On Mother's Day: Forgiving Mama
- 2003 11 May
I've been reading and praying The Lord's Prayer more often than usual. And a new realization has struck me – there's not much for me to do in this prayer. Basically, I'm asking God to do the giving (our daily bread), forgiving (our debts) leading (not into temptation), delivering (from evil). And yet one particular phrase: "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," seems to fall in my camp. I am pondering this specifically on Mother's Day.
My mama was a good one. She and my dad couldn't have children, so they adopted me. Then my sister. Mom played games with us. She sewed Barbie clothing for our dolls, including a wedding gown I can still see-two layers of a full skirt, a fitted bodice and tiny, long lace sleeves. She taught me to bake and decorate the best holiday sugar cookies to ever grace a Santa platter. She read books by the dozens to our young ears. And she listened when I gave unsolicited and rambling book reports on my newest favorites. She made sure I learned to read music. Mama never missed an important recital, play, concert, ball game or ceremony in my entire life.
And on every Mother's Day I gave mama gifts. Once it was a jewelry box decorated with dry pasta held on with gobs of glue. And spray-painted a marvelous gold. She kept it for a very long time. Another year it was a clay disc I pounded and painted and marked with the number "21." That's how old I thought she was ... I was only off by a decade. I've cross-stitched for her and bought perfume, sent flowers. In retrospect, I've probably given her a lot of things she didn't really want. But she smiled at each and thanked me from the heart.
My mama was a good one, and I know she loved me, but she wasn't perfect. Her angry words cut through my childlike heart with piercing precision. And her bouts with depression (now I know what they were) could throw off the entire family's emotional thermostat for weeks at a time. The shame she was taught as a child trickled down to me through her language and facial expressions. As I grew older, her hugs grew fewer. I worked hard for her approval, but it always felt slightly out of reach-like bobbing for an apple in a too-large tub of cold water.
As I think about forgiveness on Mother's Day, I've come face to face with a mental list I've been keeping. A list of debts that no mother could ever repay. So I am putting together a different kind of gift for Mother's Day this year: a mixed bouquet of "forgiveness-es." Forgiveness roses for the times she dished out shame instead of grace. Forgiveness lilies for angry words with the power to crush. Forgiveness violets for the hugs that never happened. Forgiveness daisies for being an ordinary human mother. Forgiveness irises for trying her best on most days, but not every day. This handmade bouquet says I forgive her for being what I have become: an imperfect mama to an adoring child.
Which leads me to why I started thinking about forgiveness at all. I am now a mama. And already, before his second birthday, I have had to ask my son's forgiveness. For losing my temper and yelling at his dad in front of him. For cussing at rude drivers in traffic, while he listens and mimics from the back seat. For bonking his head on the doorframe as I too quickly load his little body into the car. For my many errors of judgment, mountains of mistakes, and loads of just plain sin. Oh, with so much more to come. "I'm not perfect, son," I want to tell him. But he'll figure that out soon enough.
Someday my son will look back at my mothering mistakes and my personal failures and feel disappointment. Maybe hurt and anger as well. Sorry, baby, there aren't any perfect mamas. I'm doing my best-most days. I'd be in his debt forever if it weren't for Jesus, whose love covers my multitude of sins. That's why he is the one who can teach us to pray, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." He makes those words reality-for mama and for me.
I have always loved my mama. Loved her from my earliest memories of homemade pudding in the kitchen. Loved her during her last days, as cancer refused remission. And I know my mama loved me. So this Mother's Day, when I visit that Central Texas cemetery, I won't just take the usual bouquet of seasonal blooms. I'll also take a bouquet of forgiveness-es. I'll offer them to mama as a token of forgiveness, an acknowledgement of her love. Perhaps someday my child will forgive me as well.
Pamela McClure lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband, son and Jack Russell Terrier. The dog has been demoted in importance since the birth of Max, almost two years ago. The dog seems relieved.