Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Mom's Best

I was chatting with a friend yesterday and she gave me some excellent food for thought. You know those times when you feel your whole way of thinking has been turned sideways? It's like that. I've been munching on it ever since.

For many years I've realized my mother really did the best she could as a parent. Before that, I spent many years believing she could have done better but chose not to. I also spent many years punishing her for her failure to do better.

I was talking about this with the friend. She said the same: "They did the best the could with their lives at the time."

Then she hit me with this: "But maybe it's expecting too much that they give their best -- I didn't give my best as a parent."

WHAT?! You mean, cut parents some slack? Just as we do for people performing EVERY OTHER KIND OF WORK? Gadzooks.

Where did we get this idea that parents (especially mothers) must do their very best? Give 110%? Outperform all other mothers? Crazy. What would it mean to accept that my mother and all other mothers did just okay? Some days, excellent. Some days, not so good. Overall, slightly better than average.

Like I said, food for thought. Thanks, renate.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Gratitude, After a Fashion

When I called Mom today to wish her a happy Mother's Day (a day early) she told me, "I didn't get any mail today!"


"Oh there was a card from you. But nothing else!"

She meant to say, "Thank you. You are such a thoughtful daughter."


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Next Book on My List

No Saint

My mom told me Sunday that all three of my sisters are joining her at the family reunion in Utah this summer.

"You should come!"

I told her I can't because I'm using vacation time for a trip to Seattle in July. Also, I said, "They'll all have a better time if I'm not there. I'm a troublemaker."

Translation: My sister L and I are not speaking and it would be unbearable if we were both there.

I wouldn't have gone anyway. It's an event by, for and about Mormons. The family that's reuniting is made up of the descendants of my mom's grandmother, a woman who died young "because she had too many kids!" (according to my mom).

I'm sad that my family is having a reunion without me. I'm sad that they'll have a better time without me there. I'm sad that I'll never have the kind of relationship with my sisters that I dream of having. I gave up the fantasy of a perfect relationship with my mother many years ago (thank you, former therapist!). I guess I still hang on to my fantasy about my sisters and me getting along, sharing secrets, laughing a lot and ultimately forming a four-part a cappella singing group that appears weekly on Lawrence Welk. Time to let that go.

Later in the conversation with Mom, she told me (again) that she doesn't want to live to be 100. In fact, she said, "I'm not sure WHY I'm still here! Haven't I fulfilled my purpose?" Then she told me she'd been "fulfilling" her "purpose" for the past year and feeling good about it: "Your sister has been coming to church with me EVERY WEEK!"

As background, I must now tell you the Story of Mom's Purpose. Quite a few years ago, when Mom could still see well and was driving herself around in her gigantic American car, she took a trip to see my sister L and her family. She drove over a mountain pass. It was icy. Her car spun out of control on the ice. She landed in a ditch. She and the car were completely unharmed. She was "inspired" that her life was spared because she still had an unfulfilled purpose. She decided (or was "inspired") that her purpose was to bring my sister J and me back into the fold of Mormonism. Every time I hear her tell this story, I fall back on the same joke as a reply: "The only reason I'm staying away from the church is because I want you to live forever, Mom!" Ha. Ha ha ha. It's our little way of communicating something important without saying the words that could cause a huge split. Mother is saying, "I wish you would be a Mormon again. I'm unhappy as long as you stay outside the church." I am saying, "I am never going back, no matter how many times you drag out this tired old story."

So back to last Sunday. Mother tells me half her life's purpose is fulfilled -- J is going to church! Every week! The truth is, J goes because Mom needs help and probably couldn't find the restroom without J's help.

After telling me this, Mom says, "Now if I could only get that YOUNGEST child of mine in shape!"

My refusal to buckle and rejoin the church of Joseph Smith is what's keeping Mother here on this earth, instead of finally dying and joyously rejoining my father (and her parents and sister and all our family pets) in the celestial realm. It's MY FAULT. And furthermore, no matter what I accomplish in this life, it's not enough to offset this one big shortcoming.

"Nobel Prize? Sure it's nice, but you know she still doesn't go to church."

My husband asked me, "Why do you even CALL her?"

I call her because she's my mother and I want to be the best daughter I can be. For me. I know that I will never make her happy, or proud. I know that she will spend the rest of her life hoping that I will come to my senses and be a good Mormon woman. Anything short of that will mark me a failure in her eyes. But I will be able to look myself in the mirror on the day after she dies and know I did everything I could to be a good daughter to her. And I will be proud of myself for that. Because honestly? It ain't always easy.