“Here, sweetie. Take a puff of this. It will calm your nerves a little.”
Sounds like one college girl introducing another to her illustrious first cigarette, perhaps while lounging lakeside after class, flying down a highway with the windows rolled down, or meandering outside a seedy bar that college kids frequent.
I would eventually smoke in all of those places. But not this time.
This time the cigarette was handed to me by my mother, Jamie, when I was 13 years old and we were sitting across from each other in the kitchen of her boyfriend’s house.
In my preteen/early-teen years, my mom was the mom who allowed beer to be kept in our fridge, cigarettes to be smoked on our porch, and all manner of people to dwell around our house.
The mom every teenager loved but was also slightly aware wasn’t parenting well, the mom most adults thought was off her rocker. I feel sure the words, “You cannot hang out at that Toni girl’s house,” were said more than a few times by other moms.
She hadn’t always been that mom. Our roles had started out as normal as any other mother and daughter.
But life changed. It happened, as life tends to do.
And while I plan to talk more about that in an upcoming series on divorce, I will say here that choices made and circumstances out of our control would fracture the relationship between my mother and me.
We all have blind spots. Most of us can only measure ourselves by staring into a hypothetical foggy mirror that barely shows our reflection.
The amount of love I feel for the four babies I brought into this world because of nothing but the Pure Grace of a Merciful Creator is exponentially greater than any love I have ever felt in my life.
But I didn’t realize that I’d brought them here with a job to do.
Wasn’t completely my fault. It was simply a part of myself I couldn’t see.
I didn’t know I was subconsciously expecting my children to heal me, to make me whole.
I didn’t know that no matter how hard I pushed, the pendulum would not swing in my favor.
We would not become the perfect, “normal” family I desired so badly, no matter how much money Clay made, where we moved, how my kids dressed, what activities they participated in, or how I tried to portray myself as a wife, mother, and society member.
Don’t misunderstand; no family is capable of total perfection. Even I know that.
But it seems to me that contrary to what the Bible says, sometimes rain doesn’t fall on both the just and the unjust.
Sometimes rain doesn’t seem to fall on certain people at all.
Even if this isn’t the case, even if we know that no person has a totally perfect life, it’s still easy to see that some do have it so much better than others.
Seemingly perfect children blessed with seemingly perfect mothers.
And then there’s the rest of us.
Those with the mothers who can’t quite get there, regardless of how hard they try.
Moms who drink more than they should.
Moms who are looking for love in all the wrong places.
Moms who fail to do enough to let their children know they care.
Moms who scream too much, are gone too often, or aren’t there at all.
At times I had that kind of mother, and at times I’ve been that kind of mother.
Even though I haven’t left my children physically, there are many times throughout the last sixteen years when I’ve left them mentally.
Many times that in the midst of my own pain and bitterness, my heart just hasn’t been in tune with this motherhood thing at all.
Because mothering is hard. It takes everything out of you.
The love tank you thought to be the only thing inside you capable of depletion is quickly replaced by the worry tank, the one that remains on empty all hours of the day and night.
And the energy tank? Please.
Even good mothers—dare I say perfect mothers—get tired.
Tired of trying so hard to meet other mothers’ expectations. Tired of pretending that all is good when it’s not.
Tired of working so hard to ensure their children have the best possible existence, only to stumble in one area and watch the entire deck of cards come crashing down.
Motherhood, like so many other human endeavors, is not for the faint of heart.
But it is infinitely harder for those of us who struggled with our own mothers.
My mother and I have traveled a rocky road and only recently have begun enjoying a pause by a meadow of peace.
But I’m blessed to say I share fun, happy memories with her.
Like the time she taught all of us girl scouts to pick cotton—by making us jump a private fence to steal some. You’ve never heard so many sneaky giggles.
And there are a few hard memories as well. Driving her home from the Metrocenter Ruby Tuesday at 13 years old after she’d imbibed one too many Walk Me Downs is one that springs to mind, although we laugh about it now because time assures us that’s all we can do.
There are better memories than the fence jumping. Much better.
There are worse memories than driving her home. Much worse.
And I often wonder how my four children’s lives would have benefited from having a mother with a better childhood.
I wonder how my own childhood would have benefited. Mama had it ten times worse than I did. But she chose to accept her mother, flaws and all, because she is one of the most forgiving people I know.
And because parenting is a cycle that sometimes needs to be broken, I asked my oldest son one day what he might do differently with his own child.
I will never spank, he immediately said. I hate hearing Nims cry when you and Daddy get on to her.
I hate spanking, too. Always have.
It was the one thing other than screaming (also guilty of, by the way) that I swore I’d never do.
You forget the things you swear you’ll never do when your child is acting a fool. So the defensive side of me could have snapped back a snarky reply like, Yeah, let me know how well that works when your child acts craptastic.
But you know what? I didn’t say that.
Because I hope Bubba is a better parent than me. I hope all my kids are.
What he’d admitted pressed a bruised spot where I’d been unsuccessful in parenting. Where promises made to myself hadn’t been kept because my focus had been wrongly placed on issues that had nothing to do with my children: my past, my marriage, my selfish wants and needs that hadn’t been fulfilled.
And that is the the hardest part of motherhood, right?
It’s not really feeding our kids, not really clothing them, making sure they have all the incidentals and fundamentals they need.
The hardest part of motherhood is raising children who don’t blame themselves for our choices, frustrations and mistakes.
The hardest part of motherhood is letting your gifts—and children truly are gifts—know that their tiny human imperfections have nothing to do with why you stay so bent out of shape.
It’s shielding them from burdens you pray they will never take upon themselves.
Some of us have an amazing ability to achieve that.
Some of us don’t.
But most of us are right there in the middle.
Most of us are trying desperately to survive this thing called Adulthood while also trying to raise healthy children in a messed up world made messier from lingering childhood wounds.
We are trying to move our gifts to this elusive goal of Successful Adult without too many battle scars.
It’s a calling that never ends.
Because you never stop being a mother. There is no time limit on the title.
The hurts, worries and struggles may morph into different shapes and causes, but they never disappear.
Motherhood is everlasting.
And that goes for both sides, you know.
Deep inside every soul, young and old, is a child who either remembers or wishes for the love of a good mama.
And those the rain seems to fall on most never give up thinking they may be the lucky one whose wish could still come true.