Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Errand of Angels...and Raising Them

Today is my second son's 30th birthday, a milestone event, to be sure. Next month, my youngest boy (and I use the term loosely) will turn 28, and my lovely daughter already hit 32 in February. October will make me the mother of a 35-year-old man, which will be a pretty big shock to both of our systems, I suspect.

You may remember that I did lengthy, over-the-top birthday tributes for every member of my family in 2009; this year I'll just be doing the honors in person. I will, however, be writing about motherhood today, because the four delightful people I brought into the world more decades ago than seems possible are doing me the honor every day of being my children––unique, interesting, and accomplished individuals of whom I am shamefully proud.

The thing is, motherhood has been on my mind a lot lately, partially as a result of these birthday reminders, but also because Segullah (one of my favorite internet venues) has been discussing the subject this week, most notably here (A Natural Woman, by Angela), but also here and here. If you can't take time to read all three, go with the first one, because the comments made there by some of the coolest readers around (next to my own, of course) are unfailingly interesting, intelligent, and inspirational. Not only is Angela one heck of a writer, but her commenters are great, too! I also enjoyed reading Jim Rowberry's thoughts on cjane, relative to the art of loving your wife during the postpartum phase. Such a sweet, wise, and funny offering it was from a young man who grew up in my ward before establishing his current home in Salt Lake City. (How surprising and sort of surreal it was, hopping over to cjane for my daily perusal of her blog and running into his smiling, familiar face...looking almost exactly as it did 10 years ago, I might add.) It's A Small World, especially when you're LDS.

But back to the subject at hand. Motherhood. And my love for it. The discussion on Angela's post at Segullah centered around the premise that women are "natural" mothers, blessed with a gift that makes us uniquely suited to raise and nurture children. Most there agreed that the basic statement was true, but some disagreed about the definition of "natural," and many chafed a bit at the onus and expectation that seem to accompany motherhood when presented in that light. Two particularly interesting points were made by Angela in her essay: First, that not one of us is perfect, despite suggestions to the contrary in the form of tributes, pedestals, and platitudes that only serve to make some women feel that they are falling short of the mark; and second, that motherhood doesn't come "naturally" to all of us but that excellence in that area is, rather, a result of hard work, very personal choices, and sacrifice. Angela maintains rather sensibly that a woman should be able to own her efforts and be credited for and by them, rather than having the inference constantly made that the behaviors around motherhood come easily to her. What's more, Angela does not feel edified by having the paragon of a proverbial "angel mother" held up to her every time she turns around, at church or elsewhere, nor does she believe that such an unreachable ideal is particularly helpful or motivating for the many struggling mothers who are painfully aware that, if angel motherhood exists, they are still looking for their wings. All good points and worth thinking about.

The discussion went in a lot of different directions, many that had little to do with Angela's own opinions. But that's what made the whole thing so interesting...and since I don't have time or room to discuss it in greater detail here, that's also why you should head on over and read it yourself! I will say, though, that a common thread emerged and surprised me because it was so well-represented...the reality that, while all of the women there were happy to be mothers, an unexpected (by me) number of them were not especially comfortable in that role, and a few even found the particulars of the job rather unpleasant...more duty than pleasure. It made me grateful that being the mother of my children is an exercise I have been blessed to enjoy in every aspect. It also occurs to me that my liking for the job may be a direct result of the particular children who came my way, lo those many years ago.

My children pretty much rock...and they always have. Oh sure, they did put up the usual fights and fusses...went through the awful phases, stages, and difficult ages...but even as young children, they never once made my life utterly miserable or inspired me to wonder what on earth I had ever gotten myself into by having four children so close together. If it hadn't been for all the sicknesses they seemed to attract like magnets in their younger years...and the teenage/young adult antics that I still maintain turned my hair grey...the whole experience would have been perfect! Instead, it was perfectly wonderful. (And it still is, despite the ups and downs and ins and outs of their adult lives.) In fact, being their mother is my favorite thing. Why? Because of who they are.

So I want to thank them...each one...but particularly Ryan, since this is his birthday. Thank you, Ry, for coming my way 30 years ago with your wide, wondering eyes; smashed baby nose; down-covered head; and crooked little feet (things got a bit tight in utero). Oh, how I loved and love being your unabashedly imperfect mom.

And Matt's.
And Karin's.
And Todd's.

Yep. I am one lucky mother. Which may be why the controversial notion of "angel mothers" (and similarly lofty characterizations, discussed with no small amount of angst by Angela and others over at Segullah and infused into our culture by Abraham Lincoln so many years ago) fails to make me feel much of anything but special.

Or at least, potentially so.

***Don't forget that today is your last chance to enter my 500th-post giveaway by making just one comment here. Winners of the special edition Penguin classic books by Jane Austen and the super-cute tote by Ronna will be announced tomorrow morning. Good luck!


Kiurious said...

It was a good read, although I am not a mother myself, I hope to be one some day. I hope that I enjoy it as much as you have. Thanks for sharing!

KC Mom said...

I needed this especially today and I'm going to go over and read segullah's stuff.
I'm feeling more inadequate then ever this week.

Jess said...

It's good to know that you still love being a mother even through the awful phases- we're currently in one that feels like it has been far too long- I love how honest you are about all parts of motherhood, and that fact that you love it! You are such a good example for me- thanks

jendoop said...

Sue, I have been to your site before, I just didn't remember it! What caused me to remember is your music - I spent an entire afternoon listening to it once. And then when Cat Stevens played as soon as I clicked over it assured your awesome-ness.

Thanks for your additional thoughts about the Segullah discussion.

karen said...

