Like everyone else, my thoughts are on motherhood this weekend, not just my mother but the chain of mothering in my family. My own mother was a wonderful, warm, joyful person—my favorite memories are of her telling funny stories—some about family, some on herself, and some on me. She’d laugh till the tears rolled down her cheeks. Like the time I put nine tsp. of baking soda in a cake and served it to my parents; she was astounded, until she checked the recipe—it was a typo. Or the time she was worrying about feeding a friend while at the same time signing an important document that guaranteed she was legally responsible—she signed it Alice P. Mac, went to check the toast, and came back to write Bread. (Our name was MacBain.) Or the time she found herself in the middle seat of our station wagon, between two toddler grandchildren—the harder they screamed, the harder she laughed. She taught me to cook, she tried to teach me to be a lady, and she taught me both love and strength. In her mid-eighties she slipped into dementia due to small strokes. I’m sure it was distressing to her, and I know it was terribly distressing to my brother and me. Sometimes I feel the disturbing memories of those few years get between me and all the joy and laughter of my life with her up until then, and I struggle to reclaim the wonderful woman who raised me. She's been gone almost thirty years.
Do I miss her? Not in the usual sense. She is with me. Often when I wake in the night or early morning I’m aware of a presence in the house. In rapid order, I discount the peacefully sleeping dog, the grandson who is not under my roof that night, and I realize that my mom is in the guest room. Watching over me. She is with me when I cook something or do some other small thing I learned from her or I quote one of her many favorite aphorisms. My mom is like the angel that sits on my shoulder—she may frown occasionally but generally I think she’s happy. I talk to her a lot, but she doesn't answer.
Motherhood was not something that came naturally to me—I assumed it would happen but I didn’t think much about it. Only it didn’t happen, and my husband and I adopted four children. By the time the oldest was twelve and the youngest six, I was divorced and raising them alone. I would not trade for the richness of that experience, though I don’t think I was a particularly good mother. There’s so much I didn’t do—homework, discipline, etc. though I did feed them regular, healthy meals, see that they had nice clothes, lived in a nice house, and were loved by lots of adults. They tell me I just don’t remember the small things. They are wonderful adults, all happily married and parents now, and when people praise me for the good job I did, I say it was just luck. But I love them all fiercely and rarely miss an opportunity to be with one of more of them.
Now I have two daughters and two daughters-in-law who are mothers to my seven grandchildren. Each has her own style, and sometimes I am full of praise, while other times I bite my tongue. It ain’t easy, this mothering thing. There’s a fine line between too little and too much, and nobody sees it quite the same way. I used to get so frustrated when my mom, in her dotage, would jump one of my kids, and I’d say, “Please, Mom, I’ll discipline them.” She’d retort, “Well, then, do it.” One of the memories I’d like to discard, and one of the reasons I try to button my lip, even when I simply think a child should say “Please” and “thank you.” I keep Jacob, my youngest daughter’s son, a lot, and she sometimes says, “What is wrong with you? You’d never let me do that.” So he gets more strictness than the other whom I only see on visits. But my grandchildren are growing up to be fine, well-loved children.
The chain of mothering goes on, and I feel we are blessed, even if it always surprises me a bit—so unexpected. I probably took my mom for granted but I never expected to be a mom myself, let alone a grandmother. It all pleases me a lot, and I feel we are blessed as a family.