Sunday, May 13, 2001

Fear, guilt just part of mother's job

        Maybe they won't admit it, but this must be a troubling day for many moms. Especially the new ones. Especially the ones already riddled with doubt.

        Because this is the day we celebrate perfect mothers. Take a look at the card section at your grocery store or Hallmark shop. The women described in these cards are the gold standard of motherhood, an impossible dream for most of us.

        There are salutations for the “mother who always believed in me.” There is no card for the mother who believed, given the state of your room, you were destined to live beneath a highway overpass.

Permanent knee socks

        There are worshipful poems for the mother who “was always there for me.” And you think guiltily of the time when you had to, had to go to Phoenix on business and miss a piano recital. You cringe at the memory of the time you forgot to pick up your son after soccer practice.

        The illustrations show mothers in kitchens and in the garden. One card showed a charming “kitchen closed” sign, the implication being that this was just for the day. The “humor” section shows some perfectly groomed women changing diapers and cleaning. Mom has a huge, loopy smile on her face, because — darn it — she's having a great time.

        And you, mother of a 5-year-old who just drew knee socks on herself with indelible black marker, are not always blissful. Sometimes you think maybe there might be a boarding school that takes pre-schoolers. And plenty of times you think maybe you're not good enough to do the job.

        As Erma Bombeck, patron saint of imperfect mothers, once wrote, “Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.”

        Besides introducing us to guilt, our children also teach us humility.

        We watch their determined struggles to walk, to learn to tie their shoes. And their struggles to communicate. At first, of course, only we can understand their babbling. But the day comes when they manage in a loud voice with perfect enunciation to say, for instance, VA-GINA in the checkout lane at Kroger's.

        This is a true story, by the way, and when the mother in this episode told her own mother the story, she replied, “This wouldn't have happened if you'd called it her boom-boom, as I suggested.”

Biological clue

        Some mothers — a lot of them, actually — are struggling with this important job by themselves. Biology tried to give us a clue. It takes two people to start a baby. But then, the plan fell apart, in my opinion. Because it is biologically possible, even easy, for one of them to get things started, then leave.

        So the one who absolutely, biologically has to be present at the birth is sometimes left holding the diaper bag. Because we look at that little face and feel more valuable than we ever have in our lives. We are absolutely necessary. Vital. Otherwise we could simply send babies home from the hospital with a cookbook, a Visa card and a copy of the IRS code.

        So, if you are beating yourself up for the times you put the Lion King in the VCR and had a glass of wine instead of reading to your child, if you are worried about whether you're good enough to be a mom, if you are troubled by your imperfections, if you once sent your child to school with the sniffles because you had to finish your Christmas shopping, relax.

        Your guilt and concern absolutely qualify you.

        This is your day.

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