Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to EVERYONE! You might not be a mother – but you have one!

It may be a “holiday” dreamed up by a greeting card company, but it’s the one day we kinda, sorta, hafta honor our mothers and all the mothers around us.

For the second half of the 20th Century until today, Americans honor mothers on a Sunday in May. And that’s a good thing. Whether your mother was one of the greats, kind of okay, or downright horrible — you wouldn’t be here without her! * So we can all at least think about mothers one day a year. It’s a big and weighted subject, but we’ll keep away from Freud and Shakespeare and offer up some testimonials instead…

…to motherhood! It’s the toughest blessing you ever get….the most wonderful work…the heartbreakingest joy. And “as long as you both shall live” and probably beyond, children and mothers are some of the most intimate and strongest connections we ever have.

Even children of marginally good mothers, usually love them. My own mom was such a smothermother I always kept a thousand miles between us, but I LOVED her. And if I’d understood more about her own frailties and motherhood itself, I might have been more appreciative of her earlier. She was wonderful as a mother to us as small children. The best. As was her own mother. My father’s mother….not so much. But my dad loved her until the day she died, even though she never told him she loved him.

I didn’t plan to be a mother. I was part of the first wave of zeropopulationgrowth awareness, in the late 60s, so I told my friends “they could have my 2 children,” I was “too selfish for children anyway,” “children are too much work” — and proceeded with a decade of travel and adventure.

I wasn’t 100% wrong about any of my reasons for not having children, though most of that thinking I’ve recanted. And I was right to start out with the decade of travel and adventure — I’ve nothing to wonder if I’ve missed out on, ever. I’ve already bored you with many of my travel stories. And there’s always more of the world to see….

What I didn’t understand was the absolute JOY of MOTHERHOOD.

The whole experience is a wonder that I am so thrilled I did not miss.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s challenging, and no, none of us ever feels like we’ve done it exactly right. You second guess everything. You worry about minutiae. You fret about them. Hover. Smother. Give them space. Too much space. Not enough space. There are no guidebooks for your child, and from what I can see of my husband’s three, or his daughter’s five — none of them are alike.

Children are God’s gift to us, to remind us of Him. It doesn’t matter how they come about or how you feel about God, children show us our better selves. We forget that when they are whiny teenagers, but, nonetheless.

When I met my son’s dad for the second time, when we fell in love, I was 30 and he was 37. We had no intention of having children. He was from a rather Dickensian childhood and had been a world wanderer like me. Our plan was a seagoing sailboat and a global cruise of our own, instead of working on other people’s boats…so we went to Las Vegas, where Ken owned a house, intending to “make some money and make our plans.”

But you know how God feels about plans…and when I got pregnant, we both knew it was supposed to happen. It was the best thing that happened to either one of us.

Our son is still the best thing that happened to me.

Ken was a great dad. He was kind and strong. He loved his son, but he’d had both kinds of parents himself: one who was too strict and one who was oblivious. So he found a good balance. He was a skilled woodworker and his shop was at home, and working with a hands on skill gave him a very special environment to share with the little guy. So even though our son went to a daycare while I worked at the Clark County Library, the father/son bond was the major connection. The little guy adored his dad.

But when the little guy was only 5, Ken got pancreatic cancer and he died 3 days before his 43rd birthday.

That’s when I became a real mother. Never a great one. Often not even a very good one, and one who made many mistakes. But when it was just the little man and me, I was responsible for another human being. The only one responsible. It was something I had never wanted to be. It had been one of my reasons for not having kids: the idea that marriages didn’t last -being a single parent. It hadn’t occurred to me that Ken would die.

All of a sudden I was alone with a just barely 5 year old. And I was a mess. I was a 35 year old single mother in Seattle.

And that is exactly what saved me. The mother part.

That is part of the gift from God – responsibility for another person.

A little person. You have to teach them things and make sure they don’t die. You have to keep them from wandering off, or doing dangerous stuff. You have to have a job, buy food, provide a roof, bed, toys, school, clothes, shoes, pets, books….

And they don’t stay “trained” like dogs, or lay around like cats. They require constant supervision for a long time. Some still require supervision as adults. LOL.

So, the “selfish” excuse? That was definitely valid. If you are selfish, and you’re a parent, get over it. Those little critters are going to spit up on the Italian suit. Guaranteed. They’re going to do something unexpected when you thought they were okay. Count on it. Always.

Children are worth all of it. Every moment that has been messy or inconvenient or undignified is rewarded. Difficult children. Challenging children. Even perfect children will bring learning curves and realizations. And joy. Love that cannot be described. Laughter. Pride. Pain. And joy.

Being a mother is the best thing I ever did. It beats out all the glamorous and dangerous adventures. It is better than the best stories. I know now why my own mother always “wished we were closer” and I am glad for things like Duo and texting.

Being a mother is just as hard as I thought it would be. Harder. But being a mother made my life. It saved my life. It has continued to make me a better person as I have grown with it. It has forced me to confront my own broken parts. It has helped me understand other people’s.

Being a mother becomes a sort of interactive therapy as years go buy. You talk through things with your children as they grow, and you learn things about yourself. When they become adults, you continue but it’s different, because when our children grow up we can actually see the results of parenting — good and bad — sometimes they even tells us how awful! But that is part of it all, and honestly, it’s not a bad thing. Self-examination and sanding off some of the sore spots can make a difference in lots of lives.

When I first apologized for dragging my son around the four corners of America while I sorted out my own emotional baggage, he was in his thirties himself. Even though there were some missteps and perhaps the geographic cure didn’t work as well as I thought, he had reckoned with it by realizing that he had more varied childhood experiences than most adults he knew. I mean, he did spend a few weeks every summer in a real circus….. when you’ve ridden an elephant at 6 and been on a trapeze at 10…you don’t feel like you missed much. He got to study acting at the oldest theatre in America, and lived in a tent in the Everglades….so, for a kid, even if his mother was a screwball, it wasn’t that bad a life.

But I didn’t know that, and felt guilty. So I apologized and told him what I was going through during those times. Things I couldn’t tell a child. And he told me some of the things he experienced. Presumably that collective knowledge helps with his own son down the road. And it helps us both realize that love transcends all that. Mother/child love transcends things that adult love can hardly fathom.

Mothers help to make us who we become, and good or bad, it’s inescapable. Adoptive mothers, too. And even mothers we don’t know can influence our lives – just ask someone who’s sought their biological parents. Stepmothers too. Women who mother children are women who shape children.

And today we thank them!

  • Thankfully, we have not yet reached the bleak “utopia” of Brave New World where babies are “decanted” and “mother” is a dirty word. We’ll talk about that some other time.

About Carol Joy Shannon

A former sailor of the seven seas, living in my beloved Lowcountry, between the blackwater swamps and the saltmarshes, surrounded by pre-revolutionary history.....thinking about current events....painting dinosaurs and other whimsical animals for children, with the occasional abstract or new cityscape for my delightful collectors. The best thing about being a seasoned old salt is sitting down not running around, so...
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5 Responses to Happy Mother’s Day!

  1. Brenda Wilson-Carver says:

    This is perfection, Carol! Really captures so much and you candor is appreciated. We mothers, most of us, do question ourselves to our death, I imagine. The pictures are awesome.

  2. Brenda Wilson-Carver says:

    Happy Mother’s Day to you! Hope you are having a good one.

  3. Mary says:

    Wow!!! What a fun and interesting life. I love your writing! I hope you are ok if I share it on fb.
    Love you sweet friend!
    Abundant Blessings,

  4. Joyce powell says:

    What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing.

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