It’s Mother’s Day 2017. My family and a few close friends always wish me a happy Mother’s Day. And it is, even though my daughter, my only child, died many years ago at the age of 12.
It is a happy day because I get to reflect on the many, many things I learned from my daughter in those too-short years. I think most mothers (and I hope fathers) feel the same way. When you have children, your real education as a grown-up begins.
No longer are you number one. No longer are you the center of your universe. You are now a satellite twirling around this new entity. If you’re lucky, you share your orbit with other satellites, hopefully without colliding. In my case, several collisions led to a divorce.
You learn patience. The crying will stop eventually. She will sleep through the night if you stop listening for every breath. The skinned knee will heal. The tooth fairy will come, the kids will stop teasing, she’ll get to the prom and into college somehow.
With my own daughter, I learned she knew a hell of a lot more than I thought she did, no matter what age she was. She saw her father was flawed, long before I did. And from that, I learned tolerance for flaws.
When the divorce happened, she taught me to see that there was no “right” or “wrong” one. She accepted us both as we were, flawed as we were. She could still love equally.
She saw a classmate in fourth grade needed help, but was sworn to secrecy. So she helped, risking the loss of her friend. Because it was the right thing to do. And I learned righting a wrong, and telling the truth, was more important than anything. And sometimes, even if you did the right thing, things don’t work out like in the fairytales.
I learned what it’s like to make the ultimate sacrifice. When she got her diagnosis, she said to me, “Kids shouldn’t get cancer. But if they have to, I’m glad it’s me. Because I can handle it.”
Finally, she taught me to grieve. Then to turn that pain, that grieving into something meaningful, something to help others. She wouldn’t want it any other way.
As your own kids celebrate you on this Mother’s Day, reflect on how much they’ve taught you. And be grateful for how much more you have to learn.
This was a poem my daughter wrote me for Mother’s Day when she was nine years old:
“When a baby tree loses its leaves in winter,
It’s mother (God) picks them back up in spring
And makes everything whole again.
Just like you do for me, mom.”