As a child, I loathed Mother’s Day. This was because I spent most of the other days of the year resenting my mother, and tormenting her in the peculiarly horrid ways that bright children can torment their parents.
While I’m sure it was mostly my guilty conscience that plagued me on those May Sundays, part of my discomfort on Mother’s Day stemmed from the incongruousness of the images presented of mothers from the pulpit and the lesson manual that day and the day-to-day doings of my mother. I always felt that the “good” mothers, the kind that were memorialized in Mormon Mother’s Day sermons, were frenetically busy attending to every need and whim of their offspring, while also finding time to teach gospel principles, care for the needy, and perform their manifold civic duties.
My mother did little of that. She did not rise early each day to prepare nutritious breakfasts and send us all out into the world clean and combed and prayed over. She did not stay up late baking cupcakes for the school bake sale. She did not keep our perfectly decorated house spotlessly clean. She did not garden or do needlework or run for school board. In fact, to my snotty little self, it looked as though she didn’t *do* much of anything. My mother moves slowly, thinks carefully, speaks deliberately, and yet managed to spawn a bunch of fast-moving, loud-talking, intellectually fidgety children who got along easily with their quick-moving, quick-thinking, task-oriented father. I remember (or imagine?) her sitting at the dinner table, watching the rapid-fire, high-volume debates among her offspring with a look of puzzled pride. Most days I think it took her until lunchtime to catch her breath after watching the whirlwind of getting out the door to work and school, and much of the afternoon to gird up her loins for the returning onslaught of chatter, music practice, ball-playing, “listen to this!” reading aloud, and endless hyperarticulate bickering that flew in from the school bus.
To say that I failed utterly to appreciate her sensitive, contemplative nature, and the manifold gifts that came to me because of it, hardly begins to describe my ingratitude and unkindness. I was angry that she didn’t augment my overachieving by chauffeuring me everywhere, keeping my calendar, and pushing me to practice and study. I was sure that if I had a better mother, I would be valedictorian, concertmaster, class president… None of this was helped by the fact that I had a friend in my ward whose mother seemed to epitomize this ideal of Mormon motherhood–she got up to make breakfast before seminary, her laundry room was decorated with a floor-to-ceiling flow chart of her six children’s activities for the week and she was perenially bailing my friend out of the scrapes that her overcommitted, hyperachieving style got her into–bringing forgotten lunches, staying up all night to make campaign posters and prom dresses, “helping” to write English papers. She also directed road shows, planned over-the-top Homemaking meetings, fed the missionaries weekly, baked, hung wallpaper (my idea then of the highest form of domestic competence), and sang cheesy Mother’s Day duets with her daughters in Sacrament Meeting. I indulged in ridiculous fantasies of being a princess misplaced at birth, tragically landing in a home with a mother who couldn’t appreciate or complement my tremendous specialness.
My mother, saintly, endured my scorn and patiently kept teaching me lessons that it would take me half a lifetime to notice, let alone appreciate. But I am beginning to learn, oh so slowly. Sometimes, in the middle of my absurd rushing around (“hurry, kids, hurry, we have to get to the beach so that you can enjoy one of those long, timeless childhood summer days. Hurry!”), Sam will stop to notice a flower, a rock, a shell, and I can breathe and remember my mother’s pace when we went walking. Sometimes I am graceful enough to remember how my mother listened to me, as I try to keep smiling and nodding through Louisa’s endless, meandering reports of the intricate social machinations of the kindergarten playground. Sometimes, watching Peter sing loudly and joyfully and so off-key that the notion of “key” becomes meaningless, I’m granted a drop of the patience that helped my mother endure five children’s Suzuki violin and viola recitals. (The spectre of these recitals, by the way, is right up there on the list of reasons I have only three children : )).
And now, just as I am realizing that in most of the ways that matter, she is quicker than I, so far ahead of me that I may pant breathlessly along behind for the rest of my life, she is sprinting ahead to teach me a new lesson. For the last few years, she has been caring for her aging mother with a tenderness and patience which would be a fitting tribute to a mother who had been a close and helpful friend all her life. But her mother was not always such a friend–if my relationship with my mother was fraught and difficult, her relationship with her mother was nearly impossible. My mother, too, was different from her mother, in ways that made it terribly difficult for them to get along. Like all of us mothers, my grandmother was flawed and broken and human; like all mothers, she hurt her child despite her great desire to love and help. And my grandfather died when my mother was a little girl, adding a thousand layers of complexity and hardship to their struggle. When my mother joined the church in college, it was too much for her Irish Catholic mother to bear, and they barely spoke for many years.
All of this is, or seems, forgiven–covered by the grace of my mother’s Christlike patience. She goes to her mother not on a schedule, not watching the clock, not with a list of tasks to complete, but just to be with her. I don’t know if her mother receives or understands this gift–she is as lost in senile dementia as I was lost in adolescent self-centeredness. But the giving is no less lovely and blessed for being indifferently received: “for the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; …For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6: 7, 10)