Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day to all the not-my-mothers!

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Unless you’ve been in a coma since stores started advertising pink stuff (right after they marked the Easter chocolate down by 75%), you know that. Hopefully, you took the opportunity to show your mother that you appreciate her. If you are a mother, hopefully, you felt appreciated. Because being a mother can be a tough task (if you’re doing it right, anyway). Those little angels start by wrecking your body as they exit, and they spend years metaphorically drinking your blood, sweat and tears – and, at least for the first little while – they can’t say thank you. In fact, until they’re about four, they don’t give a damn about you and wouldn’t say thank you even if they could. As far as they’re concerned, you’re like the sun and the moon. Up all day and all night, shining for them – it never occurs to them that it could be any different. Bridget expressed utter shock, and a healthy amount of skepticism when she found out, at the age of four, that I actually sleep. And children are expensive! The amount of money I’ve spent on wine and anti-wrinkle creams since becoming a mother could have bought me a yacht by now, I swear.

For years, Ryan did the heavy lifting when it came to making me feel good about being a mother on Mother’s Day. He still gives me a beautifully worded card, and flowers or garden trinkets, makes food and does housework – and, of course, brings home a big ol’ bucket of fried chicken for dinner because nothing tells this Beth she is loved like disgustingly, deliciously greasy food. Now, though, my girls are old enough to treat me well on Mother’s Day – and they do. They gave me fancy bath junk and flavoured teas, two lovely cards and a collection of homemade coupons for everything from dishwasher emptying and lunch-making to a spa day. I had a nice chat with my mother and my mother-in-law. I scrolled my Facebook newsfeed (yes, I’m back) and marveled at just how much people had to say about mothers. Boy, do we ever love our mothers! (Well, on Mother’s Day on social media, we do, anyway.)

Yesterday had me thinking about a different category of women, too, ones that I didn’t say anything about because I didn’t want to take Mother’s Day away from all the deserving mothers out there. I owe my mother alot. More than I’ll ever be able to properly repay. But she isn’t the only woman who mothered me. Over the years, my aunts have spent hours listening to what I have to say. They’ve offered comfort and advice and encouragement. They’ve put me up in their homes and generously shared their fine cooking with me. They’ve celebrated my milestones with me. Likewise, the mothers of my good friends. I ran in and out of their houses, grabbing snacks and making messes and staying the night more times than I can count. They schlepped me to Brownies and piano lessons and figure skating and youth group events right along with their own kids. They took the time to listen to me in a way that showed me they really cared about me – they didn’t have to, and they already had their hands full with their own family, but they did. Even their grandmothers knew who I was and welcomed me at their table right along with everyone else if I happened to be there at dinnertime. Sweet ladies who gave me a hug and kiss just as if I were their granddaughter. My mother’s friends showed up without hesitation when I called them for help (which I did more than once). My mother did the same for my friends. Many of them called her “Mom Two”, and she still asks about them when we talk. I have no doubt that if any of them turned up at her house she’d be thrilled to let them open the fridge, grab a snack and slouch on her couch like they did all those years ago.

I had a series of long-suffering babysitters. My energetic, mischievous, saucy arse surely made them question how badly they needed the money my parents gave them. Yet, they made me feel like I was one of their own children whenever I was dropped off at their house. They’re still cheering for me today, from miles away, complimenting my photos and asking about my vacations and saying “I remember you when”.

I had wonderfully involved female teachers – strong role models, all. They didn’t put up with any bullshit, but they encouraged me to think critically and question what didn’t add up and proudly express myself.

Fiona and Bridget are now benefiting from the same thing – aunts who listen to them, teach them things, make crafts with them, and watch movies with them. Their Auntie Di is even letting them use their baby cousins as test dummies on which to sharpen their babysitting skills. Great-aunts who spoil them from a distance with a little gift for every occasion. Friends’ mothers who kindly open their home to them, offering gentle discipline and encouragement and endless granola bars and popsicles. Friends of mine who rarely show up at our house without a treat for the girls, chat with them with genuine interest in their thoughts and lives, send cards and letters at Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthdays. I am certain these friends would be there for Fiona and Bridget without pause, if ever they are asked. They have had wonderful experiences with daycares of various types. The women (and, yes, they were mainly women) looking after them treated them with a tenderness and concern and emotional generosity that made it clear that Fiona and Bridget were more than just a job to them. Their teachers, from kindergarten all the way to today, have been more than just educators. They’ve been carers. Channelling Fiona’s exuberance into positive change for other students. Reaching through Bridget’s shyness to draw her out of her shell and show her how strong she really is. Taking the time to make sure neither girl is ever left behind in any subject. Finding the best in each of them, and helping them polish it to a high gleam.

