I tend to be a bit of a self-cleaning oven. I am not very good at asking for help to scrub the burners free of life’s, obligations, stressors and miseries. I actually feel much better helping others find their way navigating the complex waters of this thing called life, than focusing on myself.
When I first started flying, the stewardess, which you may recall is what flight attendants used to be called, would be demonstrating the safety protocols and would say something like “In the unlikely event of a cabin pressure emergency, an oxygen mask will fall out of the ceiling.
If you are traveling with young children, make sure you put the mask on yourself first’. I rarely listen to instructions or read full paragraphs for that matter, my brain being too busy doing many other more interesting things, but that day I actually paid attention to what she was saying, and decided she must have flunked the training progra, and like me probably hadn’t paid much attention in school.
How dare we look after ourselves first, before a defenseless child?
The word selfish gets bad press. If you think of the word selfish, you tend to think of some self-absorbed individuals who don’t give a damn about anyone other than themselves. Well, with the wisdom of age, and I have a lot of years under my belt earning every one of my now exposed white eyebrow hairs, I have figured it out. Tell me, what good are we if we are unconscious, literally or metaphorically, to those around us? With the oxygen mask of life securely in place, we are far better equipped to help others, because we have taken care of ourselves first.
Being a mother is a daunting and humbling experience. For most of my many years parenting my own biological kids, as well as having many other young people in my life and care I have felt I am in a never-ending episode of the I Love Lucy show. I loved that wacky woman and I could relate to her and her crazy antics of trying to get her needs met in life, all the while screwing up and then recovering from the mishaps. Methinks a metaphor for parenting!
One of the many silver linings of Covid 19 captivity has been the opportunity to spend time with my adult kids, hunkered down in a part of the world they grew up in and loved their entire lives. My family had an island cottage that my parents had the foresight to buy in 1972. My siblings and I were given the opportunity to spend time in nature and by water, two incredibly important features for my mental and physical health today.
My parents saw the purchase as an opportunity to build family ties for their five children, and the 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren that were to come. For my mom, the cottage was her salvation. She struggled with depression most of her life, but there she came into her own and found a contentment and peace that was not usually present in other locations. Sadly, it was sold a few years ago.
Some years before the sale and before my father’s death and my mother’s dementia worsened, my husband and I bought a 100 year old farmhouse/cottage on the mainland, not far as the crow flies from the family cottage. We saw it as our retirement home, not of course knowing back then that we would be hunkered down in it before actually collecting our old age security cheques.
Unfortunately dad died before he could spend too much time on our main land property, which would have allowed him more ease and less anxiety about the boat trip to the island. Mom has spent many happy times with us here, although her declining physical health may preclude her coming back to Muskoka this year. She has dementia although she remembers all of her kids and grandkids, but what she remembers most is her cottage. Her face lights up when you say “Mom the ice is out, and it’s time for you to go back up north.”
She said to me long ago that she felt like a “good” mother at the cottage. I am not sure what that really meant, because she never explained, but I believe it was because she would stop running around like a chicken with her head cut off, a human doing vs a human being, and would sit and play endless games of Scrabble, swim with the grand kids, hike and walk and was known to go tubing with her great grandkids at age 89. She came alive in nature and surrounded by her family. Her family is everything to her. Although she struggled with being happy, and content with the choices she made in her life, there was no doubt how much she loved her family. She taught me that the best ‘presents’ we can ever give to our children is our ‘presence’.
With Covid 19 cavity and the great pause that is a hallmark feature of the pandemic, I feel I get to do a bit of a parenting ‘re-do.’ Like my mother I do too much and have a hard time just being, although starting to meditate years ago improved this considerably.
Having this time with my kids has been precious for me. Without this pause together we would not have been playing board games, planning and preparing fun and nutritious meals, sitting long after stuffing ourselves is over and just talking, without having to separate and race into our respective, frenetic lives. We would not be walking down the country highway, picking up garbage and beer cans splendidly attired in rubber boots and yellow dishwashing gloves.
Graham and Devon have learned how to make bread, and, oh my God, cinnamon-sugar donuts. I see them as medicinal comfort food to help get me through…. They have also been raking and bagging a 100 years of forest debris, and are the best dump runners in the family.
Greg, being the most talented and creative of our bunch, has been coming up with new creations and always has great ideas on how to make a buck, a natural born entrepreneur. He is our property manager keeping the lawn and gardens looking their very best and providing Covid Captivity Comedic Relief. He has a wicked sense of humour, which we have all appreciated during these unprecedented times.
When we aren’t busy stuffing ourselves and putting on the Covid 19 (pounds!) we have been planning and mapping out a large vegetable garden in our field. Gregory has been complaining that he has been served a “medley of mediocrity”, referring to the nightly placement of carrots and parsnips, on our dinner table. At the beginning of the pandemic large quantities of vegetables were purchased as if we were Columbus in 1492, crossing the Atlantic blue on a ship and needing to stockpile, so we wouldn’t get scurvy. The message of my Depression era parents rings in my ears saying “waste not, want not”, guiding my decision to get to the end of the large sack. This garden will not have carrots or parsnips, if Greg has his say.
I believe living in a family is a lot like tending to a garden. We have to plant the seeds of self- worth and self-esteem and nurture them gently, until kids can do it themselves. We have to carefully foster growth, but not trample them with our own worries and needs for excellence. We need to water and fertilize each family member’s soul, and when the weeds come, as they inevitably will, we have to pick them out and learn from them and at times their painful and life choking messages.
In 1953, Dr. Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst coined the term “The good enough mother.” He believed that mothers needed to be very attentive to their children and meet their needs well, but Donald, thank God, figured out that mothers need to fail the little darlings in manageable ways. He wasn’t talking about major failures like abuse and neglect, but in tolerable ways on a fairly regular basis, so they can learn to live in an imperfect world. I read his book cover to cover, which if you know me my ADD precludes that level of attentiveness, unless there is something gripping in it for me. My kids would probably say I took to heart too seriously the prescribed need to fail them, but what the hell, I did the best I could.
Happy Mother’s Day.