Sunday, 22 March 2009

On mothering

Little daughter

A couple of weeks ago, on one of the first warm days of the year, little daughter and I were hitting tennis balls back and forth in the back garden. Suddenly, she cried: Mommy, I figured out how to climb the willow tree! Watch me!!

When she had settled into her perch, she said (with real satisfaction): In the summer, I will come up here to read. This will be my secret place and no one will be able to see me.

Although she meant it innocently enough, I couldn't help but wonder: At what age will she want to start hiding from me?

The next day, my youngest daughter left for a week's school trip to France. Although we could see pictures of our children on the website, we didn't get to speak to them. It was a strange feeling: for the first time, she was experiencing a new world that I couldn't access or be privy to. When she returned, I was afraid that she would be changed in some way . . . although she wasn't; not in any apparent way at least. She was still excited to see me; still wanted to share every detail of her week. Change is always a more gradual thing, isn't it? It has an imperceptible, but inexorable, creep.

Oldest daughter

Yesterday we were having a picnic outside -- our first of the year. Minstel was stretched out so fully and lazily in the sun . . . his abandoned pose made us all laugh. I quickly snapped this picture of my oldest daughter stroking our funny cat -- and later, while studying it, it struck me that she is completely obscured to my eye. It often feels that way. She is still here, still in our house -- but we don't know what she is thinking or feeling most of the time. Politely, but firmly, she has erected an emotional wall. If we are lucky, and catch her in a light mood, we get to see through one of the chinks.

Sigmund sent me a funny card which makes fun of the difference between mothering and fathering children.

A mother knows all about her children.
She knows about romances, best friends, favourite foods, secret fears and hopes and dreams.
A father is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.

This is true enough to elicit a laugh; but his message inside added so much more to where we are now in the parenting cycle. We no longer "know" our oldest daughter -- not as much as we'd like to anyway. I still know what she reads, and likes to eat, and who she talks to on the phone (or rather, texts), but I don't get a look in to the really important stuff. I think that's what defines getting older. A shame, fear and reluctance to share the hopes and dreams.

Today is Mothering Sunday in England, and I'm struck by the different emphasis of the words. In America, it is Mother's Day -- the biggest restaurant day of the year, and it's all about the mother. But here, but today, I feel that I have been doing the mothering and the emphasis has been entirely on the children. But isn't it always that way? It's the emotional responsibility that never stops. I sometimes tease my mother-in-law that when you have five children, at least one is bound to be in a crisis. If I really need to talk to someone, if I need unconditional love, my own mother is still my first port-of-call.

When my youngest daughter was a much smaller girl, she somehow picked up on the jargon of "quality time." Today, as we took a long walk/bike ride together at her request, she said: This counts as five chapters of quality time. (I owe her several days' backlog of bedtime reading because her father has been demanding his own quality time.)

Begging for attention

This puppy isn't part of my family, but I saw him on Friday afternoon and his expression has stayed with me. He was in the trunk (or boot) of a car, gazing wistfully out of a dirty glass.

Even in the most loving families, someone is looking for attention and someone isn't giving it. Someone doesn't want to be looked at, and someone else is doing their best to see through barriers seen and unseen.


Peggy said...

Bee, what an honest and profound post. I think back to when my daughter was about the age of your girls, and when I first realized with a sharp shock that she had stepped out of my shadow (she was 13). It felt like a loss of sorts, but I'm happy to report that after surviving adolescence, my relationship with my daughter grew and today is as close as can be. She allowed me to know her again after she figured out who she was. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today.

mati said...

Love the sentiment here,about the mothering,the evolution of our children's seemingly unconscious quest for individuation/independence yet always, looking back for assurances...kind of like their first mothers we are blessed to have this connection,and this first row seat! I do admit,it is not always easy for me to let go of the yesterdays! Happy Mothering Sunday 2009! ps are your having any problems with my feeds? apparently it has been tricky for folks to follow and some spamming stuff creeps in- I hope I fixed it! Just let me know.Thanks for your eloquent post about your daughter.
Salut du Midi!

Maggie May said...

