Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Good Mother

One of the last conversations my Mother and I had was when she was lying on the hospital gurney after falling and breaking her leg.
She had decided to discontinue dialysis, as the logistics of continuing within the confines to the Dr’s protocol just seemed too much to bear; moving her to Wichita, being in bed all day, not to mention recovering from a surgery she might not survive, and possibly having a stroke through it. It just made it seem an unnecessary continuance of what seemed to her an already complicated existence. She was 88 years old, had been on dialysis for three and a half years, and was weary of it all. Once the decision was made, the realization that her life would end was finally the reality she had been preparing for.

As she looked at me through tear filled eyes, her comment to me was “I just want to know that I’ve been a good Mother.”

I found myself grasping for words. My mother would now begin the process of “actively dying”, as hospice puts it, what could I say that would put her mind at ease, allow her to slip peacefully and rested into the next stage of her journey?

I remember telling her some things, comforting things, all the things I thought she would want to hear. Cutting her the break that I thought she needed to hear, that we girls all knew and understood that she had done the best she knew how, that we loved her, and were proud of her, that she was and had been in her own way, with-out-a-doubt, one of the best Mom’s around. I don’t really remember too much about the conversation, I knew it was important to put her mind at ease, to comfort her, I didn’t want to screw it up. Apparently, I said and did the right stuff because she took a deep breath, hugged me, gave me a kiss, and launched into directions on what color lipstick she wanted put on her after she was gone—“not that bright red stuff!”

Her question has stayed with me though. Isn’t that the question that every mother asks herself thousands of times in her life of raising children? Even after they are grown and making families of their own, and become mothers themselves; you still ask yourself, “Have I been a good Mother?"

Over the past year, I’ve felt quite confident that I was NOT a good mother. After all don’t we gauge our success as mothers on our children’s behavior, the choices they make, and the way they “turn out”? When they make mistakes, and poor choices don’t we assume that somewhere along the line WE messed up?

Have I been a good mother?

Sure. In some ways, like my own mother, I’ve been the best I knew how. Within the confines of my knowledge and experience I was the best Mother I knew how to be. I did what I thought was the right thing to do by my children. Don’t most Mothers’?

In other ways, I’ve messed up royally. I’ve said the wrong things at the wrong times, I’ve let them down when I should have lifted them up. I’ve doubted when I should have had confidence. I was there when I shouldn’t have been, and vice-versa. In some ways, mothering is a crap shoot, there are so many variables in the mix, success or failure are never guaranteed. Even God, the first parent, has had kids that if behavior and choices reflected on the parents, let’s just say, didn’t reflect well on Him.

Let’s face it we judge by performance, our performance, our kids’ performance, and our neighbors’ performance. And like any performance, when someone does well, we cheer and hoot, and when they get up there and forget the lines, and screw up the scene, we cringe for them, and sometimes giggle and laugh, (especially when they are little), but we still judge the performance. Did they know their lines? Were they prepared?

Mothering isn’t a performance. The lines haven’t been written, and let’s face it, can you ever prepare?

I’ve thought about my Mothers statement over and over again during the last year. She would have probably cut me a huge break over the events that have taken place in my family this past year. Don’t get me wrong, she would have struggled with it, but it seems that in her last days, she was still wondering about this Mothering thing; just how to do it, trying to find the definitive answer to the “getting it right” question. Her question has given me hope, because I’m thinking that if at 88 years of age she still didn’t know if she had gotten it right, I’m pretty sure I don’t know either. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.