The Hands that Rock the Cradles
As we celebrated our mothers in May and look forward to Father's Day, we feel gratitude to our moms if we were blessed to grow up in a home with loving parents. We remember our childhoods. We appreciate the things that our parents did for us, things that we took for granted. Each of us who grew up in a good family had a blueprint for how to build a happy home. For those who didn't have that, building a family is uncharted territory. A Mother in the Making
From the time I was little, I longed to be a mother some day. I imagined having a little girl, a little girl like me. I was not naive as to the work involved in raising children. The oldest of four children, I sometimes had responsibility for my siblings and was protective of them. As the oldest, I was the leader when we were little, the mom when we played house, the teacher when we played school.
My youngest sibling and only brother was born near my tenth birthday, and I was old enough to be trusted with his care. I knew how to make bottles for my brother, how to feed and burp him, how to dress him and change him, and how to hold and carry him safety. He was a good-natured baby, and I thought he was objectively the cutest baby imaginable. That seemed incontrovertibly true, but I knew that everyone felt that way about their families' babies.
When I was twelve, I could legally babysit, and I was sometimes left in charge of my sisters and brother. When Mom and Dad weren't home, I was the caregiver and authority in those days before cell phones, when Mom and Dad were not a text message away. Things went well most of the time. One of my sisters sometimes made my family babysitting assignments adventures.
I took babysitting jobs in my preteen and teen years, as most girls of my era did. I babysat children of different ages, sometimes one, sometimes several. Some jobs were very easy and pleasant. Some were absolutely delightful, and I spent enjoyable time with my charge or charges. Some jobs were trying. Sometimes an infant cried inconsolably or some rambunctious boys roughhoused ceaselessly. Sometimes a child would refuse to settle down to sleep, begging for more and more stories, to have the light on, anything to keep from sleeping.
Learning by Example
My parents dealt with many things raising their family, and I knew that it wasn't an easy undertaking. I knew they had a lot of responsibility, that they had a home and cars and appliances. They dealt with all kinds of complicated things such as a mortgage and taxes. I saw them deal with the house flooding and with cars breaking down, once with the refrigerator near exploding and catching fire. I knew that they had to save money and pay for everything, for all the food and bills, the medical expenses and orthodontics, the lessons, and and the rest. I knew Mom drove us all over the place and always made dinner and sewed clothes, and Dad went to work and fixed things and mowed the lawn. I knew that Mom and Dad dealt with all the challenges, all the medical issues and accidents and injuries and emotional crises that came one after the other, and too often, all at once. I knew they dealt with conflicts and decisions and big events. But it wasn't until much later that I realized the superhuman effort it took to fit all my parents did into the hours in a day.
My parents helped me and my siblings to succeed academically. They encouraged us to develop talents and paid for classes and opportunities. They were involved in our lives and always interested in whatever interested us.
My parents taught me and my siblings right from wrong. They taught us to be honest and dependable, to serve others, to be good neighbors and citizens. They taught us that courtesy and other people's feelings were important and to never hold a grudge. They took us to church. They connected us to an extended family.
My parents weren't perfect, and their lives and our family weren't perfect. And that made it all the more an accomplishment. I learned from flaws in the humans in my family and from the mistakes that all of us made as well as from the more numerable strengths that my family members displayed and from our successes and achievements. Perfect people loving perfect people is little to note. Family love is imperfect people loving with all their hearts imperfect people, and that is one of life's beautiful miracles. That love makes us better, makes us stronger, and soothes our rough edges. Parents love the very imperfect people we are, starting when we are our most demanding and self-centered as infants. Parents love the very imperfect people we are. Graham Greed said in The End of the Affair, "It's a strange thing to discover and to believe that you are loved when you know that there is nothing in you for anybody but a parent or a God to love.”
Rocking Elle's Cradle
I was twenty-one, married nine months, and barely graduated from college when I gave birth to the little girl I imagined since childhood. From the moment Elle came into the world, things would never be the same. She looked like her dad, not me early on. She was never a little me. She was her, unique and wonderful. She was a challenge, colicky and strong-willed and well, an infant. There were hours of crying, mountains of laundry, bleary-eyed middle of the night feedings, and I was truly exhausted. And with a child came the constant concern that I would experience from that day forward. I was more challenged than I expected to be, experienced as I was with children. But the rewards of parenthood were immeasurable and I felt I had found as great a joy as life could offer.
Elle and her siblings born over the years brought their own personalities, abilities, and special needs into our home, wherever our home was at the time. All the things that my parents did were now the responsibility of me and my husband to manage. We managed imperfectly, as our parents did and as so many generations of parents before us have. Over time I became an experienced parent, the type I had so admired when I was just starting my parenting journey and looked to for advice. Being Part of Something Very Wonderful My parents taught me to love. They taught through example unconditional love. My children taught me to love more, to experience the kind of love my parents felt for me, imperfect as I was. Author Lisa Weed said, "Being a family means you are part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life." What a wonderful world it would be if all were blessed to know the joy of family and if every family were synonymous loving and being loved for life. Marianne E. Neifert, (Dr. Mom's Parenting Guide) said, "The family is both the fundamental unit of society as well as the root of culture. It ... is a perpetual source of encouragement, advocacy, assurance, and emotional refueling that empowers a child to venture with confidence into the greater world and to become all that he can be."