This is my favorite post of yours. What a satisfying, rich and honest read. Thank you.

Fantastic Forrest said...

What?! My children are an open book to me. I know all, with my amazing motherly mindreading capabilities., I don't.

Your respect for your daughters' privacy is a lovely thing, an attribute I hope I can emulate at least half as gracefully as you perform it.

You have so many wonderful bits in this post. I'll just respond to one. The notion that you never stop mothering your children. My own mom tells the tale of asking her mother "When do you stop worrying about your kids?" to which my wise grandma replied "After you're dead, and maybe not even then."

Happy Mothering Sunday, Bee! And now I'm off to spend time with my own precious ones.


JaneyV said...

Bee - I'm tearful. But then I've been in a soppy mood all day. Am I being over-sensitive thinking, as you have been, on the changing nature of motherhood. The close times, the individuation. I am comforted by Peggy's words that the closeness returned when her daughter discovered who she was. I hope that my son and I have that re-connection too. I know that the separation is just around the corner with my daughter. She's young for her age, though, so maybe I have another couple of years before she pulls away and sets off on her own journey toward individuality.

At least they have us. The news of those two young mothers, each leaving behind two young sons, affected me quite deeply this week. I am so grateful today to be here with my children, even if they would rather be on MSN chatting with their friends! They know that I'm here for them - no matter what.

contemporary themes said...

This is so beautifully poignant to read, and while I'm not a mother nor have ever been mothered, I can truly appreciate the wonder of mothering and all it may entail. The emotion your writing evokes in me is one of grace "peppered" with longing! Happy Mothering Sunday to you!!!

herhimnbryn said...

Ah B, so wistful and tender too. Go here....

Delwyn said...

Good morning Bee
What I have learned from raising my four kids is that even when they pull back in order to forge their own identity independent of you and your control they still want and need you there, accessible, but in the background and out of sight.
This was brought home to me this week on the death of our dog. I grumped at my 18 year old for some minor mess and she broke down into a full scale sobbing lying on the bed 'go way!' scene.
So I went away but then I heard a little girl's voice saying, "I need a hug"...
Mothering is a constant...

Beth said...

That’s one of the most difficult things about being a mother – “mothering” and loving them well enough so that they’re able to grow away from you, find themselves amidst their peers. And when that happens, all you can do is make sure they know you will always be there for them – make sure they understand that the unconditional love and support from you is a given.
And they do come back. (As you still go to your mother….)
One of mine came “home to Mom” today – to share. Bless him. I listened and I loved – and I hope I helped.

D.A. Riser said...

Happy Mothering Day!

Bee said...

Peggy - Your words are really a comfort. I know that I "hid" from my mother as well, and we are close today. You really don't understand your mother fully until you become one yourself!

Dancing Doc - My husband is constantly reassuring me that the "individuation" is normal, but I have found it surprisingly painful. I never thought that I was a mom who lived through my children, and it has been a real shock to go through this new stage.

Maggie May - Thanks for saying that. After I wrote it, I was worried that it was too melancholy -- and yet there is nothing that has occupied my mind more in the last couple of months.

FF - If mothers can worry about their children beyond the grave, I'm sure they will!

I will confess to you that I watching HSM #2 and #3 with my girls today -- and actually, I enjoyed it.

Janey - There are quite a few of us with 14 year olds. It has been immensely helpful for me to share this. And btw, I've been thinking so much of JG and NR, too. So much work left undone -- so sad. Their mother's death is going to define those boys' lives.

She - It saddens me for you to write that you have never been mothered. Hugs for you.

Herhimnbryn - Thank you; and thanks for the link.

Delwyn - An ideal mother is always on-call, I guess. I'm so sorry about your sweet dog.

Beth - My heart is full. Thank you.

D.A. Riser - Thank you.

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

I love her hiding place ~ and as a mother whose daughter has her own daughter and sons now ~ I can tell you that you are so wise to look ahead and be aware of what is happening.

I'm not saying it will be any easier when she flies. But that's our job ~ we prepare our little birds to fly, but we are never ready when their wings start fluttering.

Bagman and Butler said...

