When I was twenty-two years old, I celebrated my first Mother's Day as the terrified, brand-new mother of a three-week-old premature baby with jaundice. I'll never forget standing in church to receive my very first Mother's Day potted plant. I took that healthy, thriving plant home and promptly murdered it. Panicked, I was certain that the deader-than-a-doornail plant was a barometer of my mothering abilities.
I still can't believe that my first baby survived my perfectionist craziness. Back then, I had the foolish notion that real mothers were saints or angels. I've since learned that angels and saints are just people who take themselves lightly. So should mothers.
I heard a pregnant mother say in church one Mother's Day, "All you old ladies always say you're glad you're not raising your children today. You say the world is so awful. Well, I want you to stop it. You're scaring me to death."
"Don't worry, dear," an elderly lady answered, patting the young pregnant woman on the shoulder. "My grandmother used to say the same thing to me fifty years ago."
When you're a first-time expectant woman, mothers who have been through childbirth love to recite their most horrific stories of marathon labors to scare you to death. When you're a walking zombie trying desperately to soothe a newborn, more experienced parents tend to say things like, "They're only babies once. Just enjoy them, dear." When you're on the brink of a nervous breakdown with a house full of insomniac toddlers down with the chicken pox, older parents say, "Just wait till you have teenagers. You aint' see nothing yet." When you're battling fire-breathing teenagers, older parents say, "Don't wait for the children to leave home before you get a life, because . . . they come back!"
Younger mothers think their older peers have grown senile and forgotten the hard parts. Older mothers think their young peers will soon regret not having enjoyed their children while they still had them home to tuck into bed each night. The unwritten code of maternal martyrdom states, "All other mothers must have it easier than I do, because if I really believed things were going to get worse, I wouldn't get out of bed."
In fact, if we really knew what was ahead, we'd probably avoid making the very choices that ultimately bring us the most joy. Motherhood doesn't get easier as we go along, it just gets different. In truth, older mothers look back at younger mothers with a certain tenderness only experience can bestow. Perhaps it is time to stop comparing the hardness of our lives and start loving each other. It is time to appreciate and celebrate each woman's mothering contribution.
Though not every woman can have children, every woman can mother. Though nobody has this nurturing business all figured out, we can collectively relax and enjoy the learning process. Though we often make mistakes, we can feel greater peace knowing we can try, fail, and try again. As we move from one mothering season to another, we should celebrate our progress. A mother's love ignites the forces of good and changes the world one soul at a time.
One quiet day when we have grown old, we will realize we are not the same person we once were, because once you learn to truly love one human being completely, loving everybody else comes so much easier.