I spent a good half century of my life not looking at this photograph. I always hated this picture. Why? No other reason than my immature narcissistic focus. I couldn’t look past the baby in this picture.
Let me be blunt: that’s one ugly baby. The head is too big; the eyes look crossed; and how about that double chin? That one ugly baby would be me.
Some lifetime ago I birthed a child. The day after, in the hospital, some five doctors walked into my room.
“Mam,” the lead doctor said, “Your baby’s head is unusually large but we are confident there is no underlying problem. When the child’s hair grows in, you won’t even notice.”
“And your baby has one eye that appears larger than the other, giving a somewhat cross-eyed look. But there is no underlying problem and the difference in eye shape won’t be noticeable, probably around the age of two.”
I listened to the words of the lead doctor and watched the four followers nod their agreement. I just smiled the smile of a mother who understands more than any other, including five doctors, when it comes to the child of her mother’s child.
And so recent days brought me back to this photo; and after a half century of living I FINALLY got it: It is the MOTHER in this photograph that I should give my focus. Just look at her award-winning smile--and a happiness that over-powers any hint of exhaustion around her eyes.
I’m not going to use this day, this morrow’s holiday to expound on what tugs at my heart these days. But simply stated: We adults too frequently disparage our mothers. And we are in the bad habit of making these disparaging remarks to others.
Sometimes our harsh judgments are rooted in the dysfunction of an abusive, or negligent, or absent set of two parents. But I believe our harsh judgment is more often rooted in today’s popular culture that embraces the criticism of our mothers.
But mostly I believe that it is the ignorance of our narcissism that nurtures our critical voices. We’ve convinced ourselves that growing up means tossing out the baby AND the bath water. And in this case, the bath water is our Mother.
I’ve listened to the most loving and highly-functioning of friends criticize their mothers over the least of harms. I’ve heard casual acquaintances feel comfortable in expressing angst against their mothers with no balance of praise. I cannot judge them because I see too many years of MY OWN VOICE, in their words.
This frustration in my belly, over our culture’s disparaging of mothers, is NOT coming from some ignorant, innocent, picture-perfect childhood of mine. My mother was ill for the ENTIRE lifetime of memories that I hold with her. Her illness did not make her loveable.
But my reaction to her illness was worse because it did NOT make me loveable. And that was my mistake.
So when it comes to the harsh judgment we adults so easily hold against our mothers, I quote a modern day philosopher (and tennis coach): “Get over it!”
If your mother is alive, I encourage you to strive to know her as the woman who is so much more than your mother. Learn about her early life; her passions and dreams. Learn about the girl in her. Learn about the woman who became pregnant with you.
Seek out ways to give her your love and respect. Choose to ask and learn from her—you may find you better learn from her mistakes if you understand HER perspective on what she considers to be her mistakes. And you may be surprised to learn of her life’s successes that you know nothing about; not to mention her passions and dreams.
Share the good in her with others. Honor her with being actively present in her life.
If your mother has died, as mine has, seek to know her and give her credit for the most possible, even if that most was no more than birthing you. But my guess is that the great majority of us should give her way more credit than birth. Seek out those who knew her. And if nothing else, look at old photos with new eyes.
I now love to look at this photo. Now I see a healthy, happy baby. This baby girl is dressed and held with love. But the photo of this baby is NOT why I now love this photo. I no longer look at the baby in this photo.
Now I see a young woman looking healthy and happy. I see her award-winning smile that I never saw often enough.
And I recognize that smile, as she gifted it to two next generations of family. And still, I do not see it enough.
Happy Mother’s Day, Bonnie Ruth. Thank you for the life you gave; for the stories you shared.
How I wish I could ask you more. And how I wish I’d chosen to learn the more, that you so wanted to share.