The Good Mother
Unconditional love. Validation of emotions. A listener. Nurturer. A constant in an ever changing world. A tall, solid oak that is steady and firm when the rivers swell and rage through life's storms. Long, warm arms that envelope when sorrow prevails – with the ability to drive away despair and loneliness. A fixer! Protector. Willing to sacrifice her Self – Devoid of anger or disappointment. A saint with a strong shoulder to bear the burdens of motherhood. Predictable, practical, compassionate. As I write I realize that the expectations are unrealistically enormous. An impossibility to accomplish. Indeed, I know no mother like this. Who am I thinking of? Who am I matching myself up with? I have no personal experience of any of these qualities in my early childhood, or even after. Will I never grow up? When I was young, did I aspire to become a nun in order to be the perfect mother, knowing full well I could never become like her? The subject gives me an ache – a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach. My body becomes agitated. Am I a failure before I begin? No wonder I want to write: "A Handbook of Guilt for Parents." Where do these images come from, I wonder as my fingers tap away at the keyboard? I sense rage rising now. It seeps up and out from somewhere deep in my body, but intellectually I realize anger is bubbling up from the deep recesses of my brain. I hear an infant sobbing, arms stretched out – reaching for a mama … echoes of yearning, anxiety, fear, loneliness.
It has become longer than ten minutes now. I have done nothing more than describe a plastic image – a stereotype of "the good mother." When, in fact, I am well aware that mothering is a complexity of shadows and radiance, kindness and self-interest, wrapped into one whole. My old therapist, Bob, used to say that my mother is a "work of art." "Then, surely," I think, "I am too?" And in a work of art I see shades of dark and light, humor and joy, as well as despair and sorrow. That is what makes it intellectually interesting, and wondrously emotional. Art is what makes me gasp with ecstasy and amazement – sometimes, even, horror. It is what fills me with love and awe – fear and wonder – it's of the human condition – expands my imagination.
The Good Mother is evolving into a work of art.