It isn’t what you did in the past that will affect the present. It’s what you do in the present that will redeem the past and thereby change the future.
On May 11th in the United States we celebrate Mother’s Day. In the Middle East it is celebrated on the first day of spring. My wonderful children and my delightful grandchildren will acknowledge and celebrate that day with me once again and as they do every year. It is a terrific way for reminding me, and all mothers everywhere, of that awesome role of Motherhood that we duly and dutifully perform.
Friends who have only met me and my children recently always tell me: You are such an incredible mother! Actually, I think I was pretty good, but by no means incredible. I honed my motherly skills along the way, and now that I feel I have almost perfected the art, my children are all grown up and gone!!! I have perfected a lot of things at my present age, only to find that it is a bit too late to make use of most of them, which oftentimes makes me wonder whether God is really that much of a Cynic??!!
I was a young mother in Beirut of those mid Sixties during a tumultuous and turbulent era in the Middle East (as well as across the world really) when many of us believed that we were the agents of change who were going to establish newer paradigms for our existence on a political, social and cultural level, and, as far as that goes, l was quite a role-model as a young wife, as well as a mother and as a woman. As an example, I used to go out on date night with my husband once every few weeks and to the utter surprise of my friends. Go on a date with one’s husband? With that guy you sleep next to every night? Why the hell would you do that? And the answer was, of course, and as many young couples today realize, because we need to catch our breath and connect away from the routine of children and the daily requirements of life.
And, as a woman, I was working, part time as it were, at the Lebanese Broadcasting Station and after that in managing the office cleaning company that my husband had established. I was one of the first women managers of the region during that time, and struggled for many years to prove that a woman can be and do and succeed in the male-dominated and chauvinistic world of that period. It wasn’t easy!
And, as a young mother, I decided that I was going to take care of my own kids. No maids to do that in my stead as I had been raised. I did not want anyone to feed, bathe or tend to my children other than myself. That was quite unheard of amongst my social class at the time. After all, it was only those poor women who did that because they could not afford to have a maid! I also, as another example, read bedtime stories to my children every night. Another unheard of! However, all four of them today have a marvelous talent for writing and love reading. Could our bedtime routine have had anything to do with that, I wonder? My friends and I also took our kids out every afternoon to the playground, for a walk and to interact with each other as we visited and exchanged ideas; another unheard of, as most women of our class sent their children off with the maids, or kept them at home. We also made a point of taking them to the beach, to the mountains and on picnics almost every weekend. That inclusiveness, too, was a fairly new phenomenon. My amazed Uncle Michel once told me: I have never seen or heard of a mother who takes the time to explain things the way you do to your children. I did a whole lot of other things too. However, what I’m trying to say here is that we, the few mothers of that era, were doing things differently. But, (always that But!) there was much that we did Not do. Looking back on it now, and seeing, reading, understanding all those new methods, tools and approaches young mothers have at their disposal today I know that there were missing areas in my child-rearing processes, and some unnecessary baggage that was carried over from my own upbringing and from the prevalent norms of the previous era. But, alas, there is no Undo or Rewind button in life!
My friends and I were also rearing children up during a hugely transitional period, followed by the years in which we were immersed in a bloody civil war whose turbulent political events continued unabated and until an uprooting to the West took place for many of us. We were very lucky that we could survive those war years the way that we did. Many of our country men, women and children went through tragic situations! Nevertheless, the war did leave its damage on our psyches and our moods, on our priorities and on our children. No excuses, but that’s exactly what wars do. Should anyone be surprised then when I rant and rave against wars and all those who start them? It was also at around that time when the “ideal” love marriage that everyone thought I enjoyed was coming so totally apart! It was, for me, another daunting period of my life! One of many! No doubt, my children bore some of the repercussions of all that. And, should you have asked them when they were teenagers and young adults, each one of them would have told you that the image of the near-perfect mother that my Uncle Michel, as well as many people in my community had of me, wasn’t really that perfect in their beautiful young eyes whence I was sometimes a Bitch, sometimes a Witch and sometimes plain Negligent. They sometimes loved me and at others hated my guts! They sometimes thanked me for all the wonderful things I did for them, and oftentimes blamed me for everything that was wrong with them, or with their lives. Maybe all children do that, but for those of us who went through major upheavals and wars in our lives, that guilt factor becomes more pronounced in these instances. That’s just the way it is!
At the end of the day, and now that I have reached this fantastic age in my life when I finally feel that I am in a very good place, and when I have come to know, to accept and to love and forgive myself, I realize that it could have all turned out to be much, much worse. After all, neither we, nor did our children arrive to this world carrying a How-To manual (as my dear friend, Jeff, once said) on how exactly we should be handled. We didn’t choose our circumstances or wars either. And, while my generation, too, had adverse conditions in our childhood and youth, there came a certain age when whatever were our issues with our own parents and with life in general, now belonged to us and it was entirely up to us to deal with them. And most of us did. Our children’s issues too now belong to them. Yes, there is no Undo or Rewind button. However there is an amazing button called Love that can always do wonders for us, for our children, our parents and all of humanity. It is sometimes the easiest button of all to push . . . and sometimes – many, many times! – oh, the very hardest one of all . . . but do go on and give it a good push today! Go on!
Happy Mother’s Day!