Yesterday was a day for mothers, and rightly so. But today I celebrate others. Hallmark has yet to come out with cards for some of these people. I have a few suggestions:

Thank you, sixth-grade teacher, for putting an arm around my shoulder and telling me I was doing just fine in gym class when I hadn’t made a single basket in four weeks of learning basketball.

Thanks, friends’ parents, for not throwing me out of your car on the side of the highway when I led the whole backseat in yowling “There’s a Hole in my Bucket” all the way from Robert’s Arm to Springdale and back.

Sorry for my sass. You didn’t get paid enough to listen to that.

Sorry I broke your stuff even though I didn’t live in your home, and won’t take care of you in your old age.

Thanks, Auntie, for picking up the phone every time, knowing you were going to listen to God-knows-what for God-knows-how-long.

And on and on. Maybe this is more of a Thanksgiving post, but my thank-yous were already long overdue – they couldn’t wait til October. Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day, not-my-mothers!

Motherhood is the gift.

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In case you have just emerged from a lifelong coma, let me share something with you: Mother’s Day is a big deal, y’all! We’re talking spa day big. Diamonds big. Weekend away big. You guys, there is simply nothing that shows adequate appreciation for Mom – chauffeur, chef, maid, nurse, psychiatrist, tutor, playmate, confidante, cheerleader, bankroller and everything else that is really important and would cost mega-money to purchase (but you don’t have to purchase it because Mom is such a flippin’ saint that she does it all for free). So, dig deep …. or Mom will know you’re a complete ingrate who never thinks of anyone but yourself. Of course, she knew that already, because she knows everything about you.

The above parody, as silly as it sounds, really isn’t far from the commercials that air in early May every year. Mothers are such an emotional hot-button, companies know they can wax as nauseatingly gooey as they like, and the general public will play right into their hands. Apparently, many mothers have consumed the Kool-Aid, too – the days after Mother’s Day are just behind the days after Christmas and Valentine’s Day when it comes to filing for divorce. Before Mother’s Day, many mothers hit the net, stating that they want everything from a boozy night out with their girlfriends to a star named after them, whining about the paltry efforts of their children and significant others to make the day special, grimly predicting that Mother’s Day will be just like any other day for them. After Mother’s Day, they come back to complain that it was just as they thought it would be, and that next year they’re buying their own present.

Mother’s Day has been special to me since the day our lovely Fiona made her sharp-eyed, squalling debut. I usually get flowers from Ryan, sweet little handmade whatevers from the girls, and a bucket-of-fried-chicken picnic in the park (I loves me some KFC). This year was no different. Ryan gave me a beautiful bouquet of orange roses, and Bridget chipped in with her allowance because she couldn’t think of a present herself. Fiona gave me a pea plant she planted herself in her classroom, in a decorated pot. I received some nice cards, too. I also put in an order with our two little lovelies. Breakfast in bed just doesn’t work for me, because I am almost always the first one up – and I don’t want anything to do with food until mid-morning or later. So, I told Fiona I wanted her to make me an egg – she fries them just the way I like them. I asked Bridget for a slice of cinnamon toast, because that’s her specialty. I wanted it with a side of fresh fruit, and I wanted it served at ten – not the ass-crack of dawn. I got what I wanted, and ate every bite while two pairs of earnest, eager brown eyes watched my every eyebrow twitch. The KFC picnic has been postponed due to the chilly wind and threat of rain on Sunday. That’s ok; I’ll probably appreciate it more after work one day anyway. These things are nothing big, but I love them. Little gestures of appreciation for my role in this family make me smile, year after year. If they’re all I ever get on Mother’s Day, I’m blessed. I don’t need anything big, because – honestly – when it comes to Mother’s Day, motherhood is the gift.

