By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
My poor mother. Those are the three words that come to mind when I look back on my childhood. It’s not that I was a hell-raiser. I wasn’t. But emotionally speaking, I was…a lot. Allow me to illustrate with this true story.
As a child, I had slow, stubborn teeth. Baby teeth that wouldn’t fall out. Permanent teeth that wouldn’t move into place. My mouth was a crowded, crooked mess – also known as an orthodontist’s dream come true.
Because of the slow teeth, my mouth wasn’t ready for braces until I was 16. It was terrible timing. My friends and classmates had gotten braces around the age of 13 or 14. If I’d been ready for braces at that age, my misery would’ve had plenty of company. But as cruel teenage fate would have it, I was getting braces on about the same time my classmates were getting theirs off, flashing perfectly aligned smiles set free from metal brackets and rubber bands.
So, there I was, sitting beside my mother in the orthodontist’s waiting room preparing to get braces at the worst possible time, thereby ensuring I would remain a complete dork throughout high school. In those days, teens didn’t have an iPhone to stare at in waiting rooms. And I wasn’t interested in a six-month-old copy of Good Housekeeping magazine. So, I casually watched over my mom’s shoulder as she filled out my patient questionnaire.
It was all going fine until she got down to this question: “Is your child overly sensitive?” Without even pausing, my mother checked the box marked “Yes.”
I stifled a gasp. Mom glanced at me. My eyes silently screamed “What did you just do?” Her eyes replied with a confused “What?” I pointed an accusatory finger at her answer to the sensitivity question. She still didn’t understand.
With amazing speed, tears pooled in my eyes. My lip quivered. My face crumpled. I whispered “I can’t believe you marked yes! Why would you say that about me?” I reacted as if she’d slapped me with the clipboard holding the defamatory patient questionnaire. I was shocked. Wounded. Humiliated.
Because I was only 16, I didn’t realize my silent yet overblown emotional meltdown in the waiting room was one of the many reasons Mom had marked “yes” next to the question. I was proving her right without even knowing it. In those early years, she often knew me better than I knew myself.
A moment later, the nurse called me to the room lined with dentist chairs where the orthodontist would end my fledgling social life before it even began. I’m sure Mom was relieved to be left alone in the waiting room so she could finish filling out the questionnaire in peace. She probably went back to the sensitivity question and added these words for emphasis: “You have no idea.”
Fast forward 33 years. I’m still oversensitive. Most writers are. I admit it now. For the record, I suspect most people are oversensitive. It’s just that some of us aren’t as good at hiding it as others.
It’s this sensitivity, especially during our most formative years, that makes a mother’s job so impossible yet so important. No one else has the power to help or hurt us quite like our mothers. It’s a ridiculous level of responsibility for the mom and a scary level of vulnerability for the kids.
Now that I’ve become a mother of three, I look back and marvel at how my mom navigated this maternal journey. It is so hard sometimes. It’s the most confusing, challenging yet meaningful work I have ever done or will ever do. Sometimes I feel like I’m tiptoeing through a minefield, trying not to blow anything up or create some lifelong emotional scar (that my kid might one day write about in the newspaper.)
Therefore, I’ve decided that, for my mom and all the others out there who are currently raising humans (or who have survived the process), a simple Mother’s Day doesn’t feel adequate. We’ve put these women through a lot, right? Perhaps we should make it an entire Mother’s Season, like spring itself.
Give us three months of restaurant meals, naps and the occasional thoughtful gift, and we’ll try to call it even.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.