by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger
“May your hearts not break…”—A Wish for My Children, Evangeline Paterson
I don’t remember anything about my last Mother’s Day with my mom. Other than that it was in 2011. It may be because it was ordinary and the details would disappoint in their blandness. We gathered at her home for gifts, food, and family. Did we bring flowers? No idea. Then we hugged and kissed her goodbye, not prepared for the next Mother’s Day, the one where I was supposed to place flowers on her grave.
I didn’t leave a bouquet or a planter near my mother’s headstone last week. Doing so may feel right and comforting for some, but not for me. Every flower I’ve ever left at the cemetery mocks me and reminds me of the ones I didn’t place in a vase in my Mom’s kitchen when she could appreciate them. And I guarantee you if she were sitting beside me, she’d say in her supportive way, “You gave me tons of flowers! Don’t say that!” But I would say it anyway.
It’s not just that I miss my mom on Mother’s Day. (I miss her every day.) But Mother’s Day confuses me because the meaning of the day gets less and less obvious to me as I grow older. It feels like at a certain point in your “career” as a mother, you should take inventory, if you will. Yes, you’re always a mother, but your children have become—by all objective measures—adults. You’ve left behind the grades, the trophies, and the accolades that accompany academics, teams, and activities that are part of almost every child’s world (and yours, for a short time.) What do you celebrate now? The intangibles that matter so much more, I know: kindness and empathy; sincerity and grace; generosity and ethics; respect and curiosity. But I keep trying to sort this out—when does your child’s life stop being a measure of you as parent and start becoming one of them as an adult?
Parents seem to take on the results either way. Society values and celebrates financial success, so you proudly exclaim details about the brilliant white-collar professional you raised, and everyone gives that a “Like” and congratulates you on your “achievement.” You’ve scored the gold medal. And when your child’s path isn’t littered with promotions, a luxury lifestyle, and a six-figure salary by age 27, you take that on, as well—that mantle of someone who raised a child who is “finding his/her direction.” Sure, you were in the race but have little more than your finishing time to your credit.
In my more lucid moments, I realize that the “scoring” is subjective at best. I remind myself about the lessons so beautifully illustrated in Animal School, and how individuality and unique gifts are undervalued. My children are many, many things, and among them—thank you, God—they are individuals. And forget about the road less traveled. Sometimes it feels like they’re hacking their way through jungles and blazing trails, even as I keep pointing to the one that’s so familiar—I walked it myself!—so much smoother, so much more accessible, all but begging them to take it.
“Nah, thanks anyway, Mom.”
So back to my question: How much of you remains within your young adult? My theory is that it’s the inverse of age. As your children are growing up, much of them is you. It has to be. They need someone to model and “try on” as they grow. But as they reach a stage of independence or semi-independence, they surprise you with something that is uniquely them; with tiny moments of you still there…the parts you hoped would “stick.”
I’ve learned this much: Children inevitably grow up to be themselves. No more, no less. So the choice is yours: Do you celebrate that tidbit of equity you’ve established or feel dismay at its diminished role? I’ll share one example, courtesy of one of the unique individuals I helped raise. You decide what choice you think I made.
The good news: My son Cameron and his girlfriend, Sarah, love a good night out.
The bad news: Sometimes they choose a venue that feels a little…dive-ish?
The good news: The bar they chose recently was holding a “game night.”
The bad news: The game took place AFTER happy hour.
The good news: It was a spelling bee, and Cameron is a very good speller.
The bad news: It was a “stripped down” spelling bee, where contestants start off on stage in only their underwear. (I mentioned this was after happy hour, right?)
The good news: Cameron is sort of fearless, at least when it comes to first prize being $100 and second prize being $50.
The bad news: Cameron is sort of fearless, especially when it comes to what anyone thinks of him.
Me (the night before, incredulous): “In your underwear? Can you spell ‘indecent exposure’? Don’t you think they hope WOMEN will be in their underwear? And that they’ll start the contest as late as possible so more people will stay longer and buy more drinks? After the contestants are all slightly hammered and won’t be able to spell ‘beer?’ Don’t you think this has all the makings of a disaster?”
The bad news: He came in second.
The good news: He misspelled gonorrhea.
I call that excellent news.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.