As soon as I finish here I'll head over to read, but wanted to say that I'm more in the camp of being uncomfortable with the "angel mother" description. When my first baby was still tiny, I can remember watching him sleep, and thinking that I was going to be the best mother ever - completely awesome and perfect. Well, we all know how that always turns out. I made mistakes - a lot of them - but as it turned out, there were many, many more good times than bad. The funny thing is - the events I remember as being iconic and perfect are rarely the things that my children remember. I've come to the realization that it's not so much the perfect birthday parties or the perfectly planned days that make the best memories. The memories that stay in the heart happen very naturally, and are so everyday normal that you would never classify them in your own mind as memorable. So you never know, do you, what sweet moment will last an eternity and help to make your children the people they become. We need to try to enjoy it all a bit more, don't we - the quiet moments as well as the big, splashy ones.

Sue said...

So, so true Karen.

And the way you recall feeling as a brand new mother reflects much the same sentiment that a lot of the women were describing over at Segullah, especially the younger ones. They had their first babies and immediately expected themselves to be perfect, feeling considerably "less than" when they fell short of that mark (as we all, invariably, must). Also like you, mothers with this mindset seemed to get considerably easier on themselves as they matured and realized that perfection is not required, especially in the superficial details but also in the big things.

Wouldn't it be so much better if we were all just a little gentler with ourselves? But so often, we are anything but...


Cherie said...

As long as I could remember I always wanted to be a mother. That was my great goal in life and I have been happy to have that "job" (I use the term loosly as it is really a blessing!)
I believe being a Mother is one of the greatest gifts that Heavenly Father bestows upon us as women :D

Katie said...

Sue I just LOVE this post! I am right there with ya sister-I absolutely LOVE being a mother and love my girls more than anything. I feel so special that I was trusted enough to have them brought to me. What a great tribute to your children. They're lucky to have you as their mother!

Momza said...

I really enjoyed Jim's counsel so much! I even linked it on my Colorado Homebirths blog!
Wonderful perfect advice from him!

Just ME the MOM said...


Thank you for the wonderful links you shared and I'm just grateful I had the time today to visit them and read. I did enjoy especially your comment on the first link and you expressed many of my own sentiments I have not been able to put into words to share with those who surround me at this time and deal with these issues each day (really do wish I was a more giftede writer and orator . . .)

Anyway - for me it's a keeper for sure and so appropriate for this time of year. We do want to honor motherhood :)


Maggie said...

Love this post! What a great mother and person you are and thank you for sharing this with us.
Mothers like you are what keeps hope going for our future generations. Without the love and support of good mothers like yourself there would be no hope for our grandchildren.
I too feel like you about raising my children. It was hard because of me working two and three jobs all the time but never once did I ever question or regret motherhood.
I consider the best thing that ever happened to me in my lifetime.
We are both blessed with beautiful smart children and thank goodness we appreciate it.
I will check out the writing you mentioned in the post.
Take care

Michelle said...

I loved your comments on Segullah. I wish we could talk in person about it.

xoxo, m

Darlene said...

I too enjoyed this post so much. It took me a long time to read it because I went to Angela's post and read it, and many of the comments there. As I pondered over all I read, I felt that I had to agree with everyone. It's good that so many have experienced the good, bad and sometimes painful experiences that come with being a mother.

I first of all reflected on my own mom, who I think came close to being a true Angel Mother. I so wish I could have been like her. My perception was that she was perfect. Of course she must have had her moments, but if she ever did, she never let me see them. I cannot in truth, remember any time when she was angry with me. I so wanted her good opinion of me that I strived to be good so that she would be proud of me. The one thing she told me that stands out strongly in my memory is when she said, " Just don't do anything that you wouldn't do if I were there." I can't tell you how many times that helped me when I would find myself in a bad situation. One particular memory was when I had to walk three miles home in the wee hours of the morning all alone in order to get out of an extremely bad situation. When I arrived, she was there waiting for me wide awake and I was so happy to be able to share my awful experience with her and have her accept and rejoice with me that nothing bad had happened to me. She didn't scold me or reprimand me in any way, she just comforted me and I'm sure felt supremely happy that her words of wisdom were there for me when I needed them. I could share everything with her and I did. My loss was overpowering when she died. But, fortunately, I felt her spirit with me for years after and never a day goes my without my thinking about her.

It's a good thing I don't try to place myself in her category. I would fall too short. I did, however, enjoy being a mother so much. I wanted a child so much and just didn't seem to ever get pregnant and when I was able to adopt a tiny baby just three days old, I was overjoyed. I was one of seven children and even though I was way younger than my siblings, I always wanted a large family for myself. I didn't want to have them all spread out like mine were. I had to wait six years after I was married to have my first little adopted daughter. No one could ever know how much it meant to me to have four children after that first wonderful experience.

Now that I will be 83 in three more days, I can look back, and I often do, to the great days of my own mothering. Yes, there were problems. It wasn't easy, but oh, so rewarding. I miss the closeness of my children more than anything. Sometimes, it is hard for me to come to grips with the fact that they have families of their own that fill their lives so much, that at time, it seems to me as if they don't have the time for me in their lives that I wish they had. And yet, I know that they love me. I often feel that I am on the outside looking in. I think that is the hardest part of all about motherhood....just being able to let go. But I can honestly say that I wouldn't change much about those years, because all five of my children have become independent, strong, successful adults who have made their way in this difficult world. I must have done something right, not that I claim a portion of their success, but still, I think a mother's influence must help in some small way.

Yes, it would have been good if I had handled some things differently, but having admitted that, everything seems to have turned out pretty well anyway and oh how I did enjoy the journey,

You young people have so much to look forward to, and you all seem to have such good sense and insight that I am sure you will all experience much happiness in your mothering.

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