The preacher at church today said, “The older I get, the smarter my mother becomes to me.”
How true. I fought with my mother pretty steadily until I was 24. I was convinced the only adult in the world who understood me was my father. To a degree, I still believe this is true, especially for my childhood.
Then I got married.
About a year ago at the breakfast table in Tennessee, I looked my dad in the eye and said, “Dad, you know you’ve been my favorite pretty much my whole life. I’ve certainly said it and I don’t think I’ve ever pretended it wasn’t true. But I just want to say for the record, I still love you (as much as I always have), but from now on, no matter what has happened, I’m on Mom’s side.” He smiled and said, “That’s fine, Claire,” which prompted me to add, “Oh yeah, and now that you are retired, you have to help when she cleans the house.”
I don’t think I could even sit down and write out the ongoing mental list of things that I have come to understand about my mother with each passing day of becoming what she was my entire life. What she still is. I cannot list most of them because so often moments of enlightenment strike me at the peak of wife- or mother- frustration. My cousin in Turkey recently asked me (via Facebook) if my mother ever brought all the toys back in the house that one day she went ape-shit about the mess and hauled everything we owned from the basement playroom to the curb. Sadly, said cousin is likely the only one who learned a lesson that day, because I have absolutely no memory of this occurrence. Hearing about it for the first time just two weeks ago gave me an enormous inward sigh of relief. (In moments of raw sleep-deprived-children-induced-irritation-rants, perhaps I’m not actually screwing up my kids as much as my guilt would suggest I am.)
And so, here’s to you Mother. Though you were not big on playing with us on the floor when we were under the age of 5 and allowed the television to babysit Jeff and me through your next two pregnancies, though you didn’t like to get dirty, go skiing, or turtle-topping behind the car in the snow, though we ate Hamburger Helper at least once a week for most of our childhood and had bowl-cuts (all four of us) until we were well over the age of 13, and though society might have told you (as it daily tells me) that most of these things are counter-productive to raising happy and healthy children, it turns out you were on to something. I think we are all actually happier and healthier than most people we know. And, here’s the kicker: you are not only loved (because you are our mother), but we actually like you in our adult lives. So if you’ve ever had a moment of thinking you maybe did something not as well as you could have, or maybe could have changed something so we would have turned out better, or wondered if there is anything we (perhaps unknowingly) resent about our childhood, then take this moment to relish the awesomeness that is all four of us Paulus kids.
That’s your fault.
When Carter was born, Eliott spent a few days away from John and me in Tennessee with my parents. My mother told me, later that summer, that for her, Eliott is living proof that there is a God. “She is the manifestation of all the times I prayed that you would one day have one who was just like you.” So for the record, I will try to be patient through these pre-school years, and later through the teenage years, and wait until Eliott is 24 or 26 or 30, for her sincere, “Thank-you, Mom. I get it.”