I'd be upset about the quote that fathers are just vaguely aware of people living in the house, but it rang too true so I can't rebutt it much. At least I usually know how many people are actually there. Does that count?

Anonymous said...

I have been through this stage with a son and daughter, one was more recluse than the other, the common thread was the change from constant chatter for years to being monosyllabic, which lasted a couple of years as one is two years younger than the other. Even though they were good kids and never got into trouble their fluctuations of mood was tough to keep up with. Now, in their twenties I'm happy to say it is back to constant chatter. In hindsight I think they were trying to work things out, learning about the need for privacy and respect for space, all of which was being done under the onslaught of the biggest hormone rush ever, peer pressure and having to cram in a massive amount of educational knowledge at the same time. Now we all sit and laugh at it all and we all agree that none of us would want to go back to our teens, in a family spanning many generations the great doyanne being my 94 year old mother-in-law sums it up well "I'd never want to do that one again".

It can be a rough faze for us parents as we are saying goodbye to their youth, and we are also going to say goodbye to our own youth as they become the people we were and we become ....... OUR PARENTS ....YIKES !!!

Tess Kincaid said...

Your daughter is going to love her willow spot, especially when the leaves fill out this summer!

Even though my kids are almost totally independent, my "mom crises hotline" is always open...and frequently used!

Aine said...

Hi! I just popped over from Janey's blog. Mothering is a subject dear to my heart, too. But I've got a few years yet until I get to this stage-- our oldest is 9. My sister has commented on 14 being "the age", though. My niece seemed to morph into another creature overnight. Happily, she is now 20 and best friends with "Mom" again. I'm glad to know I'll be able to turn to bloggers when the time comes and find I'm not alone. :)

Btw, I see the caboose in East Aurora in your side bar. My husband grew up there-- we love that town! We used to get there once a year to visit the Roycroft. I'm hoping to make that trip again this year.

CashmereLibrarian said...

My youngest son, 18, was home for spring break, and yesterday, before taking him to the airport, we had lunch with he and his older brother, 23. Such a difference! Youngest is still silent, protective of his privacy, emotions, etc... Oldest, now an adult, chatters on about everything happening in his life, his concerns, his plans, politics. Although he was exactly the same as Youngest son four years ago. My husband and I are waiting anxiously for youngest son to come back to us!

Tessa said...

A lyrically powerful and thought-provoking post, Bee, and one which is also a tribute to your lovely daughters because it shines and shimmers with your love for them.

It's a long journey, being a mother, and one more fraught with ...well... peril than I had ever imagined it would be. But it is also a journey filled with wondrous adventures and profound joy and momentous discovery. They do ‘go away’ for a little while, at a certain stage, but they come back again as luminous, emarkable, vital and breathtakingly beautiful young women. Believe me. They do – and the bond is ever steadfast.

Bee said...

bfs Mimi - with the first one, I didn't realize what was going to happen . . . and now with the second I am always looking for signs of withdrawal! You are right, though: I know it our job to let go . . . or at least just to loosen the grip.

Butler - I guess that we can count that! The upside is that my husband doesn't spend nearly as much time fretting about the kids as I do.

Debski - It is really, really helpful to hear this right now . . . especially as I know how wonderfully your kids have turned out and how much you enjoy each other's company.

Willow - It is a sweet little willow tree, isn't it? I hope that we have some lovely warm weather to make outside reading possible. (I bet you have a great crisis manner!)

Aine - I love that you know East Aurora! One of my best friends grew up there, too, and she returned there a couple of years ago. I was totally charmed by the town -- and by Roycroft.

P.S. I'm always so relieved when other people say that 14 is a tough age.

Cashmere Librarian - This kind of personal feedback is really soothing to hear -- thanks!

Tessa said...

Whoops, where did that 'r' go - remarkable!

TBM said...

I can't believe how much your girls have grown in not even a year, Bee! Especially littlest daughter, with her long, long leg hanging down the Willow tree.

Someone one told me that kids become teenagers so that you'll be happy to let them go once Uni rolls around. I am sure she was joking...

