May 11, 2004

Mother days

The worst part about being a parent is when they leave home. The best part is that they never really leave home. That is, they are always your children. I’ve been very fortunate. My children are wonderful people and we are close. It hasn’t always been easy (and I have done some terrible things as a parent that are too painful to talk about) but it has always been good.

In Ian McEwan’s book Atonement the mother muses, as her youngest approaches the end of childhood, that “nothing between here and the grave would be as elementally important or as pleasurable as the care of a child.” (Of course, she is talking as a mother who had lots of domestic help. And it is the only comment in the book, so far, that has moved me.) The sentiment of the comment is real, there is nothing that compares to being a parent. Nothing more instructive or potentially rewarding.

My father once asked me (about fifteen years ago, when he was in his late eighties) how come my sister and I were so different. We had both grown up in the same house, same family, same advantages. Things seemed to be much easier for her. She is still married to the same man after (how many, maybe 45) years, three grown children, grandchildren, big house, security. I told him then that we were just different people, that you notice in a nursery in the hospital that some babies startle more easily, cry more, some are more quiet even from the beginning. What I didn’t say was that because of these inborn differences, we needed to be treated differently. The one thing I tried to do with my children was to see them as people separate from myself, with their own needs and interests.

I read in Vogue magazine years ago that if you consider your child your best friend then something is wrong, you are too dependent upon them. I was. But I am not now. They are my friends and I know what the boundaries are. I genuinely enjoy their company, exploring their minds, their worlds. But I also know that all friendships have places that you don’t go into, things that are better left not said. That relationships are about being with someone, relating to them as they are, not trying to make them into someone more like yourself, more of your own needs.

My children have only left home physically. They are always with me.

Posted by leya at May 11, 2004 08:10 AM