Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

14 May 2006

Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day in the United States so I thought a tribute would be in order.

I don't remember when I started to realize that my mother was a person who had feelings, hopes, dreams and worries of her own. Like most children, I suppose, I saw her as a sort of prison warden while growing up. She made me do my homework when I didn't feel like it. Stopped me from doing exciting (and dangerous) things. Wouldn't let me spend "my" money on frivolities. Made me mow the lawn, wash the dishes and make my bed in the morning. Limited my access to sweets and soda pop. I have a vague recollection of seeing her cry in frustration once when we were being particularly unruly. I remember feeling somewhat awestruck that I had the power to make her cry. I might have felt a temporary twinge of remorse, but it never occurred to me that she might have been having a bad day, or suffering from a headache or some other such malady.

With all due respect to Dr. Freud and his contributions, I am quite sure I never saw myself as my father's rival for her affection. (In all fairness, I don't think psychology had developed the concept of projection yet. If it had, he may have thought twice before publishing that particular thought.) In fact, growing up I liked my father more than my mother. He punished us less often, and even when he did, I had the impression that his heart was not in it. Many times it seemed to me that he punished us only to appease my mother.

My impressions of my mother began to change sometime during my high school years. That's when I began to realize how privileged I was to have the mother I did. She grew up on a farm in a very rural, agricultural area of the U.S. The expectation among most of her peers was that they, too, would be farmers one day. Her mother, however, had the foresight to provide the best education possible for her daughters. Thus, my mother and her sisters attended a private high school in a "big city" hundreds of miles from home. My mother and her younger sister then went on to complete college, which was very rare for women of that time and place. She put her education to use by working in a bank when her kids were old enough to attend school. Her experience living away from home made her more cosmopolitan than most of her peers. She liked to travel and experience new things, which is one of her enduring contributions to my own personality.

At some point, I realized that all the nagging about homework and household chores was her attempt to give us the same advantages that she had received from her parents. She wanted her children to have the best education available so she made sure that we would be academically and mentally prepared for it. Although she enjoyed working at the bank, she didn't do it for herself, but to make sure that there was enough money to send her four children to private schools. The trips were likewise a part of our education. At some point, I was stunned to realize what long hours she had worked, not for her benefit, but for mine.

As I reflect on this now, I wonder how many times she worried whether she was raising her children right. Did she feel inadequate to the task? Did she ever think she deserved our lack of appreciation? It makes me feel really small, and a little guilty, in the face of the tremendous self-sacrifice of motherhood. And I am glad that I still have her around to thank.


Anonymous pog said...

That's lovely.
I know what you mean about the assuming people have only one role though. I recall being astounded when my mother made matching jumpers (I know, I know ...) for my teacher and her boyfriend! I didn't realise she had an actual life away from school. If asked, I'd probably have assumed she was stored in a cupboard at the end of the day, like our textbooks (I was only about 7, by the way ....).

15 May, 2006 15:29  
Blogger Br. Lawrence said...

LOL. I remember asking my mom whether the nuns who taught us took baths wearing their habits. I could imagine (and didn't want to) that they were ever allowed to remove them.

15 May, 2006 17:34  

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