I'm sitting in the audience at the Kansas City symphony listening to Hayden, beside my 88-year-old mother who is bathing in the beautiful music. We bickered briefly this morning, but I'm proud to say that we both let it go and are enjoying the concert together.
I pat her arm with love and she turns and smiles at me. Then she reaches for my hand and places it in hers. And there I sit, holding hands with my mom and sharing one of the most simple and perfect moments of my life. My heart fills, my eyes fill, and I relax in an unparalleled moment of being at peace with my imperfect mom, as her imperfect daughter, connecting where perfection doesn't matter.
How often I have believed that my mom made it hard to love her. She criticized, nagged, doubted -- all those things that flawed parents do with and to their children. And how often did I make it hard for her to love me -- passionately defending and explaining myself in the hopes that she would "get it", whatever "it" happened to be that day, all the while resisting her efforts because they were so off the mark.
If there's a more complicated relationship than mother/ daughter, I've yet to discover it. Growing up, as much as I resisted her, I longed to feel our love for one another. Certainly it got easier when I became an adult, even more so when I became a mother, but I confess to still having at least one big argument a year as my inner child's longing for her to "get me" collided with her inability to do so.
Being a parent helped me figure some things out. I began to realize that if I held my mom to an unattainable standard, it would only be fair that I hold myself to one, as well, and I simply couldn't always be a great parent. I did my best, and in fact my 19 year old son actually called me a couple of weeks ago from college because he wanted to tell me something important. "Mom, I want to thank you for raising me the way you did. You did a really great job." I was speechless.
I thought about what he'd said -- how I'd taught him about being accountable and responsible and so on, and that now that he's at college he sees the value of some of the things I did in ways he never could before. But the truth is, I lost my patience plenty of times with him, saying and doing things that were ridiculous and beneath me.
But one thing I did do was refuse to incriminate myself or dive into guilt and self-flagellation when I blew it. I acknowledged my mistakes without leaning too much on defending myself or blaming him. I tried to make sure he felt heard and understood when things went wrong. Beyond that, I think I also just have a very forgiving boy.
My son has inspired me to become a more forgiving daughter. As I learn to accept my mom with all her beauty and kindness, as well as her neuroses, I find myself better able to put aside my expectations and simply love her. The funny thing is (and maybe this has something to do with the fact that she's reading my book!) she is easier. Less defensive. Better able to listen.
I'd like to think it's a result of her reading her daughter's book, but I suspect it has as more to do with the fact that I'm giving her plenty of "Act Ones", coming alongside her instead of at her, making her feel less defensive and better able to navigate our challenges.
Being a parent has to be the most challenging experience we can go through, but if we're lucky, we get the chance to grow up and into our best selves. I'm grateful to my son for inspiring me to keep growing, and for my mom, for giving me the opportunity to grow even more.
Here's to enjoying the ride.