Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mother's Day,a very emotional occasion

"Where Are All the Mother's Day Articles?"
by Susan Dunn

I went looking for Mother's Day articles for my blog and ezines. I write my own stuff, but I wanted to see what the temperature would be this year. As I perused the article warehouses, I found there wasn’t much, and what there was, was defensive.

One site I scanned had poetry submitted by readers. The titles? "Mom, Give Me My Baby Back," "So Much to Forgive," and "I Know I Was Difficult to Raise." Young women seemed to want their mothers to back off, while men were characteristically silent. If there's one subject both sacred and profane, it's a grown man and his mother.

Most men struggle for years trying to manage the women in their lives: the mother, the wife, the daughter. He loves them all, and cannot please them all. In fact pleasing one will often displease the other. It takes EQ and maturity to maneuver this land-mined territory, to appreciate the plenty, and dole out his attention with confidence. The place of the mother? He loved her first and has loved her the longest. More true today than ever before, with the divorce rate at 50%, and the fact that daughters often alienate from their father when he remarries. "Blood is thicker than water," my middle-aged client told me, as he faced losing not just his wife, but her family, and all their in-common friends as well. "My mother told me that," he said. Then he added, "But who ever listens to your mother."

As the proverb goes, "When you die, your sister's tears will dry as time goes on, your widow's tears will end in another's arms , but your mother will mourn you until the day she dies."

But how yuchy. How unmanly. Well, that, too, needs to be worked out.

There were some sentimental poems of praise, but they read phoney. "You were always there when I needed you"? No one can ever be that. That's simply not possible. "You will always be my mom"? Yes, in the grand sense. No, in the other sense, at least for those of us who don't try and steal our grown children's babies and lives. But, yes, the feeling will always be there, packed away in the place where we put the deep feelings we had, have, for relationships the nature of which has changed. My little boys are somewhere with their father, my ex, with my own mom and dad, now deceased, and a few others.

The silence is both sacred and profane. The love too great to write about, and the anger too uncomfortable to think about. Let's use a child-like word - "hate." Well, you can't hate your mother, that's all there is to it. That we spent a fair portion of our childhood being thwarted by her, as it seems to us as children, and therefore quite angry with her, is something we certainly wouldn't want to talk about on Mother's Day, but which will certainly come to mind, so we are silent.

We all harbor within that shrieking, finger pointing School M'arm who visited in our home at times, ready to crack us across the knuckles with a ruler, or worse. She took away whatever we wanted and loved - the kitten, staying up late, the "inappropriate" boyfriend, the spandex mini, THE FREEDOM.

To confuse things, our home was also visited by the Angel of Mercy, by Kwan Yin, the goddess of compassion, the One Who Comforts. Yes. She comforted us, the hardest thing on this earth to come by.

We seek it later in drugs, alcohol, strangers in the night, therapists, counselors, and ministers, as well as in prescription medication, yoga, mystical experiences, running, massage, and music.

That anxious, scratchy feeling we live with, which is a combination of physiological reaction, emotions and thoughts we call stress, is harder to assuage as we age, and we live in a society that's particularly opposed to the idea of a need for soothing. We would rather sweep it under the rug, endure our heart attacks and keep going.

It's as if we thought if someone took a 15 minute break during the day and sat in a rocking chair with a headset on, listening to Rachmaninoff, well, next thing you know, they'd be sucking their thumb and crying, or, worse, would never return to work.

Other cultures build more time into the day for soothing, like a long lunch hour, where everyone goes home for a visit with loved ones, a good meal, a nap, who knows what. Few of us in the US will ever know. One term being used these days is "cocooning," which is nice, because it doesn't raise alarm that we're all infants inside and likely to crumble at the slightest mention of that fact. Having recently moved to a new city, a big metropolis, I’ve noted that the large skyscrapers have a masseuse on-site – for the whole deal, or just a “chair massage,” with charges by the minute. I see this service being used.

It isn't "infantile" to react physiologically to stress by wanting to get the heck out of there. Like every other living creature, we like to feel good, and things, and others, and deadlines, and crabby people, and nasty tones of voice, and worries plague us and make us feel otherwise.

We want to feel smooth, with no negative emotions. We want out nerves and emotions soothed, comforted, smoothed out. Where is Kwan Yin when we need her most?

Mothers have it easy, because to comfort an infant is pure reflex, and feels just as good to the mom as to the infant. After that, once the infant is perambulatory, it is never so easy again, but every infant remembers, and every mother as well, and hopefully we learn a little emotional intelligence of our own.

So we get rid of that school m'arm finally, and take off on our own, and find a partner and set up our own home, and we don't miss the school m'arm, not at all, but the angel of mercy? What an ache. The partner can't quite get it right. He reaches out when you want to be left alone. She talks when you want silent understanding. He tries to hug you when your nerves are on edge. She won't let you get physical when that's the only thing that would help.

Mom would've known exactly what to do. Or so we think, in retrospect.

That part is true, or partly true. I generally knew what my sons needed. I might not be able to supply it at the time for various reasons, ranging from being busy with something else crucial, to not being there at all, to sensing they would fight my ministrations as "infantilizing," but I knew. Perhaps more importantly, I cared. I would have soothed and comforted them if I could have, and/or if they would have let me. I saw they were upset and I cared. Sometimes you can go days without having that happen in your adult life.

Of all relationships, the mother one is the most complex, because it's the most primitive. We knew when we entered this world we could not survive without her. Therefore it mattered a lot what she did.

I hope your mom was "good enough," that she got it right most of the time, and you knew she cared. Most of us, once we have kids of our own, get a big "ah hah" about the whole thing. I remember standing in the kitchen one day with the 6 year old screaming for help with some toy, and the infant just screaming, and their father screaming in his own way for something else, thinking, "Oh. Now I see. That must've been going on that time my mom forgot to pick me up at school."

Actually we work on this into adulthood. At one point my mother said, "I knew you were hurting, but there was nothing I could do." One day, in respect to my own grown child, I grew into an understanding of that as well. I had felt abandoned by my mother, and knew my son was going to feel abandoned by me. However, she did care, she listened, and she knew, in her wisdom, that anything more she might do would be moving in and taking over my life, which neither one of us would ever forgive. Now it was going the other way.

My mom and I, we had our good times and our bad. My feelings about her will always be ambivalent, and strongly so. That's how most of us feel about our moms. But I feel about her very deeply, beyond words.

That's why there's so little written about it. It's too important.

So go ahead and celebrate Mother's Day with all your various feelings, just like the rest of us, acknowledging what is rarely written – that it’s probably the most emotional ‘occasion’ on the year’s calendar. My son will be coming over at noon to take me out for lunch. I'm really glad he's coming. I just hope he chooses a decent restaurant, not one of those …


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