You are a wonderful mother and your girls are so lucky! Happy Mothering Day one day late! XOXO

PS I love Peggy's comment and can totally relate to her experience.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Mothering is such a complex issue. Not only do we have to deal with normal age stages, but also with differing personalities. I think we've discussed that my oldest is about the same age as your youngest and that they are so different in their personalities and how they relate to their mothers. So many dynamics to contend with, isn't there?

You wrote this beautifully and your love for your children is so apparent. You are a wonderful mom!

ArtSparker said...

I have trouble responding to this as I am not a mother, and my own is quite emotionally needy (all three of her offspring guard their privacy around her).

However, I thought this post, by a young woman who recently moved away from her family, was touching -

Anne said...

It's difficult for me to imagine anyone not wanting to be close with you, Bee. But then I remember what it was like to be a teenager, and I think how difficult it must be to navigate a child's adolescence. My hat is off to you and all those who do it successfully!

But isn't [mothering] always that way? It's the emotional responsibility that never stops.

This line made me laugh. Just this weekend my mom expressing regret over a recent illness of mine, and had occasion to say "Poor babe (once a mother, always a mother)." We've had our ups and downs, as any mother-child relationship does, but we're reasonably close now. Certainly more so than we were 10 years ago, when I was starting to peek over the edge of the nest and look at what waited for me out in the world.

Take heart, Bee.

Meri said...

Yes, lovely and profound. I can remember when my youngest son was 14 and took trips to Japan and Italy with teachers from his school as guides. He was so full of conversation when he came home, about the deer on temple grounds in Kyoto and the mosaic penises pointing the way to brothels in Pompeii. He's much more circumspect now. In fact, he went to a workshop for young men led by two men who are shamans. I had to hear via someone else that the shamans did a fire walk. That seems like an interesting, but not too self-revealing, detail.

Bee said...

Tessa - thank you for your great kindness to me. I will work on cultivating my patience!

JAPRA - You are so right; little daughter (especially) has shot up this year. (I know where that expression "growing like a weed" came from!) Thanks so much for your friendship. xx

Alyson - They are all so different, and yet there is some comfort in knowing that certain behavior is a predictable "stage."

ArtSparker - An emotionally needy mother can be quite terrifying (hence the puppy picture). It is never a fully reciprocal relationship, I don't think. It is always better if the mother is prepared to give -- but doesn't demand too much in return. I think that your point-of-view is really relevant, too!

Anne - Thanks so much -- for your words, and for visiting me. JAPRA and I were in London today, and we were talking about you. Only good stuff, of course.

Meri - What a funny reminiscence! France didn't yield such treasures apparently! (It was more about what they ate every day and how cold the swimming pool was!)

Anonymous said...

The kids are devils. It is Mothers Day as in the USA not a day that you dispense extra mothering. I think that the Mothering bit is Victorian. The servants went home and got the Sunday off to go mothering making it an activity in its own right. It’s a little beyond the passive Mother’s Day. May be it’s in line with Boxing Day which was a day for boxing - shaking a box at the rich folk. We Brits were turning nouns in to verbs way ahead of the Yanks (No offence to any Southern readers intended).

Lucy said...

What a pensive and poignant post.

I was always quite secretive from quite a young age with my mother I think, though often chatty and enjoying her company. My older sisters were possibly more open, if sometimes more confrontational. I think a little it depends on personality.

It's funny that your daughter decides she'll have a secret place, but the first thing she does is tell you about it!

I'm sure you're doing a wonderful mothering job; you understand and respect their personalities, their differences and their need for privacy.

The 'mothering' bit, I think, was actually the act of going home to one's mother. Girls in service were given that Sunday in Lent off for mothering, taking a food gift, probably much appreciated and needed, home. But I'm sure you know that!

JaneyV said...

