What we say and what we think are often two different things in the world of Mom.
“Sure, honey! I’ll sit on the floor and play blocks!” is what we say, while “If I have to sit on the floor with my legs in lotus position one more minute, my hip flexors are going to snap” is what we think.
“Sure, honey! We can make cookies from scratch when you get home from school today!” is what we say, when “I hate baking. I’d rather eat soap than bake” is what we think.
There’s danger in overlooking the subconscious, of course: If you play blocks when you don’t want to, your child may assume your thinly veiled grimace is personal. You also lose the opportunity to show your children — and yourself — that Mommy is actually not a superhero.
Still, there are many reasons mothers do what we do:
1. The mind of the mother doesn’t always have time to process. Like when the newly walking baby is suddenly traveling all over the house, and Mom can only think to encourage broadly instead of shrieking, “Help!”
2. Mothers are notorious for self-sacrifice. We may not tap into our own feelings until 25 years later when we can finally sit still for 30 minutes without interruption.
3. There are many times when we simply shouldn’t tell our kids everything we think.
Case in point is where I am right now on the child-mother-development scale, as my last child, at 20, considers leaving home for good after having lived in the college dorms, then back home, then lived in Canada on a student exchange, then back home again.
In again, out again, a second-semester college junior, he’s about to take a job that will allow him to move out more permanently, into an apartment with his buds.
Which is ultimately, of course, a good and necessary thing, the right thing, the healthy thing.
“This is great, so great. You’re going to have such great fun!” I am saying while what I’m thinking is: “But I’m not!”
As with all deep mother thoughts, there’s righteous justification here, having to do with visions of the Iroquois longhouse, a long, narrow house in which 20 or more families lived. My life as Earth mother would be complete if we had one in the back yard, where the entire tribe would reside: Benjie’s brother in D.C. and his sister in Montana, as well as my three sisters and their families and my cousins from South Carolina and their families and pets.
Clearly, our back yard, at an eighth of an acre, isn’t big enough for such a structure. Nor is it necessarily in the best interest of a 2018 male to live in a longhouse with his brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and mother, even if he does have closely connected Cherokee blood in his veins.
Sometimes I’m prepared to face the empty back yard. I’m ready with words and thoughts I’ve rehearsed. Like the other afternoon, sitting across from Benjie in the living room where he is studying and I am reading, when he up and says, “Mom, are you going to be lonely when we leave?”
“I’m sure there will be moments of intense missing,” I say. “No mother I know ever quits missing her children. But I’m also excited about what the future holds for you and for me, too, getting to do some things I’ve not had time to do before.”
Other times, I’m not so ready. Like the other night when he came home at 11 and stood at the door of my bedroom where I was binge-watching.
“Are you in for the night?” I said, a little too eager to see him on one of his last nights at home.
“No, just grabbing some stuff to spend the night at my friend’s,” he said.
“Oh, that’s cool!” I said, not meaning to look so pitiful except at some point, a mother’s facial muscles get tired. Who do we think we are anyway, Meryl Streep? Which reminds of something I read the other day about excessive worrying.
The “Huff Post” article, quoting various studies and researchers, offered several suggestions for how not to worry excessively, including meditating, being mindful and designating a 30-minute worry period every day. Then there was the finer print: If trying not to worry just causes more worry, go ahead and worry.
I thought about this, standing at the refrigerator the other day while Benjie was putting on his coat to go somewhere.
I suddenly turned to him and looked him in the eyes. “You know, Benjie, I will be kind of sad when you leave.”
He looked back at me and said: “Yeah, I know, Mom. Me, too.”
And for one shiny moment, right there in the glow of the refrigerator, our inner worlds aligned.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at email@example.com, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.