAIN!”, instead of “Who’s that?”
Happy Mother’s Day (and give your Mom a hug from me),