My daughter IM’d me last Sunday. She said Happy Mother’s Day. And then she asked what I wanted as a present. I hesitated for a moment, caught up in all kinds of thoughts and feelings. I explained to her that Mother’s Day presents had to come on the day or they didn’t count.
That was hard for me to say. I knew it might make her feel bad. I hate to make my children feel bad. My childrearing was always of the sort where I wanted first and foremost for my children to do and feel well. I protected them. From so many things.
My Chinese American colleagues would joke with me about their experiences growing up. They teased me, the way I treated my kids so carefully. Their mothers, apparently, when they wanted their children to change behaviors, would say as encouragement, “I spilled my blood for you as you were born!”
Let me be clear. I would not remotely presume to be making a statement here about Chinese American mothers in general. That is a vast class of people who deserve much more than my little musings. I am making the very small and limited observation that two men I worked with who had immigrated to the US as babies and toddlers had two mothers, from China via Hong Kong and Taiwan, who said to them, “I spilled my blood for you.” And then I will make the small and limited statement that those words resonated in me. In the broad sense. These fundamental facts of motherhood sometimes get ignored, particularly in the upper middle class left-leaning circles who made up my playgroups when the kids were little.
I now believe that too much self-effacement as a mother is not always good. That even for the kids’ sake it is sometimes necessary that the mother remember she spilled her blood for them. When you let your kids off the hook they can be left with guilt. When you put your foot down, you may be annoying, but in some way you free the kids from their own tendencies to treat you less than perfectly, and in some ways probably make them happier. Or so I believe. Nothing in parenting is certain knowledge. The definitive handbook has not yet been written. But you have a right as a mother to ask for what you want without terrible guilt and anxiety.
My daughter said she was sorry. And later that day, Mother’s Day, flowers arrived. They are still on my counter. Pink lilies that smell really good.