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Mother’s Day for the Rest of Us | Manolo for the Big Girl

Mother’s Day for the Rest of Us

One of the challenges of having a Big Girl blog that discusses everything from domestic abuse to self-tanner abuse instead of sticking to a niche within a niche (fashion, fat activism) is it’s almost impossible to put my fingers in my ears and go “lalalala” when a certain percentage of my adoring public (just let me tell myself you’re adoring, okay? Sometimes it’s the only thing other than the bars on the windows keeping me from self-defenestration) is having a rough time, even if it’s not exclusively the domain of the Lane Bryant enthusiast.

Mother’s Day in the United States is upon us –it was yesterday here in Mexico– and we’ve been discussing the complex mother/daughter relationship all week.

I know this has been a particularly hard time for some of my readers.

Maybe I’m more sensitive to it myself this year as a close friend lost her mother recently, but for many –myself included– the second Sunday in May is not always filled with the happiest of feelings.

Some of us have lost our mothers through death, and some of us through methods more subtle but possibly just as painful.

I’ve received some emails –the readers have requested anonymity and I’ll respect their wishes, though I’ll never be able to compete with their eloquence– asking for advice on how to deal with mothers who don’t exactly merit the card-and-corsage treatment.

Obviously I’m not a therapist, although I HAVE seen that dishy Gabriel Byrne play one on TV, so I’m not sure how much wisdom I’ll be able to impart, but hey, it’s either that or talking about how I burned my finger this morning (hint: hot glass looks deceptively like cold glass) so let me give it a go:

Sometimes you get dealt a bum hand. You just do. So you rub some dirt in it (by “dirt” I mean therapy, meditation, medication, shoes or a combination of all four) and walk it off. It’s not fun and it’s not pretty, but there it is.

See, as much as we’d like to believe our appearance would be enough to make previously incapable people rise to the occasion, that’s not necessarily how it works. There’s no qualifying exam to getting knocked up and just because your mom or my mom or whoever’s mom managed to get her Ivanka trumped doesn’t mean she’s going to be a good or even loving mother. That’s not something everyone’s capable of; myself, perhaps, included.

I don’t have kids because I don’t think I’d be that great a mother.

I’m a reasonably decent person according to the people I pay to say that, but you know how some people yearn for years about having a baby? Smelling them, washing them, tucking them in at night? The only thing I’ve felt like that about was a pair of green Dior heels, and they didn’t even come in my size.

So I play Auntie Mame and in the evening when I’ve sent those blessed bundles to their respective homes, I say a thankful prayer to Saint NuvaRing and drift off to a gentle, uninterrupted slumber.

But, you know, a woman’s right to control her reproductive destiny hasn’t always been as easy or socially accepted as it is now.

Sometimes women who were never suited to be mothers, who never WANTED to be mothers *poof* became mothers.

Passing a toaster through a light socket doesn’t automatically bestow a woman with magical Donna Reed powers. Some women don’t have the parenting tool in their toolbox and yet they’re still expected to fix that leaky toilet (oh what, like comparing a child to a leaky toilet is the worst analogy I’ve ever made? It’s not even the worst analogy I’ve made in this post.)

And sometimes your mother simply is, to quote the great French Age of Enlightenment thinker François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire, “crazier than a sack of ferrets.”*

But fear not my friends, plenty of respectable people have socks on wire hangers for mothers, challenging maternal situations. The key is to remember there is just as much to learn from a bad example as a good (see also: hot glass v. cold glass): It’s just a lot more painful.

Many of my best qualities –not that there are all that many to choose from– were developed as an equal and opposite reaction to those things I saw as a child and said “That’s not gonna be me” including:

  • my feminism
  • my general disinclination-to-the-point-of-revulsion to willful neediness/helplessness
  • my independence
  • trust in my own critical processes (my definition of right is not “anything opined by someone with balls”)
  • my refusal to believe beauty hinges on a number
  • my understanding that approval can be nice but is rarely necessary
  • my unwillingness to spend a lifetime as Professional Victim (and distaste for those who do)

…and most of all my unshakable, unerring knowledge of my own worth that has allowed me to walk away from bad relationships, friendships and situations (or, you know, not get into them in the first place) before they sucked me in, took me down and just generally screwed me up.

So, dear readers who eat cold spaghetti out of the container when the rest of the world is at mediocre prix fixe brunch drinking watery mimosas and eating wedge salads even though it hasn’t been 1972 for some time now, I invite you to write your own list.

Don’t dwell on what they did wrong, focus on what you do right. Write it down, keep it in a safe place and revisit it each year.

I invite you to share your lists here, if it helps, and remember…don’t touch hot glass twice!





*He probably didn’t actually say this


6 Responses to “Mother’s Day for the Rest of Us”

  1. Toby Wollin May 11, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    What I think I did right as a Mom (which might or might not have anything to do with how my own mom raised us):
     No commercial tv in the house. Because of where we lived, we could not even get cable but we had a tv set and a players for tapes and then dvds. My son could recite ‘The Seven Samurai’ in Japanese when he was 5. He didn’t know who Barney even WAS. Lots of books and writing.
     My kids made their own money through 4H – we used to do a deal with them where if they wanted to buy an animal, we’d front the money and then they’d give us the first whatever to sell. My kids never had to ask US for money and though we gave them some advice and help (opened credit union accounts for them, taught them about stocks, encouraged them to save), we never told them what to spend their money on or what they couldn’t spend it on.
     I never gave an opinion on my kids looks. Period. If the girls wanted to shave their heads – so be it. If they wanted to get a tattoo, I did explain that this was sort of a permanent change that was going to hurt a lot to take off.
     If my kids came to me and said, “Mom, I want xxx but it doesn’t come in my size,” I’d whip out the sewing machine and make it for them. It did not matter what it was – wide blue jeans, samurai costumes or prom dresses. They wanted to look like their friends – that was ok with me so long as it didn’t expose enough to get them arrested or sent home from school.
     I never told my kids ‘I think you should be a xxx.’ I was brought up with that and I think it’s just bad. When one of the kids came to us after her college graduation and said, “I want to go to hair dresser school,’ we said, “Great – how can we help?” No one should wake up at 40 saying to themselves, “Gee, I wish I’d done xxx instead of being a (pick one: nurse, doctor, lawyer, accountant, computer programmer, engineer) like Mom and Dad convinced me to do.

  2. wildflower May 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    What a wonderful post. Thank you.

  3. Jo May 14, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Seconding wildflower.

    In addition to some of your list,

    – my willingness to go to bat for my friends
    – my refusal to be quiet when something’s wrong
    – my ease with solitude
    – my progressive attitude: recognizing when a situation’s changed (ex. a job’s gone stale, a relationship no longer works) and deciding to adapt to the new situation rather than “stick it out”
    – my belief that being someone’s “good girl” is highly overrated.


  4. raincoaster May 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    I’m lucky: both my parents are dead, so I spend Mother’s Day and Father’s Day getting drunk with Batman.

  5. Gauss May 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Thank you for a very thoughtful post! I have had a very complicated relationship with my mother, and haven’t talked to her in a couple of years; in fact, I refuse to have any contact. She was an immensely negative influence in my life and at some point I just decided that I couldn’t handle the stress, drama, negativity and hate any more. One of the best things I have learned is not to be angry with the world – and yes, it was in reaction to her attitude.

  6. littlem May 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    A lovely post.

    I’m not a mom, but I have one, and we have Mother’s Week.

    We had a difficult time for a *long* time, but I’m happy to say our communication has improved by quantum leaps, and the light at the end of the tunnel turned out not to be an oncoming train.