Waiting in the lobby of an alternative programs school to interview an educator for a story, I heard the receptionist’s phone ring.
She listened, acknowledging the caller with “okay”and “I see,” then finally asked: “Where were you when he jumped off the school bus?” I lifted my head and looked over at the unfazed receptionist. “Have you called his mother?”
And there it was. Mom. So often Mom is the go-to parent, first line of defense, a Magic 8 Ball with limbs and a pulse. She is expected to know the answers to everything: “Where’s my library book?” “Will this stain come out?” “Does my nose look broken?” “Can I stay out all night after prom?”
Learning how to be a mom is less book knowledge and more on-the-job training, and it is one daunting job. When I was expecting my first child, someone gave me a calendar with a card of stickers to mark all the milestones—first doctor’s appointment, bought baby clothes, assembled crib, etc. The last one read, “I feel like a mother.”
I don’t remember applying that sticker. With my first son, I felt too inexperienced to claim the title. I was more like his partner on this new journey we were taking together. In a quiet moment in my hospital room, I remember looking at my infant. Without words I made this plea: “I will be patient with you, if you’ll be patient with me. I promise to try my best.” He seemed to be onboard.
Growing up in the ’60s, one of my favorite games was The Game of LIFE by Milton Bradley. With each spin of the clicking wheel, we pushed our little square cars filled with peg people around the board to see what new adventures or catastrophes awaited us.
A mother did not invent that game. I do not recall landing on LIFE squares that read: Toddler chips new teeth on fireplace. Preschooler spills quart of chocolate milk on carpet. Kid cannot find two shoes that match. Teen gets drivers license, wrecks car on same day. Worse yet would be squares that really hurt—the kind you would give all the money in your hand to avoid: Child is not invited to birthday party. Kids call son a mean nickname. Daughter does not make the team. No one would play that game. I have been a mom for 28 years, and I still have only a fraction of the answers—or more accurately, a fraction of best guesses and guidelines. My two sons have plenty of stories to tell about times I fell short of my parenting objectives. Like the time they were sliding around in the backseat of my cavernous Suburan, and I whipped into an Albertson’s parking lot, turned around, and yelled at them with all my might, “GET IN YOUR SEATBELTS AND SIT STILL!” They looked at each other a few seconds then burst out laughing.
“You should see your face! You look so funny when you’re mad.” I turned back around and drove home in silence. Being a mom requires special powers. We try to be all-knowing, ever watchful, anticipate problems before they happen, and problem solvers when they do. We are often social planners, homework helpers, and compassionate listeners. The real challenge is doing it all with love, and whenever possible, with a smile.
To all the new mothers, have a special day and celebrate your sweet pride and joy. To veteran moms in the trenches, hang on—hang on to your humor, your mind, and hang on to the tender moments because very soon you will hug your kids goodbye at a college campus or beside their packed car in the driveway, and they will begin their new life away from home. It may be hard, but you can let them go and even smile when you do. Proof once again that you are built mom tough.