Sigmund - I'm fairly sure (?) that the Victorian origins of Mothering Sunday had to do with mothers being allowed to see/visit with their children in the Workhouse. That's right - once a year! They were all heart the Victorians. I expect the aristocracy got a nice altruistic buzz out of giving the servants that Sunday off. ;0)

julochka said...

really beautifully, thoughtfully put. we're not to that point yet, but i can see shades of it between husband and his two older daughters who come to our house only every other weekend. what's heartening is that the oldest one is 17 and it's already fading. the wall has come down significantly. however, the wall on the 14-year-old grows more and more impenetrable. happily, at 8, ours doesn't show any sign of it, tho' i'm sure it will be here soon enough.

thank you for your thoughtful eloquence...

Bee said...

Sig - Yes, our children do like to be waited on! (My fault, no doubt . . .)

Lucy - Actually, I didn't know the history of Mothering Sunday.

I had a long talk with my mom last night about this very topic. What a funny and complex relationship it is!

JaneyV - Have you seen The Young Victoria? It touches on her budding social conscience. ;)

Julochka - Eight is one of the nicest ages, I think. 8 - 11 are the golden years. I've decided, through my vast anecdotal research, that 13-15 is the hardest bit.

Elizabeth said...

Gosh, how did I manage to miss this lovely post.
Super to see your daughters.
I hope you had a good Mothering Sunday.
In ages past they used to give little posies to the children in church to present to their mothers.
Don't worry about your daughters vanishing from your life. They never will.
My daughter and I are very close, even though both of us can be prickly at times.
My children are the people who have given me the greatest joy in the world.

Barrie said...

My 13 year old recently told me, "There are many things I just won't share with you now." When I asked why, he responded, "Because you're my mother." Whoever said that parenting isn't for sissies, was spot-on. Great post!

myonlyphoto said...

Hey Bee nice photo, this looks like the tree I used to climb, lol. I actually like better Mothering Sunday. You know being mother is so much fun, I get to do everything mothers do. Nice refreshing post, Anna :)

Bee said...

Elizabeth - I'm sure that little daughter will enjoy reading your new book (hint hint) up in her special tree! I like the posy idea. A woman brought me a great big bouquet of flowers from her garden this afternoon -- with gorgeous hyacinths. I was amazed; as I would never pick mine!

Barrie - You are definitely part of my support club: Mothers with Teenagers. xx

Anna -- So you were a tree-climber?

A Cuban In London said...

Your post brought a soft smile upon my face. It's so honest and raw. But so light-hearted at the same time. Your last paragraph rings so many bells and your concern about your daughter finding her own niche to read will have us parents nodding in agreement. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

myonlyphoto said...

Yeah just the small trees, not very tall, on the other hand my older sister was like a monkey, lol, always on the trees. And when we played she used to pick the tall one, so I had to be under the tree most of the time, lol. But had one nice closer to the ground sour cherry tree, and same as your daughter used for reading...Anna :)

Anonymous said...

Happy Mothering Sunday! Bee, I enjoyed this post and relate to feeling the kids move away, but they move back, I believe. I sure do miss the little snuggles of days they wanted to share everything with mama though!

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, this is a lovely piece on motherhood and the different stages of childhood. I used to enjoy climbing trees with my brother. I love how your photos express the ways your daughters seek privacy even before your eyes. Interesting thoughts on the difference between Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day. Eloquent and thoughtful! I read between the lines to see what a wonderful mother you are.

The only part I’d disagree with is the difference between moms and dads. I feel that I tune into some things and my husband into others. Together we get a fuller image of our kids, or what they choose to share with us. Perhaps part of the difference for us is that we have a son as well as a daughter and my husband has a job that allows him to be home for dinner. Time together is what breeds intimacy more than gender, at least in our generation.

I love that sad dog photo too. You bring artistry to even dust.

Stacy Nyikos said...

My breath sometimes catches in my throat when I glimpse my older daughter, not look at her but glimpse her. It's as though I see her entirely differently, and what I see is a maturity. She's only ten, but she doesn't leave bathroom doors open anymore, or streak through the house. I never discouraged either, but at some point, she decided she wanted that first, small bit of privacy. Now, in the summer, both will be spending 3 weeks in Germany with my husbands family. I have panic attacks just thinking about it. It's good for them, good for their German, but the mother in me isn't anywhere near ready for them to take this relatively small but decisive leap. I wonder if I'll ever be.

lisahgolden said...

