Sunday, October 11, 2009

Law of Physics? Perhaps.

I think it really comes down to "for every action, there is a reaction." Let's take this back one more generation to my grandmother, A. Ah, now she was a treasure trove for psychologists to weigh in on. I didn't understand what made her tick, nor did her daughter, my mother. The difference between her impact on us, was that I was fairly immune to her overbearing, judgmental personality. She wasn't my mother after all, but she was the catalyst that impacted my mother.

A. was a school teacher and having sat in her classroom, I would rather have been her student than her child. She was no nonsense, but also reserved her kindness for her pupils. I cringed as my mother relayed to me that when it was bedtime, my grandmother would turn her cheek up to be kissed. That was the extent of her motherly warmth. A. actually turned to me one time when she was visiting and in the midst of one of her diatribes declared that if I had something to say I should "raise my hand." The woman could talk like no one I have ever known. In our family, when traces of this arise in others it is called "A. disease" and trust me, all of us have some elements of it. This is also the same woman who showed up for an unannounced visit, from New York to Maryland, and turned on her heels and drove back home because she disapproved off the outfit her daughter was wearing as she cleaned the house. Oh scandal - yes stretch pants and a sheer chiffon blouse (in her own home). Horrors!

So bringing it back to physics, my mother, S., vowed never to be this kind of mother. Instead she was warm, affectionate, read to me in bed every night when I was young and empowered me to believe in myself. She herself in later years, post my teenage indignation against authority, admitted she had perhaps gone a bit overboard. S. was determined to not raise someone who might lose themselves in the effort to please others. Job well done, Mom, it has taken me years to temper my tongue and actions. I am in no way blaming my mother, she was simply reacting to what she had known.

Then I come along, growing up watching my mother knock herself down and constantly questioning her worth. My love for my mother made this difficult and frustrating. I saw how wonderful she was, why couldn't she? My father's strong personality exacerbated the situation and I believe she truly had to get to the point of feeling like she was in quicksand before she was able to pull herself up and leave. My father many years later commented that he sensed the hidden inner strength within her and tried to keep it from surfacing because it was threatening. And in the end, it did surface with a force even I could not imagine when she found herself battling cancer. Not once, even through months of difficulty speaking and not being able to eat, did she engage in a pity party. If anything, the feisty side of her took control - I knew she had it in her.

So, D. references my mother's last days and death as a catalyst to cause change in us both. I believe it is true. I did not focus on how it might produce this result in D., but there was a moment in the freezing cold parking lot outside the Saranac Lake hospital, that I confronted that need to take on some of my mother's gentleness. I did not see it while it was happening, but now know that it did. That is not to say my journey is done.

Oh yes, I have experienced the same frustration and envy over my mother's and daughter's ability towards calm acceptance over the years, but I have also seen my mother move towards the middle refusing to always give in to others and know that my daughter will do so as well. Extremes always make life difficult. Think about those pendulums with the line of silver balls hitting against each other, those on the outside start the action, but all react. Sometimes we need to be the catalyst and sometimes, it is better to be the buffer. Balance, I have learned it is all about balance.

Flaws, D., don't even get me started. In the end, in spite of your best mothering efforts, M. will have them. It's okay. In the end the generations weave together as threads creating a tapestry, one thread influences the path of the next, pulling from the strengths of the others and covering up the flaws.

And that is the journey of motherhood; watching our children develop does not end with their entry into adulthood because they are still in the process of becoming who they will be. Our blessing is watching it all unfold.

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