The Unconditional Love of a Mother
Published in ChicagoNow, May 12, 2017
I had saved a message from my late mother on my phone. It breaks my heart that, somehow in upgrading phones, I lost it. But I remember her words pretty well. I had just started blogging and she called to tell me she was so proud of me for something I had written. But she went on to say she was always proud of me just for being her daughter. And her message ended with “I love you.”
I remember as a child that Mom’s love was unconditional and expressed often. Yes, I knew she was proud (most of the time) of what I did, but I never felt like I had to do anything to earn her love – it was just there.
My mother was a young mom, just twenty-two when I was born. We were close when I was growing up – shopping together, singing show tunes, baking, doing household chores. She taught me what are now arcane household skills. I can still picture her madly wielding an iron during the McCarthy hearings and remember her teaching me this skill by letting me press Dad’s handkerchiefs. She dusted and vacuumed three times a week. As the only girl in the family, it was my job to dust the shelves of knickknacks, which never seemed to be dirty. I also helped her hand-wash and dry the dishes nightly, and set the table for that precisely-at-6:00 p.m. dinner.
It was seeing my mother as a young grandmother with my own kids, however, that made me appreciate the kind of parent she must have been when I was young. She was definitely a down-on-the-floor, hugging and kissing, playful person. My daughter described her as, “the grandma that everyone wishes they could have: pure love.”
30 years ago
Her eight grandchildren have many fond memories of the time they spent with Grandma: The girls still remember her tea parties with sugar water and trying on her make-up, special lotions, and shoes. Granddaughters and grandsons alike have special memories of her teaching them card games and how to dive into her apartment pool.
During their college years, they all received her coffee cans filled with mandelbrot cookies. And when they found significant others, my mother and father loved to take them out to dinner, an event she dubbed a double date. One of my daughters remembers falling asleep holding my mother’s hand when we visited my parents. All of them recall her candy drawer, the smell of her Shalimar perfume, the way her face lit up a room when she smiled, the warmth of her hugs, and the love in her voice every time she spoke to them.
My mother was loyal and kind. She was also a loving daughter, caring for her own mother as part of her daily routine, even with the demands of raising her own three children. Her example was my inspiration as I tried to transmit her unconditional love to my own family. As parents and grandparents, the messages we give are a delicate dance between letting children know we are proud of their achievements and disappointed by their mistakes, but that we love them no matter what they do. How many times did I tell my children, “I don’t like what you did, but I will always love you”? And did they think I really meant it?
I guess that is the challenge of unconditional love. I hope my family knows that, like my mother, I will always love them. I may not always brag about their accomplishments because I don’t believe they are defined by what they do. But that doesn’t mean I’m not insanely proud. I hope I have taught them to be humble about their gifts. I hope they know what really matters: It is not their innate ability is but rather how they use it.
Maybe Mother’s Day is the time to share the message my mother left on my phone with my children and grandchildren. I’m proud of you for just being who you are, and I love you unconditionally.