Off to Mom’s … to see how enlightened we really are

In keeping with this month’s travel theme and Mother’s Day, why not plan a visit to Mom’s? If you have a whole litany of excuses, maybe I can help.

Let’s start by acknowledging that our deepest wounds are often created when we’re still dependent on a caregiver … and mothers are first in line for that role. I like the way Ram Dass (a contemporary spiritual teacher) said it, “If you think you’re so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.”

My mom says that when I was a baby, they could pick me up, and I was fine and happy. They could put me down, and I was still fine. No crying. For decades, I thought what a delightful baby—pleasant, no matter what. I wonder now, though, if I was ever really fine and happy. Maybe I just intuited that everybody around me was sufficiently taxed, and that I had better be okay!

To this day, I try to carry my own weight. When that’s not enough to win acceptance, I suppose I resort to being helpful or pretty or smart or giving, or all of the above. And, yes, I think it all started when I was too young to reason, but old enough to be very sensitive to rejection.

So, I wasn’t surprised to read the findings of the well-published study “A Strange Situation,” “One-year-olds had learned at their tender age to bottle up their feelings.” A child can be distressed without crying. But when there is no distress signal, the damsel in distress is unlikely to be saved! A half a century later, I’m still torn between sounding distress and managing on my own.

My mom was 72 years old when—for the first time in my adult life—she asked for my help. She was driving to an assisted-care center to throw a homespun Christmas party for the residents when a semi-truck drove into the side of her passenger van. Catapulting from the van, she landed on the asphalt with a dislocated shoulder, a fractured collar bone, broken ribs, and a punctured lung. When the hospital was about to release her, she asked me if I could possibly come and help her when she arrived home.

During my stay on the couch outside my mom’s bedroom, I could hear her call my name. It didn’t matter what time it was. I could hear her breathing. I was like a mother. I was caring for the child I never had; and she was my mom. I didn’t feel imposed on; I felt privileged, despite the fact that I was already “sufficiently taxed.” It was a divine gift. Finally, I could see my mother as vulnerable. When a wrinkle in the sheet felt like a lump in the mattress to her bruised body, I smoothed it. When she wanted white grape juice instead, I went back to the store.

Perhaps like nobody else, my mom triggers the wounds she helped create, and is no longer responsible for. She is not grating on me these days, though. Instead, she seems to remind me that we have both come a long way, that we are uniquely positioned to empathize with each other, and that understanding each other leads to purer love.

I can be vulnerable now; I can ask her to listen even when it seems like she’d rather talk. She has never refused a request. And I now remember many times over the years when she offered to help; and I declined, wanting to be strong and independent.

To avoid vulnerability is to avoid intimacy; and we rarely avoid it in just one relationship. Here’s to being our most vulnerable—and lovable—selves.

And here’s to Mom—mine and yours!

Author's Bio: 

Jan Denise is a journalist, who penned the nationally syndicated “Inside Relationships” for ten years, and author of the books "Naked Relationships: Sharing Your Authentic Self to Find the Partner of Your Dreams" (Hampton Roads, 2002) and "Innately Good: Dispelling the Myth That You’re Not" (Health Communications, 2009). Denise conducts workshops, speaks professionally, serves on the faculty of Omega Institute, and consults with individuals and couples nationwide. She lives in McIntosh, Florida, where she and her husband own and operate Gleneden Horse Farm and Retreat Center.