A Mother’s Day ode — for better or worse

for The Brooklyn Paper
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By the luck of the draw and the flukes of the calendar, I’ve pulled the Mother’s Day column this year. As a dad, I intend to celebrate my wife’s motherness with flowers, brunch, the usual appropriate stuff, but I find myself thinking about my mother and the ways her raising me formed me into the parent I’ve become.

It’s a mixed bag, the residue our parents leave on us as we pack our bags and head out the door into adult lives. I want to replicate the good and skip the stuff I didn’t like growing up.

I try to copy the things I thought were fun in my childhood. For example, I’ve collected an assortment of small spoons and forks I put out for my kids to use because my mother did, and I always thought it made meals entertaining.

There are also things I don’t do as a parent. Growing up, drawers weren’t safe, bags and envelopes were never secure from her searching gaze. My mom found out I’d become a smoker by opening and reading a college housing form I’d left out to mail.

My daughters occasionally leave their computers on and their e-mail accounts open, and it is tempting to take a look. Or when papers litter their rooms, it’s enticing to read the notes to or from classmates, the scribbles and doodles that might have meaning. But I don’t because I hated that sense of intrusion in my own teenage years.

Still, I’ve come to appreciate my mother’s desire for access, for the ability to know about and participate in my life. As my teen girls have more and more experiences outside of my gaze, as they spend more time away from home, more time with their doors closed when they’re in the house, immersed in screen conversations and text dialogues from which I’m excluded, I understand my mother’s futile quest for a window into my teenage world. And I understand all too well the frustration of being shut out.

Even before my parents divorced when I was 7-years-old, my mother was the primary parent, so of course I’ve internalized many of her values. Dragging my kids to museums and concerts, even when they were in backpacks and strollers, or showing up for their performances and games — these decisions of mine bear my mother’s mark, in a good way.

And the bad? The laundry’s often late getting done, and I can’t tell you how many times I had to drop off my daughters’ lunches at school because I forgot to make them in the morning — so like my mother, too.

I’m more vigilant with my children because I know she gave me too much freedom. I’m freer with cash because I hated money being used as an exertion of her parental power. I try to make education a priority because it’s a principle of hers I bought into wholeheartedly.

My childhood has given me choices about being the parent I want to be. In responding to the way my mother raised me I can pick the things I valued and, hopefully, cast off the rest.

She was a good enough mom that I wasn’t afraid to procreate but bad enough that I thought I could do it better than she did. I can’t escape her mothering, just try to improve upon it. And since I have to admit I love being a dad, on her day I’ll thank her for being my mom.

Updated 5:24 pm, July 9, 2018
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