Archive for Sunday, May 9, 2004

Commentary: There’s no such thing as a stereotypical mother

May 9, 2004


"She was a wonderful woman, but it was hard having her for a mother," I recently heard a woman say, and it made me think that God knew what he was doing when he gave me sons. I'm sure I'm not alone in that thought because I can hear daughters throughout America thankfully sighing, "Whew! Dodged THAT bullet."

As the oldest -- and therefore alpha-girl -- of four daughters, I am an expert in female relationships, and I can assure you that mother-daughter relationships are complicated at best, impossible at worst. The underlying ingredient in those relationships is that mothers and daughters have a deep, abiding love for each other ... even when neither of them wants to admit it.

A mother's main job is to embarrass her daughter and drive her crazy, while a daughter's primary job is to embarrass her mother and drive her nuts. This can be accomplished by a mother appearing in public in short-shorts that clash with her varicose veins or by a daughter wearing an outfit to church that shows off her new belly-button piercing.

Mothers can embarrass sons, too (I know I did), but it doesn't drive sons crazy. "Oh, you know Mom," they'd say dismissively to their friends when I did or said something silly. And their friends would nod in understanding because each of them had to put up with a mom just like me. Daughters are ... well ... different.

As a young child, I thought my mother walked on water. Mom was an "indoor mother." The best thing about coming home from school was knowing Mom would be there, ready to feed me and listen to a recount of my day. She cooked, she sewed, she ironed, and God only knows how many mops she wore out scrubbing the kitchen floor. The only times she wasn't at home, she was volunteering at school, preparing for a PTA meeting or directing a third-grade play. And, because she was always perfectly-coifed and groomed, my schoolmates thought she was beautiful. So did I.

My husband Ray's mom, Christina, was an "outdoor mother." When Ray was growing up on a farm, his dad worked in town, so most of the chores were done by Ray and his mom. Together they planted and harvested, milked cows and fed chickens. One day, when they were replacing shingles on the house roof, a car drove into the yard. The driver asked Christina if her husband knew what she was doing. She answered that he did, and the man then asked where her husband worked. That evening Ray's dad came home with an insurance policy the man had sold him on Christina's life.

At 92, Christina monitors her strawberry plants multiple times daily and is enjoying reading again, now that she has discovered large-print books. Mom, who is 87, tools around her home in an electric wheelchair and frequently checks her computer for e-mail. Ray and I know that we are fortunate to still have our mothers, and once every week, weather permitting, we bring them to our home in the country for dinner.

Last week, with our mothers in the back seat, Ray braked the car to a halt in our driveway, chased down on foot a baby killdeer and -- gently cradling it in his hands -- brought it back to the car to show our mothers. They loved it, and they would have adored the sight of the mother killdeer the next morning, sitting with her wings outspread and sheltering a baby under each wing. You don't have to be human to be a good mother.

And human mothers don't have to fit a stereotypical image. My late friend Emily, who never gave birth herself, mothered a nephew and countless thousands of young women. My oldest son mothered his son for several years, washing B.J.'s hair, doing his laundry and attending parent-teacher conferences. My daughter-in-law Val mothers three children, two cats, a bearded dragon and four snakes. My sister Bette is mother-turned-nurse for her son Mike, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Being a mother is like riding a bicycle. You never forget how to do it. My mom mothered B.J., her great-grandchild, while his father was working, and Ray's mom mothered her sister, who had Down syndrome, for many years after their own mother died. Currently, my friend LaDonna is mothering her granddaughter. When I mentioned to her that Cassie was fortunate to have her, LaDonna replied, "No, I'm the lucky one."

So, to mothers everywhere ... regardless of gender or age ... whether biological or adoptive ... Happy Mother's Day! You've earned it.

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