When I called my mother and asked her to come to stay while I spent a night in the hospital, she said: “I am sorry, I can’t.” What? I thought I must have misheard her. It happened this way;
When I was 20 and a new bride and an extremely new mother, I had a small medical issue. My doctor said he could fix it, but it would require one night in the hospital. We lived in Charlottesville, VA, in a small house outside of town. My parents lived in Washington, DC. Charley and I had not been married a full year yet. And we had a new baby only a couple of months old. As a wife and mother, my life was just beginning, and it was not a sure thing yet.
It never occurred to me that Charley might be able to handle things for even one day. At that time, husbands were still considered incapable of taking care of a baby. Naturally, I thought of my mother first. She would surely drop everything to come to help me out. Someone would have to look after my baby and my husband while I spent the night away in the hospital. They could not possibly feed themselves. And Charley was a student at UVA. He could not miss class.
When she heard what I wanted, my mother said, ” I am sorry I cannot do it. I am going to go to my reunion at Connecticut College and to see your sister, Dede. Since she goes there, too, I am looking forward to being there with her. I told her I would do it, and it is not possible to change that now. I am going to go on as planned.” As I listened to her in shock, she continued,” You will be fine. You can do this. You are a grown woman with a husband and a baby.” and then the zinger! She stated matter of factly, ” I never had a mother to come to my aid. I was able to manage just fine. And so will you.”
Tears pricked my eyes as she spoke. I felt momentarily abandoned. However, her mothers’ death from the Spanish flu in 1918 was a family legend. Mother was only eight months old when her mother succumbed to the flu at the age of 24. It never occurred to me before precisely what that meant. All those times, when a girl needs a mother, mine had none. She was raised by her grandmother, who died on New Year’s Eve during my mother’s freshman year of college. From then on, she was more or less in charge of her life. Imagine getting married at 22 with no mother to help her plan a wedding. She had always told us she never missed what she had never had.
As I sat there feeling sorry for myself, suddenly, her words settled in my consciousness. She trusted me. She believed I was grown up. She thought I could do it. She believed I could do it. She did not sound even a little bit worried about it. And a feeling of pride and self-confidence filled me to the brim.
My mother considered me a grown-up. And she believed in me. It was a huge revelation. And I often tell this story, adding, “That was the day I really began to be a grown-up.”
Her refusal to come, as well as her confidence in me, made a profound impact on me. It was a gift my mother gave me; a priceless gift. She saw me as competent, so it must be true. Though I was often not sure of the next move, I was very earnest about trying to do what was expected of me, a grown-up lady. Half the time, I was faking it. But I managed to look like I was on top of things even when I was far from confident.
At 20, I accepted responsibility for my husband and my baby boy fully. It was a big one. When I look around me today and see the 20 years olds, it is hard to believe I did what I did. My goals were different from the young today. I did not “give something up” to marry. I was utterly devoted to the idea of early marriage and a life together with a lot of children and a happy and faithful husband. It was what I wanted, and I loved it.
However, in some ways, my real marriage started that day. The day my mother gave me permission to grow up. It was one of the best parenting examples I have experienced. It has stayed with me. It is essential to discover that we are complete in ourselves. We are stronger than we think, more competent and wiser. We can surmount more or less any problem. That is a good thing to know.
Copyright©. 2020 Bonnie B. Matheson