I sometimes point out to clients that the hardest part of being a parent is to know when to stop being a parent. Once a parent, always a parent; it’s not something you just turn off and walk away from.
I don’t know if this is a universal experience among all mothers, and maybe even fathers, or if it is just for women raised in the 50s and 60s, or stay-at-home moms, or single moms. All I can say is there appears to be an involuntary reflex built into the mothering role that is triggered when a meeting with one of my children is imminent; note that my “children” are in their mid-30s, so, this mode is deeply rooted!
A couple of days before a scheduled get-together, no matter how casual or how trivial, I go into scavenger mode, scouring the pantry, the freezer and the fridge for anything I might bring, hopefully something that will be helpful, maybe even appreciated, although appreciation seems secondary to the hunt for something to bring. It’s as though all of a sudden, a great famine looms, and you want to make sure that your kid doesn’t starve to death.
While scouring, I found a couple of cartons of organic chicken broth that my vegan body was avoiding; a freshly baked batch of banana oatmeal cookies, and of course, a fresh batch of sauerkraut.
The purpose of our meeting was for me to bring mail that had been delivered to our previous residence; it was a tax document, so it was relatively important. Also, it was to give my baby girl a hug; she had just returned from a month-long trip to South Africa and I felt the need to wrap my arms around her. A few days before our lunch, our Facebook exchanges went something like this:
Me: PS I can bring a little pizza, spinach/cheese, for lunch on Monday if you like.
Caroline: Ok I will make a salad.
Me: I’m bringing sauerkraut and banana cookies… Need anything else? PS want to go to Adonis before lunch? Need anything there?
Me: Which would you prefer: a litre of organic chicken broth, or a split pea soup made with the broth?
I know, mothers are a real pain!!! You just can’t shake it!!!
Caroline: Ha ha ha both!
So there I was on the day of our lunch date, half an hour before my train, knapsack already half-full with the chicken broth, cookies and sauerkraut sitting by the door. I once more quickly scoured the pantry and freezer for anything else I might stuff into the bag. Last thing to go in was the frozen pizza, the split pea soup I had made the night before, and a small container of black bean stew and some biscuits for my vegan lunch.
While walking to the train, loaded down with what felt like 50 pounds of groceries, I began to ponder this mother love reflex. I thought of all the things I had brought to my daughters over the years, realizing just how deeply ingrained was this reflex. I’m sure some of the stuff I brought had landed in the garbage; but each time, they accepted my gifts with grace.
This is when I understood. The gift, no matter if it came in the form of split pea soup and sauerkraut, was just a container, a vehicle for the love that was being given. The soup and sauerkraut that were received with grace, and no doubt a sense of humour–followed by a big hug, of course–made the gift complete.
As parents, we can’t help but love our children, and attempts to express this love sometimes come across as awkward. Our children show us that they love us right back by simply accepting our gifts, without even raising an eyebrow, or maybe just a twitch. We have the ability to give love and the ability to receive it, and when the love is returned, the gift is complete. In the end, that is all that really matters.