Suzette Martinez Standring: The Mother Ship only feels like it's sinking
Mother’s Day – after all these years, not having motherhood sink on my watch is amazing. It was all I could do to raise one child. My daughter Star is now 36 and raising two children of her own.
How does she do it? Being her mother took all my focus and energy, and even then Star basically raised me, often asking, “Mom, are you sure you want to do that? She even loaned me her piggybank money (and charged interest).
I once visited her at college in Seattle and insisted she take me to a “rave” for first-person research on this phenomenon. I planned to go undercover wearing oversized baggy pants, a baseball cap and a fake nose ring. But Star shook her head. “There is no way I’m taking you to a rave, Missy.” Instead we went to the movies (“City Slickers”), and Star insisted I wear my regular clothes.
She was born when I was 19, not a child bride but a bride with child. I was scared and unprepared with not so much as one babysitting gig under my belt. In 1974, the Women’s Liberation Movement had taken off in a gulf stream of abandoned bras, domestic and professional equality, and reproductive freedom. My title, Ms. Mommy, had only the faintest whiff of progress.
But as they say, things worked out, and better than I could have planned. Motherhood is on-the-job training. You can’t get there by advance strategies or reaching maturity first. It’s a dig-in-and-do-it job.
During my journey, I often felt inadequate, being the youngest mom on the scene. I did lack wisdom and maturity then. For instance, I never encouraged Star to join sports because I didn’t want to spend my early Saturday mornings at games. I was so selfish. I made mistakes and took unnecessary risks, Star having been a latchkey kid and all that.
But today, my daughter is a third-grade teacher, a model of organized and compassionate patience. Where did she get that? Her daughters, Bella (5) and Lulu (2) are bold and beautiful. Occasionally I am reminded of how I fall short even now as a grandmother.
The other day I put 2-year-old Lulu down for a nap on the couch and left. Fifteen minutes later, I tiptoed back into the room and discovered Lulu sleeping in the dog crate! After having crawled in, the baby was snoring alongside her pink pig. Our little black dog, Mojo, sat in front of the crate, looking forlorn at being kicked out.
All I could think was, “Oh, no, what if someone comes to the front door, looks in and thinks, ‘Is that a CHILD in that cage?’”
Such moments of inadequacy have dogged me from motherhood and now into grandmother-hood. But when my inner hobgoblins get critical, I remember my daughter, years ago, telling me about a college friend who had contemplated suicide. Feeling rejected by her family, that girl had felt so alone and unloved. Her level of despair had shocked my daughter.
“I remember thinking I was lucky, that never once did I ever doubt that you loved me. I always feel like I’m so important in your life,” Star told me.
I hold onto this whenever I find myself in the middle of a “Larry David” moment, those times when I look so bad, but I’m innocent! I’m truly innocent!
It’s humbling to raise children. Imperfection is yours for the taking. To natural, adoptive, foster and acting moms, the Mother Ship often feels like it’s sinking. Yet it’s kept afloat by robust women at the helm and the healing power of love.
Suzette Martinez Standring is the award-winning author of “The Art of Column Writing” and teaches writing workshops nationally. E-mail her at email@example.com.