Recently, I took both my girls to a mother-daughter circle. Pre-motherhood, I used to love going to events that delve into the soul, but B and L have never done anything like it, and they have little interest in deep, searching conversations. Reasonable enough since they are 8 and 10, I suppose, but too often, I’m stuck with tailoring important messages (“You’re not bad, but your behavior is unacceptable”) down to the short, blunt basics (“Stop!”). I know I’m not alone, but I hear with envy how some mothers are able to thoroughly talk over issues with their gradeschoolers. Overall, I feel like we don’t appreciate each other or our relationship enough. Therefore, despite my husband’s feeling – outnumbered as he is 3 to 1 – that our female bonds are quite strong enough, thank you, we skipped the girl’s soccer games one Saturday morning and gave it a try.
Our group of women and girls, ages about 5 to 12, formed a circle around an “altar” of flowers, cards, paper heart, glass jewels and beads. We warmed up by dancing and did visualizations to open to the experience. Happily, the girls were game and pranced around. The organizer then had us each come up with one word that describes the other, and I was rewarded by B and L with the words “kind” and “love”. I started melting.
During an exercise where we strung beads on a wire to hang glass pendants, our job was to tell the listener a special quality we loved. More rewards for me: “Your smile”, “I’m glad you brought me here”. B’s and L’s interest was shorter than the wire, however, and soon I started hearing how special my kneecaps and earlobes are. Okay, okay – I was still able to tell them outright with each bead about how great they are, finding little specifics for each girl: one’s courage, one’s kind heart, my feelings the first time I saw each of them. I hoped in this atmosphere, the message would really sink in. Mission accomplished in a short, manageable, kid-friendly format.
But then the group finished with another circle dance, and the organizer told the girls what they should take away from this event: “Always remember that, no matter what, your mother is the one who has your back.” I looked at all these trusting little faces around me, the tears welled up and I realized there was more happening.
Those words, which I hadn’t ever thought to apply to mothering, are what I want B and L to know, deep, deep in their bones. Wondering about whether they know this keeps me awake sometimes. Our family’s path is not easy and I put much love and effort into my role, but the terrifying part of this job is that I won’t really know the effects of my work for years. Add to this that mothering too often feels like equal parts cop, social secretary, referee, wish squelcher and dragon lady. I often sink into bed just feeling like the bad guy.
I know I have been at the center of their lives so far for better or worse – a frighteningly big job. I felt my heart relax in being given a simple message – not my strong point – that says it all, for them and for me. I took them to this little circle so that the three of us could deepen our emotional language. I was blindsided by how much I needed to be reset back to the depth of my mission. Especially now as my influence wanes as they turn more to the outside world. My job for the rest of my life is to have their backs. That, I can do.