May 8, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Believe me, mothering is not an exact science

Cynthia DewesThe first sentence I wrote many years ago for this column was, “Sentimental motherhood never appealed to me.” It still doesn’t. Time and experience have proven the truth of that opinion to me.

By “sentimental motherhood” I mean that stereotypical sugary version of being a mother. You know, the kind of mother in ads or soap operas or novels who is too nice to be believable. She never raises her voice or musses her hair or embarrasses her kids. My question is, do such mothers really exist?

Maybe I’ve only seen bad examples of motherhood or something. My mom, whom I love fiercely to this day, was not your greeting card mom. She would lose her temper and swear once in a while, always admonishing me afterward not to repeat anything she said. As I’ve said here before, the fly swatter was her discipline tool of choice.

Mom had an identical twin sister whose mothering method was exactly the same. Apparently the twin thing carried over in more ways than one. She, too, had one daughter, and my cousin and I would often commiserate. On the other hand, my mom and my aunt were both hands-on affectionate and funny and thus could be forgiven anything.

My Aunt Midge was still another kind of mom. The story was, she’d been a chorus girl in New York City before marrying my uncle, and she still had that dramatic presence. She smoked and drank and wore a lot of makeup, but she was also an excellent cook and extremely funny.

My three cousins were treated to her and my uncle’s alcoholic escapades, but also to her vast affection and support. I loved staying overnight with them because we’d make taffy and stay up way past my bedtime playing board games, and if we spilled anything on the floor no one cared.

My Norwegian aunties were still another kind of mother. They were calm and non-judgmental, not funny but having a good sense of humor. They took after their mom, my Grandma Oare. She’d let you go down some naughty path until you finally realized how dumb it was. And when you reformed, she’d give you a cookie even if it was 10 minutes before dinner.

Over the years, through observing friends’ and schoolmates’ mothers, I learned about other kinds of mothering. One instructive scene I remember to this day took place in first grade.

One of my classmate’s mothers marched up to the front of the hall where we were on stage, ripped off her daughter’s hair bow and replaced it, right in the middle of our performance. This was not the first or last of her public exploits.

So my mother job description would probably include trying not to embarrass your kids. However, when the kids were in high school, I entered a local radio contest to write a love poem to the King Kong character in a new movie.

Somehow I won, and it was announced on the air. When the boys came home from school, they said their friends had asked if it was their mom who won, and they were embarrassed. However, the prize of a King Kong statue came in handy for them later when he was dressed up for a toga party they held at Purdue.

According to sentimental motherhood, I’ve probably done it all wrong. But, whatever we do, if we love our kids and let them know it often, they probably won’t hold anything against us!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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