I think that Mother’s Day will always be a two-edged sword since my mother passed away two years and nine months ago…God, has it already been that long? On one hand, I will always smile and laugh remembering my wonderfully whacky and loving mom- she was a character in every sense of the word; lion-hearted, generous, silly, dignified (at times), stubborn as a mule, and every ounce a true Southern Lady.
She sacrificed so much for me, her baby, the one child she raised on her own when my father left her for another woman. I was fifteen months old, she was an untrained-for-the-workforce woman left with a toddler and two teenagers to deal with as she navigated the heavy emotional toll of divorce in the 60s. She made sure I had the education and experiences I needed to build a happy life for myself, and did all that she could to support me every step of the way. She was my cheerleader and greatest ally, and as I grew older, she became my best friend. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her, though I feel her with me always, deep in my heart. This holiday commemorating mothers will forever be a mixture of joy and gratitude for the mother I had, and deep ache for the mother I lost.
On the other hand, this holiday never fails to bring up the ‘what if’s‘. What if things had been different and I had had children of my own? What would they be like? What kind of mother would I have been? How would I have handled the challenges of motherhood? I can hear my mother saying the platitude, “Hindsight is twenty-twenty!” She had a saying for most everything in life. It’s true, though- it’s pretty senseless to do the “what if” game- how can we ever truly know what would have been?
I don’t regret not having children. While I have a very strong maternal instinct, I never felt the pull to give birth. I love children, but have poured my heart and soul into teaching and mentoring my students over my career teaching in public school and at the university level. Hopefully I have helped those students in some small way to know that they are special and capable of achieving their dreams and doing great things in the world. I really hope so.
I’ve often thought at different points in my life that I was a coward for not having children, too afraid that I would screw them up, imparting too many of my own insecurities and neuroses to them. Perhaps I was selfish, throwing myself into my all-consuming career as a performer and teacher at the expense of building a family. For whatever reason, the time was never right; my first husband did not want children, and Dan and I are too old to consider it. We always joke and say, “In our next life we’ll have the cutest children…”
I don’t feel less than, though, for not having had children. Oh, it is always a bit strange on Mothers’ Day when a cashier or server will inevitably wish me Happy Mother’s Day! or ask how many children I have. I usually just thank them, smile, and say, “Two dogs.” Some people look at me and smile, others give me a look filled with pity, as if I am somehow incomplete or damaged goods because I did not carry a child in my womb. Not so- instead, I helped to carry many young people across the abyss of self-doubt, believing in them and using music and the clarinet to help them learn to believe in themselves.
As Mother’s Day approaches this weekend, I again wonder what kind mother I would have been. Probably too soft-hearted to be much of a stern disciplinarian. Too unsure of myself to always make the right decisions. Too busy with my career to give them everything they need. I would have made so many mistakes, I have no doubt. However, I like to think that like my mother, I would love unconditionally, fiercely, be their biggest cheerleader in life, laugh with them, cry with them, be with them through all of the messy beauty that is life. I hope that I would teach them to be good and kind human beings. That’s what I hope.
Happy Mother’s Day to you!