The Gift of Motherhood

On this Mother’s Day I feel especially grateful for my family. My mother is still alive at age 92. Both of my daughters are now mothers themselves, and when they ask me what I want for Mother’s Day, I can’t think of anything I don’t already have. They have given me the best gift of all, my three granddaughters.

Looking back over the years, I know I had many failures as a mother. But I loved my daughters from the first moments I held them, and my love for them has just grown stronger over the years. I don’t know how they learned to be such incredible mothers themselves, but I am not giving myself any credit for preparing them for motherhood. They have trusted their instincts over and over, and those instincts have yet to fail them.

My youngest daughter was the first to have children. My granddaughters are now ages five and nine, and they are wonderful girls. My daughter is a stay-at-home mom who volunteers at numerous school activities, has offered her children opportunities to play sports, take dance, gymnastics, and swimming lessons, and learn to play an instrument. She has protected them, taught them, played with them, and kept them healthy. She cooks nutritious, organic meals, limits snacks and television time, encourages reading and activity, and loves them with all her heart. It hasn’t been easy. Her husband travels a lot, both in this country and out, and spends several evenings a week at dinner meetings. He works hard and is a great dad, but she has had to cope alone many times when his presence would have made things easier. Even though motherhood for her is often overwhelming, that is really because she takes it very seriously and puts everything she can into it. Her daughters are very lucky to have her as their mother.

My oldest daughter is new to motherhood. Single by choice after some very painful failed relationships, she has concentrated on her career. But in recent years, she has been talking about her need to have a child. I admire the work she has done to prepare herself for adoption. She took weekly classes, read numerous books, joined support groups, and hoped. Single mothers are often not the first choice for child placement. She knew this. She expected a wait of three or four years or maybe more. But the week she got her certification to adopt a child, she met the seven-year-old girl who would become her daughter. They were a perfect match. Maria and her siblings were taken from their parents, separated, and placed in foster care. They had been abused and neglected, children of drug-addicted parents. Maria was put in a separate foster home, later taken from that home and placed in a shelter for months, waiting for someone to love her. That person was my daughter.

Figuring out how to mother a seven-year-old without the previous six years of experience was not easy. I guess it’s like walking through a mine field, and when the child has a history of abuse, there is just no telling when an explosion might occur. However, despite Maria’s many nights of crying, despite frequent meltdowns over seemingly insignificant things, my daughter has loved Maria, held her, comforted her, talked to her, guided her, and provided her with opportunities she never had before. She now has access to food, she has had her first birthday party, her first real Christmas, her first Easter basket and Easter egg hunt, her first art and music experiences, her first swimming and gymnastics lessons, her first bicycle, her first dog. The list is endless. She has new clothes, shoes that fit, hair cut and styled in a salon, friends in school, and a new family who loves her unconditionally. She is not with her siblings but she has seen them. She will never be with her parents again, but she has a life like other children have now. Within a few days of meeting my daughter, she held her hand and called her “mommy,” a word I suspect was the most wonderful word my daughter has ever heard.

I am so proud of both of my daughters. They call me frequently just to share, although I sometimes probably offer too much advice. I was both at times a stay-at-home mom and a working mom. I know the challenges. Parenting in this crazy, often dangerous world today is not easy, but my daughters are succeeding at it in wonderful ways. I am so lucky to have been given the gifts of my daughters and my granddaughters. Even though they live far away and I don’t see them enough, I carry them always in my heart, and so today I celebrate motherhood for us all.

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Another Mother’s Day in the Nursing Home

My mother was admitted to the nursing home three years ago after spending a year in and out of the hospital. She is in fairly good health this year in spite of advancing dementia. At 92, she goes to activities, enjoys the music programs, has made a few friends, and is well cared for in spite of daily complaints. Now that spring has arrived, we sit outside during my daily visits and enjoy the sunshine and the beauty of blossoming trees and flowers.

My husband and I spent two months in Arizona this year visiting my daughter and her newly adopted daughter. While we were there, my mother’s behavior radically changed, most likely to an untreated urinary tract infection. She never did like her roommate, delusions getting the best of their relationship, but one day she got upset with her and kicked her. The Department of Health was notified and laws required her to be removed from her room and put in a private room. She went to pieces. She believed I had abandoned her and she had done nothing wrong to deserve this. She was angry at everyone, especially me. I considered coming home, but a psychologist was called in and she worked with her to calm her down and reassure her that I was coming home, giving her a specific date. The staff at the nursing home had given me some poor advice. They recommended at first that I not tell her I was gong away and then I should not tell her how long I was going to be gone. That was bad advice. When I returned, she had settled into her room. I decorated it for her, she made friends with the woman across the hall, and she is now content.

This Mother’s Day I will bring her lunch since I can no longer safely take her out to eat. She needs only soft foods, so I will make her favorite potato salad and strawberry shortcake and sit outside with her for a while. I know I am lucky to still have a mother on this Mother’s Day, even though in some ways, she is not the mother I used to know. Times change as we age and maybe sadness is an emotion that just increases as years pass. I don’t know how many more years I will be able to spend with my mother on Mother’s Day. She is still strong and physically healthier than many of the other residents in the nursing home but not as strong mentally as many others. Words elude her and delusions continue. This Mother’s Day is also the date my father died. She won’t remember that and I won’t mention it. After I visit with her, I’ll go visit my father in the cemetery. I’ll tell him how well she is doing. I’ll tell him I feel lucky to still have her. I’ll tell him how much I miss him every day. I’ll put some roses on his grave, my parents’ favorite flowers, and say good-by once again.