I was always fascinated by my mom’s purse, a treasure trove of comfort and necessity. She had a preference for large leather handbags. The size seldom varied, nor the contents, nor the lovely minty scent.
Perusing the bag was a favourite treat. It always contained, at minimum:
- At least one tube of some bright berry-red lipstick, worn to an extremely sharp edge—a fact that still fascinates me as I always grind mine to a smooth, flat surface. My mom’s way seemed much more sophisticated!
- Rolls of chalk-white, green centered mints. (Hence the calming aroma.)
- Mini packages of tissue papers
- Individually wrapped lemony wet wipes
- Cough candies (hideously strong ones)
- Assorted pens
- A spiral notepad
- Band-Aids (multiple sizes)
- Aspirin (in a tiny white, yellow and brown tin with a sliding lid)
- A Hot Wheels car or two
To me, her purse was the epitome of femininity and motherhood. I considered it glamorous (even though it was usually squat and grey) and practical, and I vowed that if I was ever a mother, I would have just as fascinating and soothing a purse to help me attend to my needs, the needs of my children and those of any other random kids who happened to fall down in my proximity, needed to jot a note, or just had really bad breath.
And then I had kids.
My failure to ever carry a bag remotely as well-stocked as my mom’s, let alone one with an entrancing minty scent, symbolizes the theme of most lessons I learned about motherhood: things rarely go as imagined or planned, and often we’re not the moms we envisioned being—for both better and worse.
And it was the kindest instance of that repeated lesson. We’ve all done it. Vowed we’d never do such and such like our mother. Promised we’d never say X, Y, Z, or do . . . blah, blah, blah. Hopefully, we can also identify tangible ways our mothers showed their love, see characteristics we want to emulate.
It wasn’t until I had my children that I realized how young you are (regardless of your age!) when you have kids and become responsible for someone else, how inept and ill equipped for the task you feel. It’s not just their physical wellbeing and nourishing you need to worry about—in fact, that’s the least of it. You have a tender soul to raise, who will feel each one of your mistakes—and each of life’s random happenings, which you are completely powerless against—so keenly it makes you bleed inside. You will, like it or not, shape the adult another person grows to be. There is so much love and awe and fun—and yet so much absolute terror and mind-paralyzing insecurity.
Kids view the world through their mother’s eyes, her introduction to it. And all the time I was young, I thought there was some magic adult age (that somehow coincided with a child bursting forth from your uterus) where you Know (capital K) all things—thus any mistakes, follies, or perceived injuries had to be intentional.
If you’re a parent, you’re shaking your head because you know full well that the only thing that “bursts forth” with your firstborn is a powerful new awareness: that forever you will love someone more than yourself and never be more powerless, or at least feel more powerless, to be all the things you want to be for them, to protect them how you need to, to give them all they’ll require to endure and thrive—and you have to do it from whatever place you’re at in your life at whatever moment, with all the lack of answers, sketchy finances, unresolved gunk, relationship problems, grief, illness, etc., etc.
Mothering helped me understand my mom better and showed me that forgiving her for any perceived wrongs was critical to my emotional growth and to choosing how I wanted to live and be and parent. Focusing on her strengths and successes, the things she taught me and how she’d inspired me, allowed me to take personal responsibility and grow into someone separate and distinct from her—yet to feel an increasing connection to her—exactly, I believe, as she always wanted for me.
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“Every Day Is Mother’s Day” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, May 25, 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” It’s part of a theme I’m exploring this year–“Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.” Missed the first four? Find them here: