Mother’s Day is always bitter-sweet for me. Before I lost Mom to cancer, it was just sweet. We moved all the time and so she was truly my closest friend. She knew all my dreams and hopes, she gave me space to be myself even when it was awkward and stilted, and she derived great delight in watching me become the person that God had intended. She had a saying, “Find your children fascinating, and they will always be so.”
She was dying when I left for law school overseas. People had tried to talk me out of going – they knew it would be the last time I saw her even if I was in complete denial about it – but she was furious at any hint that I might be dissuaded from my dreams. Shortly before I was due to go, she called me into her room and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to get my butt on that plane to Scotland. My last memory of her is her standing, looking very small and frail, at the door waving as we drove off to the airport. I am told that once we were out of sight, she collapsed and had to be helped back to bed. “They don’t make movies this sad,” she told her best friend.
There were many motivating factors for Mom to make sure that I made it on that plane. She believed that I had worked hard for many years with law school as my goal, and she didn’t want to be the one to get in the way of those dreams. She also knew that I was slowly withering away in Texas, and I had to get out. My years in Texas gave me some tremendous gifts for which I am thankful, but I always felt like a fish out of water there. Going to Scotland gave me the chance to breathe again, and Mom recognized this as the necessary next step in my development.
But she was also concerned about the relationship I was in at the time. I was dating a guy (let’s call him Alex) who, in her mind, wasn’t the right fit for me. Going to school meant that I was moving 3,000 miles away before the relationship got too serious. At the time, I couldn’t understand this – Alex was amazing! And he truly was a great guy. But she asked me once, “Can you talk to him…I mean, really talk to him?”
In retrospect, I believe her inquiry was borne of painful insight that she had into her own marriage. My dad was a wonderful man in a lot of ways, but she often felt lonely with him. He was a pastor, so he worked a lot. My parents were great spouses and parents, but I don’t know if they were great friends. I don’t think she felt that she could really talk to him.
This shaped the way she taught me about dating relationships. Sex was a very open topic in our household, and I was fortunate enough to escape the whole “you are damaged goods if you sleep around” dogma. Sex was clearly taught as something to be saved for marriage, but my mother spent far more time talking to me about what type of man I wanted to spend my life with rather than simply what I would do once I found that man.
Texas was a great place for learning about different types of men. When I was a teenager, we didn’t do the whole courting thing. Every girl started to “car date” (the guy would pick you up in his car after meeting your dad…who was usually cleaning his shotgun) around the age of 15, and it was expected that you would date numerous people before you got married. While it scared the living daylights out of me at the time, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. I got to meet a wide variety of guys with different personalities and temperaments to see who fit me best. To this day, I don’t ascribe to the belief that there is one person out there for you, but I do believe that there are certain personality types that will suit you better and make marriage less tumultuous. Dating was my opportunity to find out what type of guy I was looking for as a life partner.
Over the years, my mother offered her input and guidance. Of one boyfriend, she said, “He doesn’t light up when you walk into the room. You deserve that.” Of another, she said “He didn’t open the car door for you. Chivalry is important.“ She did love one guy but unfortunately I didn’t, so that was the end of that relationship. And so when she asked me whether I could really talk to Alex, I took her seriously. Yes, he had great character. Yes, he was good looking. Yes, we had similar goals in life. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were things I just couldn’t share with him. I kept far too much of who I really was hidden from his view.
We did date long-distance, and it took time for me to break up with him. But when I met Eric, the first thing that jumped out at me was that we could talk. We actually started out by arguing, but we talked for hours and hours and we haven’t stopped. (Well, except for the few times during our dating years when I kicked him to the curb.) When the passion ebbs in our relationship, when we are stressed by the circumstances of life, and when we don’t agree on various points of view, we still have enormous respect for each other…respect is grounded in our deep friendship. Turns out, Mom was right.
Now, I am a mom. After enduring the bitter years of being both motherless and childless, I now have the sweetness of raising my own daughter, Riley. She has already had her first crush. We have had the first of many sex talks (in age appropriate terms, of course). Her body is beginning to change, and I already recognize the signs of hormonal fluctuations. Before I know it, she will begin on the path of looking for her life partner. Without a doubt, I will have challenging decisions to make about balancing the concepts of purity and sexual responsibility. I hope that I will do so with wisdom and grace.
But as I guide my daughter, I will do so with Mom’s model in mind. I will watch her with fascination to see who she is growing to be. As I learn to understand her better, I will have conversations with her about what type of guy will fit with her personality. I will support her as she goes through the difficult and yet giddy period of dating. I will speak honestly into her life about her choices and hope that she will listen…if not in the moment, at least when it comes to making the final decision. Most importantly, I will do my best to help her understand the importance of friendship and communication as a basis for marriage so she can choose wisely.
And I will do all of this with that an ever-present hollow place in my own heart…the one that represents how much I miss Mom; how I wish she had been here to meet the man I finally did choose, to see her granddaughter be born, and her daughter become a mom. It’s a scar that reminds me of how much I needed Mom and how hard it is to do this without her. But it also serves as a daily prompt for me to think back on all the things she did teach me, and how important it is that I never forget. Because of it, I pray every day that I am half the mother to Riley that Mom was to me.
Mother’s Day will always be bitter-sweet for me. I can’t make it through without thinking of what I’ve lost, but neither can I get through it without being in awe of all I have.