“I was hard on them. They’ll get over it.”
This is my mother. She had been working in my gardens and had recently transplanted a bunch of purple pansies to an empty spot. When I commented that they looked a little woe-begone, she replied with a shrug, “I was hard on them. They’ll get over it.”
I laughed and immediately texted my brother, joking that this seemed to be not only our Mother’s gardening technique, but also her parenting style. My Mother good naturedly laughed about the joke. But when it came up again a little later, she asked a little self-consciously, “Was I really that hard on you?”
I am a little embarrassed to admit that this was the first time I realized that my Mother has not always been a mother. I mean, I knew it but I didn’t understand it until that moment. Growing up, she had always seemed so confident and in-charge as a parent that I never questioned her status as such nor imagined that she would feel any uncertainties as one.
Even before me, I suspect my Mother was a motherly person, it seems ingrained in her personality. This is my poor excuse for my inability to disconnect her from being a mother to being someone learning something for the first time. As the saying goes: Experience is a hard teacher – it gives the test first and the lesson after.
It’s easier to remember the disciplinarian in my Mother – this is the “I was hard on them” part of her. But there is also the “They’ll get over it” part. And we did get over it, because although my Mother could be hard, she was also warm and comforting. And no matter which part, she always loved us.
When I was a child, my parents would often read to my brother and I before bed. Although we had many favourites, I remember frequently picking Love You Forever by Robert Munsch for my mother to read. It wasn’t my favourite and I definitely did not understand the true depth of the story. But something strange would happen when my mother read that book – she cried.
As a child, crying happens when you are hurt, sick, tired, or just uncomfortable. The concept of sympathy or empathy hasn’t been born yet. And here was my mother, source of comfort and wielder of justice, shedding tears over a children’s book – surely nothing to cry over I thought at the time.
If you have ever read the book, you can understand why she, as a mother, daughter, and granddaughter, could relate and be moved to tears.
However, as a child, I did not understand. I am ashamed to say I would purposefully pick that book because I knew its affect on her. And while she read, I wouldn’t be looking at the illustrations but my mother’s face, giddy with anticipation for the tears that would inevitably come. I was curious about this odd phenomenon so I repeated the circumstances. My mother knew exactly what I was doing. I vaguely recollect her admonishing me for my childish cruelty. Yet she still read the book.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this is where my empathy was born. It took years to cultivate and grow but this was the start.
As an adult, although I do not have children of my own, I now understand the depth and emotion of Love You Forever. Maybe not as a parent, but as a daughter, granddaughter, niece, and as someone who has helplessly watched as loved ones suffered and passed away.
And now it is my turn to cry when I read this book. Because thanks to you, Mom, I understand what it is to love.
So to answer your question a little belatedly:
It might have felt like you were being hard on us sometimes but it was BECAUSE you loved us. And even though we drove you crazy and you might have wanted to sell us to the zoo, as the book says: you’ll love us forever, you’ll like us for always, as long as you’re living, your babies we’ll be.
And you want to know something else? We love you too – we’ll love you forever, we’ll like you for always, as long as we’re living, our Mother you’ll be.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!