Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day is for Martyrs

Today, the internet will be inundated with approximately 546,492 Mommy blog posts all essentially saying the same thing: Happy Mother’s Day. I was determined that the Never-True Tales would not be one of them. Because I’m not a cliché! I don’t write about breakfast in bed and bouquets of flowers, all in greeting card verse! I don’t even like flowers…waste of money, I tell ya.

But then I awoke to two things: A) silence, because my own mother, despite it being her special day as well, had invited the kids to spend the night, and B) the most lovely card Charlie may have ever written me, and that’s including the dating years, when we were both trying so hard to outdo each other.

Welcome to Mother’s Day post number 546,493.

But as I sit here, sipping coffee at 7 am, it occurs to me, not for the first time, that I really don’t deserve to celebrate this holiday…not, at least, while in the company of so many noble mother-martyrs the world over. Because here’s the secret, shameful truth: I’m a pretty pampered mother all year round.

My friends know this. I think they sense it like a security dog sniffing out cocaine, because it’s not something I advertise. We’ll be sitting in the park, mindlessly handing preschoolers goldfish crackers to buy ourselves another two minutes of uninterrupted gossip time, or sipping cosmos in the sanctuary of a decidedly non-kid-friendly establishment on a hard-earned night away, and if the topic of conversation steers toward the complaint department, I‘m immediately, viciously silenced. Oh, you know who you are, and you know it‘s true.

It’s because I don’t have good enough material. Everyone knows that my husband is ridiculously helpful and thoughtful (although in my defense, I will add that he can charm the pants off of anyone and everyone, and generally does), and my mother? Well, when my turn to complain comes around, I’ll offer something like, “When my mom came over, like she does every Thursday to babysit so Charlie and I can go play volleyball, she folded all our laundry.” The audacity, right?! But you’ll be surprised to hear that I get blank stares.

“And it was so annoying!” Awkward silence, followed by dark looks that say Amy, it‘s cute when you try, but we‘re going to stop you right here.

“Because I was going to do that later, when I was tired and grouchy.”

And that’s when I lose my turn.

Because everyone knows I have the best mother in the world. It’s a well-publicized fact. And ironically, it’s really thanks to my mother that I’m not more deeply ostracized for this unfair advantage. She’ll be happy to hear she has a very, very loyal following. I think the key is long-term, consistent, saturated exposure.

My mother is everywhere.

You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. We’ll be grocery shopping, and one of my kids will call out happily, “Grandma!” And I’ll be reaching for the milk and mumble, “No, no…Grandma’s not here,” then turn around and sure enough…Toby is leaping into her arms as though he hadn’t just seen her an hour earlier when she’d bought everyone ice cream. Or a video game. Or a puppy. Or whatever it was.

Or we’ll be driving down the road to soccer practice, and someone will cry out, “There’s Grandma’s car!” and I’ll be trying to stay in my lane while handing off water bottles or apples or granola bars or whatever they’re all consuming at the moment, and I’ll say, “No, no…there are lots of white cars on the road,” but sure enough…she’ll pull into the parking lot behind us, honking happily and insisting that she’s here to play with the younger boys so I can go run errands in peace.

It’s an outrage, I tell you.

This ski race season, my mom attended every Saturday training session so that I wouldn’t have to get all three boys ready to ski on my own while Charlie worked. Then, to top this, she taught Toby how to ski. On the Sundays I volunteer in my church nursery, she sits with the wiggly boys in the pew (and lets them make paper airplanes, because she’s not only a helpful grandma, but a cool one). During the week, she comes over with take-out just because she knows I am both a terrible cook and too busy to cook. In the summers when she’s free from teaching, she plans trips and takes us all along for the ride.

When I tell her I will break down and cry if forced to attend just one more tot gym class where I’m expected to clap enthusiastically every time Toby hops like a bunny, she goes in my stead. When I admit to secretly hating the train museum with a loathing that actually frightens me, she loads them all up in her car and off they go, leaving me with my book and a glass of something chilled.

