Just how many nuggets of advice, pearls of wisdom, dire warnings and exasperated threats does the average mother attempt to cram into a child's unwilling head over a lifetime? Let's say, for the sake of argument, you plant one unique seed a day, on average, from age 2 to 18. This is a wild approximation, of course. Some days there's a fresh tsunami as some new milestone is reached (starting school, learning to drive, leaving home) and some days it's 100% recycled (pick up your clothes, do your homework). That comes to about 5,840 by the time they graduate high school. Though of course, it doesn't ever really end.
Unless it does.
As a BRCA1 mutation carrier, blogger and performer, I meet a lot of women dealing with breast and ovarian cancer. One of the most common, and tragic, tales I hear is losing a mother to cancer just when we need her most -- as a child or teen or as we become mothers ourselves. I was fortunate. My own mother far outlived the odds, losing to BRCA-related cancer only last year. Her mother died of ovarian cancer before I had a chance to know her.
The number one reason I hear BRCA-positive women give for choosing preventive surgery, including Angelina Jolie's own given reason, is, "I don't want my kids to grow up without a mother."
My own sons are 27 and 29. Of the 5,840 (million) things I tried to teach them, I sometimes wonder if ANY of it took or was my voice just so much buzzing static in their distracted young ears? They don't live here anymore so it's harder to monitor. Do they floss? I have no idea. I DO know they shared an apartment for three years without ever owning a vacuum. At this point, I try to stem the flood of motherly wisdom and let them puzzle out life on their own unless asked.
I'm only human.
When they were kids, they fought doing chores (big surprise, I know). Their refrain, delivered in the keening wail of the martyred, was "I don't wanna!" My response was a chipper, "That's OK, honey! You don't have to wanna. You just have to do it." Repeat as often as necessary. They hated this, but eventually learned not to gripe in range of my hearing.
Not long ago, they nearly gave me cardiac arrest by actually thanking me for that lesson. They see their friends struggle with the results of being raised in the "self-esteem" era (not actual self-esteem you get from accomplishment, but fake self-esteem "experts" think you can get just by being told how great you are). Every last little task is gamified and they learn to feel entitled to gold stickers for doing jack. It has apparently left a lot of them virtually unable to just effing get on with the boring chores of adulthood unless they can muster up a rainbow sparkly spoonful-of-sugar attitude. Sure, cheeriness is preferable to whining for everyone in earshot, but it is actually (brace for it) not required. You'd be amazed at the amount of stuff that gets done without it.
Not having to want to is remarkably freeing, my boys tell me.
It works for big things too. Did I want to undergo nerve-wracking screenings and biopsies? Did I want three major surgeries in the space of a few months? Did I want to lose my natural breasts and ovaries? Who does? But I didn't have to want to. I just had to do it.
I did get the shiny gold sticker, though: I'm still here, most of me, cancer-free, and I every now and then I get to see what fruit grows from seeds I planted. How great is that?
Perhaps with increased awareness, support and research, there will come a day when no child can escape the protracted annoyance of motherly advice. I hope so.
I miss you, mom.
"Fly Away" - available on iTunes - was written and performed by Eva Moon and is from "The Mutant Diaries: Unzipping My Genes" - a one-woman musical about telling cancer to take a hike. The melody is based on a traditional Gypsy folk tune.
I remember leaving home. I heard tomorrow calling me
Poised for flight, I couldn't see my mother's eyes watching me
Now my children look ahead. On the edge, they won't stay
And they don't look back at me. I wish them well and turn away
Seasons change and years go by. Children grow and summers die
Winter holds the seeds of spring and the night surrenders to sunrise
I've left my former self behind. Her time is past, I won't delay
And I don't look back at her. I wish her well and turn away
Now I'm free to spread my wings. I hear tomorrow calling me
On the edge and poised for flight, I wish you well and fly away