On Being a Mother

On Being a Mother

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

On Being a Mother

Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing is so gentle as real strength.

Ralph W. Sockman

I have a picture of my mother-in-law that I just love. At one of our girls’ birthday parties, the camera caught Mother Hart in a moment of pure joy, laughter lighting up her face. I choose to think of her this way.

It was not always so. As a much younger woman, still on the slopes of Fool’s Hill myself, I was jealous of her ability to command my husband’s attention with a word. I worried that he loved her more than me. On the other hand, Mother Hart wondered if I could or would make her son happy or be a good mother to her grandchildren. She worried that her son would leave her forever. She might have been a little jealous of me.

As time went by, we established a truce. I needed to remind myself often that she had done at least one thing right—she raised my husband to be a loving, caring, honest man. She had to remember that she did not get to pick her son’s wife, and that she really just wanted her son to be happy.

Mother Hart and I edged closer and closer over the years, never really sure of one another, but willing to try because of the things we held in common. And then my own mother died.

Mama and I had our ups and downs over the years, but we had as close a relationship as people who lived two thousand miles apart could. When Mama got sick, my husband and I brought her to Texas to live with us. Mother Hart knew Mama was dying, and she planned to visit once Mama got settled in. She wanted to meet my mother.

That was not to be. Mama died three weeks after I brought her home. My husband called to tell her; that conversation changed our relationship forever. I sat listening to them on the phone, not really able to talk, but when Mother Hart asked, “Do you want me to come?” I managed to blurt out “Yes, please.”

Mother Hart helped me through the most painful time of my life. She dropped her own life and came to take care of me. In doing so, she showed me my importance in her life. She did not say or do anything magical; she just showed up, and her presence was a gift. She took care of the mundane chores, washing dishes and such, but what mattered most was the connection she gave me.

Something happens when your mother dies. If she outlived your father, or if your relationship was close, you can feel like the world has cast you adrift, like you have no one to turn to. In some ways, I have never felt more truly alone than when my mother died, but Mother Hart’s being there helped. She never tried to step into Mama’s place. She simply let me know that I still had a family—her family.

I learned a lot from those few days Mother Hart spent with us. I learned that she really did love me, that our days of mutual toleration had ended. She showed me that I am not, and will never have to be, alone. I realized I had proven myself to her over the years, and she had fully accepted my place in her son’s life and her own. I also recognized that she had a place in my life and that she was no threat to me. I have realized since then that the love between us was planted, tended, and grown, rather than just appearing. This kind of love is perfectly acceptable, perhaps even preferable to the volunteer variety, since one thinks twice before trampling on a carefully cultivated relationship.

On the slopes of Fool’s Hill, vision is distorted. Youth and inexperience color every perception. A man’s mother cannot make or unmake his marriage, if it is built on a solid foundation, even if it looks like she can. And no girl can destroy a man’s love for his mother. She merely takes a place his mother can never fill.

People die, and when they do, we lose them forever, except in memory. I try to be more careful than ever to make memories we all want to keep. I cannot know if Mother Hart will ever need me the way I needed her, but I plan to be there if she does.

Ann Weaver Hart

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