Sunday, May 11, 2003, was the most significant Mother’s Day for me. It was my very first. The day before, around dinner time, our daughter was born. Her cries filled the delivery room as an emotional Tom and I and several family members shared tears of joy. I had always felt loved by my parents, but in that moment of becoming a mother I gained an awareness of how deeply my parents really loved me as I experienced the most intense, almost fierce wave of love and protectiveness for our little girl. Then the fear set in. How would we know what to do with a little baby whose life depended on two new parents?
I remember telling my boss at the time that I felt like someone just handed me a box full of car parts and told me to put it all together without a manual. Oh, and make sure it works! The next day Tom left in the afternoon for a Sixers playoff game. A nurse brought our baby in for a feeding and I fell apart. Chalk it up to hormones, a life-changing event, doubt … whatever turned on the floodgates made me feel like a failure already and I had only just begun.
The roller coaster of motherhood is a ride every mom experiences. The uphill climb is often filled with apprehension. You hold on tightly until you get over the hump and enjoy the payoff. It’s that uplifting, arms in the air, invigorating reward on the easy, fun ride down that makes the struggles of motherhood worth it. It’s the colic that finally goes away and leaves a smiling baby in its wake. Sleepless nights evolve into a new normal that eventually includes fewer waking moments. Fifteen minutes to eat in peace with the husband you feel you haven’t had two minutes with all week.
Bringing children into your world flips it upside down but after all this time I can’t imagine our lives without our daughter and son. They increase the size of my heart every day and our most important lesson to them is that they can do anything they put their minds to and we will love them no matter what. It’s what I learned from my mom.
At my worst moments with our kids, when I felt like I picked the wrong battle, said the wrong thing, yelled at them; I would call my mom for advice. Always a willing ear, she would say that whatever the situation I could be sure it would pass. She would tell me to be flexible and when disciplining my kids, talk to them as if they were someone else’s. It will stop you from raising your voice. She would remind me the most important thing I could do for myself and them was to cope.
It was a common theme for us growing up. My mom would explain that even though things didn’t always go our way we could get through it. Life would be full of happy and sad times. I would ask her how she managed to handle and love unconditionally five crazy kids when I sometimes felt I couldn’t handle two. She laughed and said after my brothers, sisters and I went to bed she would sometimes sit on the basement steps after a bad day and have a good cry. We both laughed hysterically at that. I pray I’m as good a mother and have the same kind of close relationship with our kids when they are grown as my mom does with me and my siblings today.
My mom has a great sense of humor, an inner strength and wisdom I marvel at because she didn’t have her own mother to look up to. Her mother passed away when she was 3. When I found her mom’s death certificate on a genealogy site tears filled my eyes. Imagine her father having to come home from the hospital without his wife and tell his five children their mother was gone. Both of her sisters quit high school. One of them, just 14, raised her. My mom’s other sister went to work. Her sisters remembered their mother as very loving but my mom was too young to have much of a recollection. I would ask her how she would get through tough times growing up and she would always answer, “You just do the best you can.”
I find myself saying that to friends every now and then when they mention a problem with their kids. Too often in this age of hectic schedules for school, sports, clubs and other activities we judge ourselves by what we believe other moms do better when really most of us are in the same boat, facing daily challenges.
If we are fortunate enough we can rely on examples set by a mother who stood by her convictions and showed you the right way wasn’t always the popular way. Who let you know it was OK if you didn’t always have what everyone else had. And who still loved you and urged you back on your feet after life knocked you down.
These days when I hear myself tell our son or daughter “this will pass” or “you can cope with it” or “I love you no matter what,” I know I sound just like my mom. Then I think “Lucky me.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio play-by-play broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May, 2015).
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