THE WRONG MOM
Last year I got a phone call. "Oh, you're the wrong mom!" My daughter-in-law didn't mean it that way; she was trying to get a new phone connected to her mother's plan. Even so, I burst into tears when the phone disconnected. Something inside me resonated with her words, uttered in a moment of innocent confusion. What did I know about being a mother, right or wrong? Throw mother-in-law on top of that, and I felt wrong about 99% of the time.
I usually dream almost every night, and unlike most people, I remember my dreams. I would brush them off as nonsense but then fell into some compelling conversations about the power of dreams. I read some books and other literature that made me put a notepad beside my bed to scribble down the messages from my subconscious. I quickly realized these dreams had a theme, but it took much longer to find a word that fit.
What wakes me up in a cold sweat? Not monsters, falling off a cliff or standing naked in front of a crowd. Nope, my nightmares are all about INADEQUACY. It usually comes in the form of people wanting - something, but I can't hear them, or they can't hear me, or I can't find my glasses, or the cash register won't open, or I try grabbing something, and my fingers won't work. It doesn't seem like the stuff of nightmares, but those scenarios show up regularly. Not measuring up. Having responsibility and failing. Having people depend on me and letting them down.
Recently I opened a letter from my mother. She writes, "What did I know? I was so young." She was referencing a time when she was the same age I am now. She always seemed supremely confident in my teenage and young adult years, a rock of wisdom. To hear now, almost 30 years later, she had doubts about her role as a mother is news to me.
I loved being my mother's child; I loved how I grew up, wild and free in the middle of nowhere. As a big, close-knit family, we were our own best friends. We were gone all day exploring, floating the river in the summer, sledding the hills in winter. We had no tv, only piles of books to devour. We went to church every Sunday and sat down to dinner every evening. When it came time to marry and raise my own family, I didn't think much about it; I just duplicated what my mother had done because that was what I knew and made me happy.
Early on, my life echoed my mother's in many ways. We married young, had children right away, and in quick succession. We had large families, five for me and six for my mother. Both our husbands worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and we raised our children in rural America, places full of loggers, ranchers, cowboys, farmers, solid country folk. BUT - I wasn't my mother. Imagine the shock of that.
The things my mother took in stride: staying home with a large brood of small children, a husband's long workdays and busy summer fire seasons, the isolation of tiny communities in the middle of nowhere, were all things that crushed me. I didn't realize I was comparing my parenting to the mothering I had experienced. I only felt inadequate to the task, ALL THE TIME!
The hidden stress came out in my dreams; a dread carried through my subconscious. I finally realized the root of my inadequacy was comparison. I was comparing myself to my mother and failing in my eyes. Based on that perceived failure, I assumed my children were being robbed of the bucolic childhood I had experienced because I couldn't get my act together.
Time has passed since those early parenting days - a lot of it. Sometimes I overhear my grown children talking about my past parental failings, usually with a hilarious punchline. I want to declare my innocence with my mother's words. "What did I know? I was so young." One of them usually comes over to give me a big hug.
"We love you, Mama." I know this, of course, but those old feelings of inadequacy still sting.
Those feeling don't linger like they used to, though. I know the root, and I don't buy into it anymore. I am not perfect - Lord knows - but I give myself a lot of grace. When those dreams begin to creep in again, I take the time to journal, to sort out what lie I am buying into, who or what I am comparing myself to. If it is my mother, I give a quick prayer of thanks for the wonderful childhood I had and all the sacrifices she made in raising us. I know she is the last person who would ever want me to think less of myself.
Last week I was skimming through my quote journal. It is full of country song lyrics, funny things my kids have said, and that perfect thought from a favorite author. Right there was a quote from ME of all people. At some point, I had scribbled. "WHO YOU ARE IS EXACTLY WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS" - Alice. Ha! Words from a wise woman who has learned the hard way.
I am grateful for the power of dreams and what I have learned from them. I am thankful for the wonderful mother God has given me, a woman who is one of my very best friends. I am also glad I am The Right Mom to five amazing human beings.
PS - thought I would share the Mother's Day card I sent my Mom this year. (;