Mother's Day part deux

Mother's Day forces me to contemplate motherhood, and my own complicated feelings about that particular state of being.

My own mother, who I love dearly, is kind of a nut, and I learned more how *not* to do things from her than I can ever fully articulate. When my older sister and I were little, we constantly worked to gain attention from mommy, who was generally neglectful - she would send us outside on summer mornings at 7am, remind us that we couldn't knock on anyone else's door until 9am, and we wouldn't see her again until it was time to come in at 6pm, to eat dinner, take a bath, and go to bed (our bedtime was a firm 8pm, no matter the time of year - I have sorrowful memories of listening to all the kids in the neighborhood playing our invented game "kisserbug" (freeze tag, with the twist that in order to move again, you had to get kissed by someone who wasn't It - what can I say, we were a curious bunch).

In addition to generally ignoring us, letting us beg off of neighbor's for lunches and drinks and use of their bathroom, she was also the person who taught us the meaning of the word "betrayal". She would wait until my father was in a bad mood (always a short wait), and then start letting him know the many ways we misbehaved, pressing harder and harder on him, asking him what he was going to do about it, and then we would find ourselves on the wrong side of his fists. Those were nights (and it wasn't every day, but it was frequent enough), where I went to bed sobbing so hard it took me hours to catch my breath, but I stifled the noise lest I rile him up again.

She also taught us how to lie, and oh, she was a masterful liar. She taught us to make sure our story had elements of truth, to not overelaborate, to change the subject if questions about our story arose. We particularly had to lie to protect her from my father - she would go out and buy something we couldn't afford, and then make up a story about how someone in her family sent her the new chair or lamp, and we kids had to back her up. My older sister mentioned to me recently how she still feels like embellishing things that actually happened with fantastic lies, because its the way we were raised - if we could come up with a lie that entertained, that was enough to get us out of the hotseat sometimes.

Then again, my mother would sometimes pack all the kids in the neighborhood into her van and take us all to the drive-in. She taught us how to jump double-dutch, how to use a pogo stick, how to make a whistle out of a blade of grass. She taught us all kinds of "Miss Suzy" hand-slapping games. She was famous amongst my friends for giving out socks at birthday parties - everyone called her the "Sock Lady". She taught us a million songs. She never blinked an eye no matter what kind of animal we brought home - although she was a city slicker, she didn't balk from snakes, lizards, frogs, turtles - even a bat. Somehow, those good things she gave us seem to outweigh the bad. When I look at my mother now, I look at her with empathy, understanding how she really didn't know what the hell she was doing most of the time. When you have bad parents yourself (and she did have lousy parents - an abusive drunk (she married a man just like dear old dad) and a mother who treated her like a black sheep), you never get to see how to be a good parent.

There are times when I think I'm the greatest mom in the world, and there are times when I'm sure I'm ruining my children's lives. I often feel like the motherhood manual that other moms seem to have read (the one that says when they're supposed to have their physicals and dentist appointments and how to discipline and how to get your kids to make their beds and set the table and whether or not 7 is too young to have a sleepover party) somehow missed getting sent to me, that I'm the only mother stumbling through, not really knowing what the hell I'm doing.

To combat my many weaknesses as a mother, I tell them, every day, that I love them. They know that they can talk to me about anything. They know if they tell me that it's a secret, that I won't tell anyone, not even daddy*. I admit when I'm wrong. I apologise when I overreact. I build them up, because to me, these two young woman are the coolest, most amazing, beautiful, hilarious, intelligent people I know. Without them, I wouldn't be a mother, and so on Mother's Day, I have to thank my Sio and my Monkey for being my kids. They make me look like I know what I'm doing.

*unless of course it's something very very serious, which thank all the forces of the universe, has never happened.

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