Yes, being a mother is hard. It’s alot of work, and sometimes it’s utterly thankless. Cleaning a house that is about to get trashed any minute now. Preparing meals that someone always has to complain about. Eating yours cold because you spent mealtime feeding the baby or cleaning up a mess. Laundry – the amazing self-replenishing mountains of laundry! Cutting toenails. Wiping spills, noses and asses. Holding them still while a doctor jabs them with a needle filled with a substance that will keep them from contracting terrible illnesses. Administering foul-tasting medicine you know they need. Being woken up from your badly needed sleep to brush away tears and fears. Trying to keep siblings from destroying each other. Doling out punishments, and ignoring the knots in the pit of your stomach as you listen to them wail. Patiently assisting while they sweat over their homework. Reassuring them, again and again, that the playground bully is wrong – they are worthwhile and intelligent and beautiful. Insisting that they take responsibility for household chores and pets and their own bad habits. Staring down their nasty attitude when they get just a little too big for their britches. Seeing the accusation in their eyes when you choose not to rescue them, in the hope that they’ll learn to rescue themselves. Saying the same damn thing, day after day after day. Sometimes, it feels like you’re shovelling snow in a blizzard. In fact, when their children are very little, alot of mothers confess that all they want for Mother’s Day is to be left alone for more than five minutes! I was one of them, I don’t mind admitting!

But being a mother is also a profound privilege. You are their safe place, their first frame of reference. They have tracked your eyes and voice since birth to understand the world around them. You are all they want when they are sick or hurt. You witness not only their obvious firsts, like steps and words, but also the first time they share voluntarily or recognize that someone else is having a bad day and offer a hug. You are the test subject for everything from their first cartwheel to their first cuss. You get all the questions, from why-is-the-sky-blue to why-did-Grandpa-have-to-die to where-do-babies-come-from. You are the recipient of bouquets of dandelions, sparkly rocks, spontaneous (if, at times, sloppy) kisses. You teach them how to cook a balanced meal, how to clean a bathroom, why you should not leave wet clothes in a plastic bag for more than a day. You share your stories with them, and enjoy their reaction. You hear their take on the world, day after day, because with you they are simply themselves. You soak in their tears and cheer with them over their victories. Until they die, they will hear your words and feel your arms encircling them, whether you’re there or not. You don’t need all that stuff. What you’ve got is beyond price. Happy Mother’s Day, all day, every day.

Kwicherbichin, martyr mommies!

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Am I the only one who’s tired of reading the endless saga of motherly martyrdom? Seems like there’s alot of it floating around the internet, and it grows by the hour. These woe-is-mom stories come in many different formats. There are the so-called humourous advice lists for pregnant first-timers. Get sleep now because when that baby gets here you’ll never sleep again. Say goodbye to going out, and even running errands, because that’s all over when you become a mother. You will have to look at your calendar to determine what day it is, and even then you won’t know if it’s day or night. You won’t have any friends, but you won’t care because you’ll be too busy to hang out with them, or even talk on the phone. Your body will never be the same – hope you’re enjoying that nice rack while you still can. Your sex life will be non-existant, and you won’t even want one anymore because even brushing your teeth is going to be a challenge, never mind wearing attractive clothing or having good hair days. Forget having nice things. Your baby will poop on everything you own all day every day, and then when he turns two he’ll break what’s not stained.

Then, there are the open letters to the child-free. Dear Selfish Asshole Who Has Somehow Managed To Avoid Spawning, you have no idea what it’s like to love any other living creature. You sleep away whole weekends – I sleep only for two hours at a time, and even then I keep one eye open. You post pictures of your plate at that new Thai place everyone’s talking about. Know what? I havn’t been to a restaurant in seven years. My caloric intake is limited to leftover chicken nuggets, cold pizza with fingerprints in it, and dry cereal. And I eat it all standing up! Oh, you’ve backpacked across Europe? You just received a Ph.D.? That’s nice. Try being a mommy, if you want a real challenge. I’m a nanny, cook, maid, nurse, psychiatrist, teacher, secretary, event planner, referee, cabbie …. and here’s what my services would be worth if someone paid me for them (insert massive price here). We’ve all read these annoying manifestos.

