My daughter Mary and her daughter Bernadette were with me recently, and she commented that a friend was concerned that her child, who seems to be a melancholic, wouldn't know that she loved him. Many in our family read The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett, as a means to understand ourselves, our spouses, and our children. Mary has one son who is definitely a melancholic, and one of the things she has learned is that when he is in a melancholic mood, talking to him is useless. But what she has learned is that a hug does wonders. He is definitely a boy who loves hugs, and now that I have had my two Covid vaccinations, and they can come over, I can get my wonderful hugs from him again.
Mary commented that while she didn't think of me as "motherly," she always knew that I loved her, just as she knew my husband loved her, although he was from a family that exchanged almost no hugs and kisses from the time that the children were about 10. In my family of origin, on the other hand, we have continued hugging one another into adulthood. It was interesting that after my husband's brother died, the other five siblings all began hugging one another and saying "I love you." This became even more prevalent when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. With my own children, who are all adults, I have continued to hug them, kiss them, and bless them, and I do the same with my grandchildren (except for the year just past when we had to be physically distanced due to Covid).
I also didn't think of myself as being very "motherly" when I was growing up. I was the oldest and somewhat of a tomboy. I played football with my two younger brothers, romped in the woods behind our house, and was aggravated when my older boy cousins wouldn't let me tag along with them when I visited my grandmother's and uncles' farms as a kid. Fortunately, my mother's youngest brother, who was also my godfather, took me under his wing and let me follow him around. I often slept on the screened-in porch at my grandmother's house with my clothes on a chair at the foot of my bed. I would wake up when the back door slammed at 4 in the morning, throw on my clothes, and be out the door to go with him to milk the cows. I loved the smell of the barn made up of cow, hay, and manure, the sound of the milk pinging into the bucket or squirting into the mouth of a waiting cat. The happiest day of my life as a child was when I was about 10 and he asked if I wanted to go out in the combine with him. I rode in the cab with him for a while, and then he asked if I'd like to ride in the back of the combine where the grain came down. Nothing could have seemed like a greater adventure. He put me in the back and I rode about with the grain falling around me; the sky was hot and blue and I sang up and down the fields with my heart nearly bursting with happiness. When the grain had gotten up to my neck, he came around and pulled me out and let me sit back in the cab with him, covered with dust and dirt. (Just a side note--don't try this at home. I found out much later that it was very dangerous, but in those days we didn't think of that, and it was as perfect a day as I ever had.) When we came in the back door, my grandmother looked at me and said she didn't know what my mother would think if she could see me!
I think I had only one babysitting job when I was growing up, and I was so inept I had to call my mother to come and help me before the parents came back. When I was in college, although I was looking forward to graduating and marrying the boy who became my husband, I was almost totally focused on academics, especially after one of my professors mentioned that if I kept my straight A average, I would be the first student to graduate from that college with a 4.0. From that point on, I was determined to rise to the challenge, and I did, although when I received the medal from the Bishop for being at the top of my class, the medal read "Frist Honors." Years later, the University contacted me and said it had come to their attention that the medal was engraved incorrectly and they would be glad to re-engrave it. I replied that I wanted to keep it the way it was to remind me of the mistakes that all kinds of people could make.
I got engaged just before I graduated and moved to New York City so I could be closer to my fiance. We thought we should have a year to be able to see each other almost every day, rather than depending on student standby flights once or twice a year. We were married the following May, and two years later had Elizabeth, our first child. My husband was the oldest of six, so he was the one I turned to for advice, often calling him at the law firm to see what I should do when the baby was crying. He used to tease me that my tag line should be from Gone with the Wind: "I don't know nothin' both birthin' babies!"
But what I discovered was that I learned quickly and had a mother tiger's instincts to protect my baby no matter what. With each new child, I learned more--about how different they were, how endlessly fascinating, and how my heart seemed to expand with each one, and with each day. The same thing has happened with each grandchild, and I'm sure it will happen when #23 arrives in May. Each child is a new adventure and each one takes me on a new path of learning. I may not be what I thought of as a "perfect mother" when I was a child (my Aunt Cecilia, who had 11 children, came very close), but every mother is different, and as long as she loves her child, she is "motherly" in her own way.