I've been mulling this post over because it so resonated with me on so many levels. Lately I've been coming to grips with the upcoming move to college that our Dancer will make. This has been preceded by a rather long drawn out three years of seeing her less and less as her busy life of school, work and dance has already removed her mostly from our home. Most days she simply sleeps, eats breakfast and showers here.

About the age of 14, she started to really erect those walls you speak of. At the time, I didn't notice it so much because of other family needs, but in hindsight, she was about the same age as your daughter, I think, when I began to feel as if knowing anything about the Dancer was a privilege.

Funny how different children in the same family interpret things differently. The Dancer appreciates the space. Garbo, like your youngest, will let us know when she feels neglected somehow. Though the attention she craves must be on her own terms - hence the name Garbo.

The Actor, now in that some things are secret state, is still more forthcoming about many things and will claim privacy needs and then spill his secrets because he just can't help telling on himself and oversharing (like his mom).

I hope that you'll ease into more give and take with your oldest as the boundaries get renegotiated. I can see from your writing that this is very important for you. An understandable feeling, trust me.

Happy Belated Mothering Day. I enjoyed our exchange that day. It made me laugh.

Shauna said...

How true.

My 12 year old daughter is going on a weekend trip in a few days. I know she is looking forward to the time away, on her own with friends.

I know too that she'll miss me as I miss her.

Kids are great teachers, aren't they?

Bee said...

A Cuban in London - I felt raw writing it, too . . . and yet writing helped -- as does reading these comments. Thanks.

Anna - My daughter was full of excitement about a tree house she is constructing at school! Her forehead is scraped by tree branches. I love the sound of "sour cherry tree."

The Things We Carried - Yes, it is unsurpassably lovely when your small child thinks that you can fix everything for them with a "snuggle."

Sarah - in my defence, Sigmund was the one who sent the card with that sentiment! He is more detached, though, which is probably a good thing. Thank you for the feedback on the puppy picture. I love that pic for some reason . . . but no one else seems to.

Stacy - I wonder if the oldest child always grows up more quickly? Maybe I mourn the process more (with youngest daughter) because I know what is coming? Three weeks is a long time . . .

Lisa - Thanks for the serious feedback (and the funny stuff, too).

Shauna - It sounds like you are still really close to your daughter. I hope she doesn't pull away too much.

myonlyphoto said...

...oh yeah Bee sour cherries was the other reason I was sitting on that tree, lol. Anna :)

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Bee, a very timely and painfully true piece of writing - We go from knowing everything about our children, to sometimes not being altogether sure who they are with, they move in very complex and larger social circles than I think we did...

It is a challenging time, one in which you begin to recall who you were again, alone, or as a couple, before the little people even came along...

My son is 17 and I found out today that he has recently been smoking, a vice which is anathema to me... I know it is not the worst habit he could be indulging in, however, it has broken off a piece of my heart...and yet my love for him is untouched.

Anonymous said...

Hey there! just discovered you through British Mummy Bloggers...lovely post. I have a 15 year old daughter who is very beautiful, bright and sparky. I too look at her with pride, but with a tinge of sadness as every day 'my' little girl is disappearing into this new person - girl/woman who I don't understand at all!! I'm finding new ways every day to love this new person, and I know I shouldn't, but I miss that 'little girl'. Do any other mums feel the same? mx

Nela said...

You are all mothers praising your daughters, and now I am a daughter praising you mothers...
i know how hard it is to be a mum, every day my mother has to put up with me changing my moodes and every second me changing my clothes!!I wrote this poem when i was only little (9) and I still go with what it says... i hope you enjoy it! :)
Here it is:

I Will Follow Your Advice!!

I have always wanted to thank you mum
And sometimes I like to find special way
So I decided to write this to you
At the best time on Mothers day

Mum I really love you
And I solemnly swear
That for the rest of my life
For you I shall care

As long as there is another breath in my body
I will follow your words and advice
And I am sure if I follow them
I will grow up to be kind-hearted and wise

Bee said...

Nela - You wrote this when you were only 9? It's wonderful. Happy Mother's Day to you, too.