To be perfectly honest, I didn't really like kids much, even when I was one myself. That might have explained why I wasn't terribly popular. I didn't have the "right stuff" for parenting, like patience, selflessness, moral fortitude, or a strong stomach. I was all about "me," but I guess that is the job of kids, teenagers and twenty-somethings everywhere, to be totally about self. And yet, there are women like my mother or my sister-in-law who had their children young and did a fantastically good job of raising them despite their extreme youth. Being "all about me" was never an option for them in their twenties, as they already had little humans depending on them for life.
I waited a long time to change my mind about the baby concept, but once I did I jumped onboard the train with all engines firing. And what have I learned in the past eight years of Mother's Days? Because when you've got small children there are 365 Mother's Days a year. Well, you can click on this old post of mine from last year for a little bit of that, Speaking of Babies. It is still one of my favourites, because it helps me remember when my girls were babes.
One little thing I've learned is that I can never capture on film what my eyes see when I look at my children. Sometimes I will be talking with them or just looking at them, and they get a look in their eyes that I so want to capture, so I run for the camera, and snap and snap photos, but somehow they never quite work. Every once in a blue moon it will be successful, and I catch an image of what I see. Sometimes, it's a feeling of pure love emanating from her as she looks at me on the other side of the camera. Those are the keepers.
It makes me realize that what I am seeing is their pure spirit inside that makes them who they are. It is so much easier to see in children, who have not started putting on the masks and acts that we as adults adopt over the years. Their true selves are so much closer to the surface. If you can be truly present and look at them not just to check for eye crusties in the morning or to make sure they have on matching socks, you can really see them, deep inside. Especially as they get older, it is amazing to see them develop their own identities, as hard as it is to imagine them living independently in the world. It gives glimpses of the future.
Looking back through our thousands of photographs taken since the girls were born, I realize the very best ones are those that happened by accident. We have never once had studio portraits taken of the girls, or of us as a family. Somehow it seems having someone they love behind the lens brings out the true personality, and of course the widest array of goofy faces.
So much of mothering is done stumbling along learning as we go. I learned from my mother, from my grandmothers, and so much from dear friends who bravely went ahead and had children before we did. I am quite sure they must have gotten tired of my endless questions, but they were always open and generous and kind and understanding of my profound ignorance. I am also the most fortunate of women to have a supportive equal partner and co-hort in all this parenting craziness.
Our girls have taught me about the important things in this life of ours. Career and money and "stuff" don't come into it at all, to my surprise. They have taught me to slow down, to breathe, to look around me and listen and smell and reach out to what surrounds us, to be open to all. The most simple of things can bring the greatest joy, and every stranger could become a friend if you just smile.
I have learned that I am not as selfish as I once thought. From the moment of their conception, my daughters have taught me many ways of being a better person, a better parent, and I hope a better citizen of the world we live in. The sense of responsibility is huge, to protect them in what is frankly a frightening world at times, and to help them learn all they need to know to be happy, healthy, productive members of the planet. Already they have made a difference, by teaching one person how to put others first, and how to love unconditionally.
This weekend I want to wish a Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers in my life, my own mom and the moms in my large, lovely extended family, and to all of my friends across the country and indeed in other parts of the world who are all doing a damn fine job of this mothering gig. May we all teach our children to be open, loving people who will make the world a better, more peaceful place in the future.