And people see all of this. I get a lot of, “Oh, was that your mom at Open House?” or “I saw your mom with the boys at the read-along/fund raiser/function designed for parent torture.” These questions are usually followed by a tentative “Were you sick? Did you have another commitment?” And the answer is usually, “No, I was sent home to sit in a quiet house, sip something soothing, and write for three hours.”

It‘s really a miracle I’m not universally hated. I do have one person sympathetic to my plight: my sister. I cling to her like the sole lifeboat she is in a endless ocean of opposition, but she’d better resign herself to my fate. It’ll probably take her friends longer to catch on since she lives half a world away, but pretty soon, they won’t be letting her get a word of complaint in edgewise either. Even from Oregon to Ireland, our mom is the best Grandma in the world to my nephew Homer, too. The woman rocks iChat.

My friend Laura (who still likes me because she also has an awesome mother) recently posed a series of Mother’s Day related questions on her own online journal, in addition to stunning, magazine-spread quality photos of her own first days of motherhood. I told her in no uncertain terms that I would not be posting photos of my own journey through child birth, because, and I quote myself here, “The day my oldest was born, I looked like I had been brutally beaten and left to die in a desert.” I’m not kidding. Charlie will attest to this, I’m sure.

I will, however, attempt to answer several of her questions, which were thus (and I encourage you to answer them as well, should you feel motivated):

What's your favorite part about being a mom?
The all-encompassing power. No, seriously, my favorite part of being a mom is the sheer privilege of watching three people I created grow, learn, and become so undeniably their own unique selves.

What's the most challenging thing about being a mom?
I already mentioned the train museum. And the mind-numbing boredom of tot gymnastics. I’m not kidding about this answer. For me, I think the most challenging aspect of motherhood is not the difficult decisions or the back-breaking labor (and I’m not even talking about actual labor here), but rather the little, seemingly insignificant moments that can feel monotonous. The stacking and crashing and stacking again of blocks. The making of sandwiches just to get out all the ingredients again ten minutes later. The repetition of a theme, over and over. It takes tremendous strength of character and strength of mind to see the importance of these moments, and to rise to their challenge instead of blowing them off. In the long run, they will matter.

Share a memory of YOUR mother.
You just read about how great my mom is, so it will come as no surprise that I have many, many wonderful memories of her from my own childhood. But the first thing that comes to mind may strike you as fairly dull (see my answer to the above question). I think first of our weekly, sometimes tri-weekly, drives to Reno. I grew up in a very rural area, so rural that if we wanted groceries, we had to drive an hour across the high desert from our home in the mountains to Reno, Nevada. I loved those drives. Sitting in the front seat (no booster seat laws back in the good old days!), I’d have a captive audience for whatever was on my mind. I really valued having her ear while we drove. To this day, my best conversations--with Charlie, with my kids, what have you--take place in the car.

How do you think your mom influenced how you approach being a mother?
My mom is very relaxed as a mother and a grandmother. There are rules, to be sure, but there’s more often adventure and excitement. There’s sometimes…lack of judgment. (She once planted me on a bull calf at a rodeo and sent me out the gate. I was eight, and had never even seen a rodeo. I lasted on that beast for 2.3 seconds. Another time, she told me to hop into a cart pulled by my very spooked horse…we’ll just say that the horse lived, but the cart was crunched beyond repair and I leapt out at high speed and nearly hit a tree. I could go on…) But I grew up with confidence, because I tried my hand at anything and everything that caught my fancy. As a mother, I’m much the same. I encourage my kids to try things that cause other mothers to gasp and shoot me dirty looks. I shrug as they tip-toe across tightrope-thin ledges and look the other way when they insist on climbing trees that look iffy or taking jumps on their skis that will undoubtedly leave them in a heap on the snow.

So far, they get up grinning, just as I always did.

It’s now 9 am, and if I’m not careful, I’ll be late for church. Good thing my mom has the kids, so I can be sure they’ll show up for the service fed and happy and in good hands. So Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. At the risk of turning this entry into a greeting card, I am the mother I am because of you. (Take that as you will.) And I promise that I appreciate you almost as much as my friends do.

(But stay out of my laundry. No, I mean it. It’s very annoying. Everyone agrees.)
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