To be a mother is to abide in conflict, the nature of which changes with time. The conflict is both threatening and strengthening. It is inevitable and not something one can negotiate to have or not have. It is. Whether in spite of or because of conflict, ultimately the task of mothering is satisfying.

I am not sure I ever made the “decision” to have a child and if so, it was a long time ago anyway. This was not a question but a given. Now I am a grandmother and it is my daughters who control their children's interaction with the world, which includes me. Being out of control is probably less of a factor than my children think. Mostly I am fixed on not wanting to waste time with anything that isn't consequential and what this is has changed with my experiences and understandings. In short, Mothering is obviously different at my age, 57, than it was when I was 19 and thought to have a baby.

The conflict I didn't expect has been the generational one between the children I gave birth to over the children they gave birth to. The nature of this dynamic is hard to decipher. If I had to guess it would be that my children see me as a great deal more powerful than I am or see themselves as having more power than they ever really have. Perhaps they expect that I will be consistent in my philosophy as a mother and now as a grandmother. How unlikely. As a grandmother I am now a gardener emeritus. I do not have to turn out day to day crops to feed my family, and grow extra for cash. I do not have to keep the machinery running, pay the hands to fix the fences. I do not have to worry about new technologies, the weather, and physical injury. That is the lifestyle of the parent.

I, as a grandmother, am a very specialized horticulturist. I can take the time to lie down with a tired grand baby under her "magical blanket" and stay stock still for an hour or two while she drops off to sleep, be there when she opens her eyes and smiles. I can sit under the grape arbor in the heat of the afternoon and eat green beans off the vines with little ones. I can just be. It isn't my place and frankly isn't what I want to do at all to get this child anywhere, to achieve anything, to be responsible for anything. I do not know whether this is true for every grandmother, living everywhere and in all times. I suspect it is more true than not. Growing older has caused me to devalue certain indicia of success and to treasure experiences. I have become less of a collector and more desirous of performance art. I just want to be with my grandchildren with no particular agenda. Does my mere presence have an impact on them? Who knows. They clearly have an impact on me. I am an exotic plant they help to nurture.

And the conflict with my own children? Do I think they do not love, honor and/or respect me? Or is this relationship unexplainable in these terms? And isn't time in their lives and mine really the most relevant point here? After all, they are adults now. No one needs "utilitarian" mother to do for them what they can and actually do better for themselves.

Still, it would be nicely settling not to have a continuation of the same churn that has been going on for the last twenty years. Somehow, whatever I have experienced or known is suspect to them. They have a way of invalidating everything I have seen or learned which potentially discolors the whole experience of mothering for me. I often do not feel honored or respected but eternally damned for things I said or did or that they think I said or did, or even what I say or do this very moment. I cannot redeem myself, I cannot change in their eyes, and all the effort I put into raising them seems like an enormous waste of the uncertain number of years that constitute my life span. Would I do it again? The growing realization I have as I grow older is that it doesn't matter, this is the way it works. It wasn't intended otherwise.

OK. Maybe I have overstated the significance of and degree of fatigue all this confrontation and competition causes.

Ppssssttt...The secret is mothers love their children more than children their mothers.

The lack of expectation of return is even greater flowing to grandchildren and I think this accounts for the ease and beauty of that relationship. Voila! Just as the child most magically thought, it really is all about him or her, the object of Mother's most divine actions. Of course, I also demeaned my own mother. Let her say one thing, let her act out of her own convictions, let her not be the easy fix it for my own conflicts and I cut her dead. I was so sure my philosophy du jour was correct that I chafed and hated what my mother told me. Sexual freedom is bad for women. You can only have children in marriage or have a career outside of marriage. Women are responsible for keeping the family and society good.

In 1967 I thought that my mother's views hopelessly stunk. So I resolved this Catholic conflict by getting married and having four daughters in five years. In 1974 I had a medically necessary sterilization which threw me into a depression that lasted two years. The loss of ability to conceive cut to the core of my identity and I never realized that up to that time. I never doubted, however, that this had to be the decision given the hole in my uterus from an improperly placed IUD. After the sterilization, my mother was finally and forever (seemingly) cut off from me when she innocently remarked that I could have another child someday.

I think it unfair to continue my rampage of my mother now that she is 82, disabled from stroke and living an institutionalized life, which isn't entirely to her disliking. In light of this election, and, as women, our threatened future, I think it is time for me to admit that I understand where my mother is coming from. And that is enough. I don't need to argue with her about the niceties. I do see that she did the best she could given her circumstances and it was good enough. If I value myself then I have to admit that I am the strong woman I am today because of her.

You see now why these recountings of conflicts are, in the end, mere noodlings. The fact is one cannot avoid being a mother if she is still a breathing woman. Mother is Creativity, the generator of life itself. Life appears to be ever changing conflict. Out of five ingredients brought together with deliberate intention and quiet tending, she produces bread. By careful stitches a quilt evolves from a mere hunger to feel soft fabric. Order and beauty is brought to a room for no reason or because she cares about the people who will be using the space. She can be provoked into flashes of anger but is too filled with energy to be diverted for long. Mother is Woman, is Goddess. She is Humor, Pragmatism, Wisdom, Tolerance. She works through and moves past conflict. She is Love.


Mothers Issue Features:


{ She's Having a Baby: The Lesbian Gayby Boom }
{ Universal Mother: An Interview With Writer Ariel Gore }
{ All About My Mother: The Greatest Movie Moms }
{ Somebody's Mother: A Photo Essay }
{ Losing the Almighty Mother }
{ A Grandmother's Lament }
{ Are You Going to Eat That? Mother's Cooking }

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