I was always told that true appreciation for my mother would surface only when I had my own kids. Despite this, I was a lingering, stubborn sort with ideas of my own which resulted in thinking that I was right, not my mother, for the majority of my early parenting years.
Then my daughter turned 4.
In no particular order, my daughter has hit me, pushed me, screamed at me, called me ‘stupid’, told me she doesn’t want to be my friend, bit me, hid from me, ignored me, run away from me in public etc. etc. etc.. I wish I knew what you are thinking. I must have done something to provoke it? Or perhaps I haven’t used all the right disciplinary actions to prevent these things from happening? Or does any of this sound familiar to you?
Yesterday I went on the treadmill while my children played in the room with me. I turned up my iPod and put both earplugs in as an experiment. I had told my kids that if they needed something they would have to wave their arms as I wouldn’t hear them with my headphones on. My daughter turned to me at one point and her mouth started moving. I could see that she was getting very upset when she realized I wasn’t responding. Every bone in my body wanted to pause my music and ask what she needed. But I pointed to my ears and waved my hands in the air to tell her I couldn’t hear her. She got increasingly upset. I resisted the urge to stop.
The truth is that I could still hear her and she was telling me one of those really long stories that have a lot of ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ in them as she thinks of what to say as she goes along. It was something about her socks, where she had put them, what colour they were etc. etc. I held strong and averted my eyes, only watching out of the corners to see if she would wave at me. She did not. She was getting furious. How dare I not listen to her?
There was something sickly satisfying about showing her how it felt to have the person you are talking to not respond. In the reverse situation, I have tried tapping Jasmine on the shoulder, saying ‘hello???’, raising my voice, changing the wording of the question, repeating myself over and over including repetition of the sentence: ‘I am only going to say this once!’ or telling her to at least tell me that she is not listening to me (she does respond well to this actually!).
There is no question that my mother had to endure every single bit of this kind of thing from me when I was, um, younger. I wonder if there is some kind of pleasure for her watching me receive the same lack of respect that I had shown for her? She must! I know I would!
I recently took a trip with just my mother and my daughter. We were going to be living together, traveling together, entertaining each other for a whole week and my mother and I were used to having our own space. As a kind of a built in mechanism to buffer this fact I decided to instigate a mother-appreciation exercise. I would simply say, ‘you know Mom, I think you might be right’, at least 10 times on the trip. Maybe the karma from doing this would have my daughter suddenly appreciating her own mother (ha!).
I told my mother that my daughter was at that age where she doesn’t listen to me. ‘That age?’ my mother laughed. I don’t think I meant that she would only have this behaviour for one year. But what I never really got my head around was that she might well do this far into, well, the rest of my life. I’m 40 and I have to admit that I don’t give my mother full credit for what she does or drop everything and try her suggestions. What is it about mothers and daughters? Moms give up everything for you and you don't trust their judgment? What a strange combination - what is up with that? That complicated story has got to be for another day. Today I want to expand on the mother-appreciation exercise.
If I have an objective look, my mother is a wise cookie. She knows a lot about things I know nothing about and she could still teach me quite a bit if I’d let her. We live very different lives – but when I boil it all down, some of the things I value most she has taught me. Here are ten of them:
1. She hates wasting money, or food and makes good use of everything. She hates wasting anything actually and I think this is a product of being raised in Europe in the forties during the war.
2. She loves and appreciates good food and has primarily cooked from basic ingredients all of her life, not relying on processed or prepared versions.
3. She hates artificial light and adores the sunshine. She loves fresh air and has her windows open year round (even on -20C days, but this may have more to do with hormones than a need for air).
4. She is strong and has the endurance of a marathon runner. Growing up, she always went faster, wanted to go farther, and had more energy than I. Her mother was the same, even in her nineties.
5. She was an incredibly loyal daughter to her mother who passed just shy of turning 96. I think my grandmother lived so long because she never spent a day wondering if she would be cared for, visited, picked up and toured around, brought what she needed, taken to her hair appointments, dentist appointments, bank appointments. My mother was an only child and became the central figure in my grandmother’s life since my grandfather had died 15 years previous.
6. She has no idea how to say ‘I can’t’. This can be infuriating when she tells you she will be on time, which calculates out to her needing to travel at the speed of light from where she is to do so. Yet, I recall a scene when I was a little girl where an appliance broke. She simply pulled the thing out from the wall, got out a screwdriver and laid out the parts on the floor and began tinkering until it was fixed. Nothing is impossible with the right amount of stubbornness.
7. She is environmentally conscious, especially when it saves her money. A few months ago she convinced me to hang my clothes up to dry on a line instead of using the clothes dryer. I do this consistently now, and to my surprise am quite enjoying it despite its painfully slow pace.
8. She loves animals and is very kind to them. They love her too.
9. She is an amazing ‘Nana’ to our children. The grandchildren love her. She plays with them as though she is also a child. The enjoyment on her face when she is with them overflows from her face.
10. She knows how to do nice things for herself. This is a trait most women could use a huge dose of.
I think it can be difficult to see our parents as ‘real’ people. My mother still lives out there in the ether to me – she is Air – and nobody thanks Air. Yet nobody can live without Air. I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand all that she did for us as a single mother when we were growing up. In many ways, she can do no wrong in my eyes. In many ways, she can do no right. But the very core of my being and everything I do is based on those ten things up there and I wouldn’t change a thing. You know Mom, I think you might be right.