Finally, there are the wildly exaggerated descriptions of day-to-day life. They manage to make it sound like every mother is currently cooking dinner while doing her taxes while a baby screams in her arms and a two-year-old clings to her legs and a four-year-old fingerpaints on the wall with his own poop and the phone and doorbell are both ringing, and her husband isn’t coming home for another three hours, and she hasn’t left the house or even showered in a week. In between the hyperbole and the hysterics, she has to use the toilet, which she will do with the baby digging tiny claws into her neck, the two-year-old still wrapped around her legs, and the four-year-old banging on the door and howling “mommy” like he’s being chased by a rabid grizzly bear.

Take a deep breath …. in …. out. Motherhood is tough, it’s true. It may very well be the hardest thing most mommies have ever done. You’ll be tired – more tired than you ever thought it was possible to be. But you’ll manage – we’re built to manage. And one night, like a magical switch has been flipped by a magical hand, your baby will sleep all the way through – and keep doing that. One day, you’ll waltz into a grocery store with nothing but your three-year-old – the diaper bag now a thing of the past – and you will get all the things on your list, and a treat for her, because she’ll have behaved so well. You’ll pick up the threads of friendships that were put on hold when you were finding your way in the new and scary realm of parenting – and if they are true friends, they’ll understand and welcome you back into their life with open arms. Catching up will feel great. Yes, you can go out and have fun even when you have children – you just have to plan ahead, and be willing to pay a little more for your fun. Your body will change – you’ve housed, grown and released a human being. However, over time, you will develop a self-preserving pride in your very own lived-in work of art, and you will begin to value your body for what it does for you – not just for what it looks like. Give your relationship the time and listening and caring that it needs, and it will survive the craziness of parenthood. Don’t let the little one come between you; let him unite you as the two people who love him most in all the world – two people who have spent years building something beautiful, and are still hammering away at it. Your time will be more limited, your house will be messier. However, you will value your time more because there’s less of it to waste, and your messy house won’t be so bad if you spend about five minutes in each room each day. Unless you’re living in a mansion, that means an hour or less. And if you’re living in a mansion you’ve probably got some help with the housekeeping anyway. A few of your nice things might suffer, but in the end they’re just things. If you can’t bear to lose them, put them away until your small feral human becomes someone with whom you can reason and to whom you can teach rules and boundaries.

As for the shit’s-hit-the-fan-and-continues-to-spin-and-splatter moments, we’ve all had them. There are some memories I have of the noise and chaos and stress of having small children that still make me cringe. Moments when I did not have control of them or even myself, when I did not do the wise thing – or even an acceptable thing. Moments when taking care of them pushed me to the brink of my endurance, and I wondered why I ever thought I could do this thing called motherhood. But those didn’t happen every day, or even every week – and, when they did, they were brief. There were many times when they would lead to laughter.

It’s really not that bad, and the first step to making things easier for ourselves is admitting that, and letting go of the martyr act. Put the baby down for the few minutes it takes to put on clothes you feel good wearing (over-sized, stained t-shirts and yoga pants with holes in them never lifted anyone’s spirits), and brush your teeth. Maybe even drag her swing into the bathroom, and have a shower …. She won’t cry herself to death, and maybe she’ll even learn to self-soothe, a skill every baby should acquire. Go for a walk. If you dress them (and yourself) appropriately for the weather, ten minutes outside will do you all good. Have a cup of coffee, call a friend. Even a five-minute connection with the outside world will make you feel better. In other words, take care of yourself – put your oxygen mask on first so you can help yourself and others. Finally, do everyone around you a favour – don’t let your cyber-whining rival your kids’ real-life whining!

Disclaimer: This rant is not aimed at mothers of children with special needs, whose days are more challenging than I can properly understand or even fully imagine. Or anyone whose baby is under the age of six weeks. Complain all you want – the newborn stage, as every mother knows, is parenting’s trial-by-fire!