Mom’s Mantra

By Linda O’Connell

My mom always told me precisely how and when to do some thing, and she explained why it was for my own good.

When I had my own children, she knew exactly what to say and do. When I complained about my kids, she counseled, “Just love them. They’ll be grown before you know it.”

“They fight all the time with one another.”

“They aren’t fighting one another so much as they’re fighting for your attention. Just love them.”

I crabbed, “Some days it isn’t any easier being the mom than it is being the kid!”

Mom agreed and tossed out a one liner, then added her mantra. “Motherhood is finding a balance between not giving up and simply giving in. Just love them.”

Ha! Mom never gave in to me. I had her on that one. I was just about tired of her advice “Just love them.”

When they were little, I compared my life to the countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I served them for lunch. I felt as if I was oozing in all directions, smashed between things I wanted to do and things I had to do, spread thin between duties, thankless chores and tasks that never seemed to end. I did love them, but I knew I’d be happy when they grew up.

It happened gradually when I wasn’t looking. I was so focused on the endlessness of motherhood I can’t remember the day it all ended. My daughter and son grew up. No more wiping sticky grape jelly off little hands and peanut butter smudges off tables and walls.

Recently I sat down on the porch swing with a glass of sweet tea and old photo albums, and I reflected on motherhood. It was as if I dreamed my blonde, blue-eyed daughter into being.

Since my childhood, I knew one day that I would cradle my own baby girl. Tracey was a mover and a shaker, high strung in utero, always jabbing and kicking, and I do believe she was born with her dukes up. She’s always been a get-it-done kind of girl. She has been successful in all she sets her mind to, and she amazes me at her stamina and determination. I wish I had been less controlling and more patient. If only I could go back and do it again. Now I know the important stuff, but back then, I was learning. And oh, the mistakes I made.

The euphoria I felt after giving birth to her in an army hospital in Fairbanks, Alaska, must be the way a mountain climber feels when she reaches the summit after a long, hard climb. The reward was nothing short of miraculous. I would look at her tiny, perfect face and little hands, and I’d cry. She was mine all mine, my dream come true. I shed a lot of tears those first few weeks, and also as the years went by – tears of joy, pride, frustration, anger, sorrow, heartbreak, forgiveness. I wish I had been more understanding, patient and allowed her to do things her way, not just my way. I only wanted the best for her. There are so many things I wish I could go back and change… about myself. Not her. She has a heart of gold and will help anyone. She is a good and beautiful woman.

Before ultrasound imaging, I conceived the idea of my son. I worried though about how I would care for a boy, having had a girl first. Jason was a slow mover; he rolled in the womb and he gently turned. He has born with a mild-manner and has maintained it for all his years. The euphoria I felt carrying him made my pride swell bigger than my belly. The moment I saw him, he was just my baby, and when I held him, I cried. Over the years when it came to my boy, I shed tears of joy, pride, frustration, sorrow, heartbreak, forgiveness. I wish I had been more understanding, patient and less controlling. I only wanted the best for him. There are so many things I wish I could go back and change, about myself. Not him. I wish I could erase my mistakes, my regrets. He has so much love and forgiveness in his heart. He is a successful, good and caring man.

As I swing, my toes push off on the porch floor. A slight nudge, a gentle push in the right direction to keep the momentum going. I flip through the pages of time, and an old photo falls out. I am holding the hands of my little boy and girl. I stare at my long, flowing hair, my face as unwrinkled as a silk pillow slip, my eyes vibrant and young, not tired and heavy lidded.

As I tuck the photo of “young me” back into the triangular paper adhesive corner holders, I realize that my children and I endured sticky situations and many messes, but those childhood memories today are as delicious as the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I served them so long ago.

When my son and daughter had babies of their own, Mom and I just loved them.

“He ripped the wall paper border off his newly decorated room!” My son replied when I asked why his two year old was in time out. Mom wasn’t present but I heard her words. They tumbled right out of my mouth. “Forgive him; he’s learning. Just love him.”

I take a long slow sip of tea, push a strand of hair back, and open another book, a modern scrapbook enhanced with stickers. The four beautiful children on those pages resemble mine. Those two girls and two boys are grand! My grands.

Just like swinging, I will keep the momentum going, as these days I assume my late mom’s role with my three young, stair-step great-grandsons.

I will love them… despite, not because of anything they do or don’t do. I will just love them.

About this writer

  • Linda O’Connell

    Linda O’Connell

    A preschool teacher for almost four decades, is notorious for holding her life together with duct tape and humor. Her greatest loves are family, the beach and dark chocolate.

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13 Responses to “Mom’s Mantra”

  1. Kim says:

    Linda,
    Motherhood is the toughest and sweetest job, but grandmother is the best job of all!

  2. Jason says:

    Wow. Beautifully written. I felt as though I were there with her wiping those tiny hands. I resolve to just love them too.

  3. Dick Friedrich says:

    I’ll be 83 next week and have grown kids and grandkids. I’ve believed for some time, including some 50 years of teaching writing in college, that “good” writing presents truths that touch the deepest parts of our humanity. This piece does just that with great skill, but more importantly, clear and decent humanity.

  4. Bobby Barbara Smith says:

    Linda, you spoke my truth and most probably many other mother’s who have grown children and grandchildren.

    I remember those harried days and like you wish I’d been less controlling and more patient.

    I know that I was a much better grandmother than I was a mother, but I did my best and …just loved them. I do love that line. In the end, it’s the most important thing we can give them. Thank you for this lovely story. You have a great talent!

  5. Lynn Obermoeller says:

    What a beautiful story.

  6. Kitty Curtin says:

    Tears of love, joy, and memories. I am grateful that you have been a companion on my road of motherhood.

  7. Alice Muschany says:

    Linda, what a beautiful and well-written story. Life is so busy when we are raising our little ones. We go from thinking, “I can’t wait until…to “I want this back.” But we do get our second chance. They’re called grandchildren and I just love them!

  8. Beautifully written, Linda. I especially love the line “There are so many things I wish I could go back and change… about myself. Not her/him.” That resonated with me in a strong way. My three are all grown up now, and they managed to mature into amazing adults in spite of me. And your mom’s advice was spot on. :)

  9. Rose Ann says:

    When you become a grandmother, it all falls into place and makes sense. Most of us have those times where we wish we had done this instead of that. . . Thanks for putting it into perspective! Enjoyed your article.

  10. Pat Wahler says:

    Wonderful story, Linda. It certainly sums up the way I feel when I look back on the childhood of my kids- always wondering how I could have done better.

  11. Erika Hoffman says:

    You know every mom regrets something about the way she raised her kids, and most of the time the kids don’t even realize what their moms think they did wrong in parenting.

  12. Val says:

    So true. Life happens, no do-overs. It goes by fast, but at least we have the memories.

  13. I love this, Linda. I had the pleasure of reading your essay on Mother’s Day, and I enjoyed it so much. Thank you for the reminder for those of us who are still in the trenches of motherhood.

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