I know I write about mothers frequently. Mostly, I write about bad mothers because that was my own early experience — and because the bad or absent mommy is such a reliable trope in fiction – like the classics from the Brothers Grimm to that misogynistic asshole, Walt Disney, and the multitude of dead mothers his stories portray. I get it. As Tolstoy explains, all happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Trials and tribulations make for a good story. If it’s a paranormal romance, of course, the perils of Pauline give way to a well-constructed happily ever after, so it all works out … eventually. So, back to motherhood. I had a mother. I am a mother. The two experiences are, thankfully, vastly different. Today, I’m going to look to one of my very favorite books to illuminate these issues. Yes, I’m between books and revisited Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound, just because I wanted a guaranteed good time and this book always delivers. Moreover, Dragon Bound touched significantly on the role of (good) mothers in forming us, protecting us and preparing us to leave the nest, so it was apropos over Mother’s Day weekend.
Mothers give us a legacy of genetics (in the case of biological mothers), of philosophy, as well as a conscious and unconscious transmission of a worldview, our place in it, and the myriad ‘should’s” and “should not’s” that color our perspectives for the rest of our lives, whether we accept or reject what we’ve been taught. In Dragon Bound, the love of Pia’s mother is her salvation — and that which holds her back, which is so often the case.
In the story, Pia’s mother was primarily concerned with securing Pia’s survival, knowing that she would be a target if her secrets were revealed. To protect her, her mother trained Pia early on, educating her about the dangers of the world and equipping her with walls and safeguards against that which might harm her. Pia’s mother had the best of intentions and clearly loved her daughter beyond all measure. But sometimes, in an effort to shield our children from the ugliness of reality, we make the mistake of attempting to prepare the path for the child instead of preparing the child for the path.. And, in so doing, ironically enough, ensure that our progeny will stumble on that path, despite our best preparation.
As in all the finest fantasy, the depictions of Pia’s mythical mother are achingly real. I, too, have worked hard to inculcate the necessary safeguards into the minds and hearts of my sons so that their suffering on this mortal coil will be minimal. But I know that my work will likely help in some ways and hurt in others. Sometimes, the farther we run from pain the faster it finds us. This truly sucks – in both truth and fantasy.
Like Pia’s unnamed mother, I’ve tried to teach my kids to be successful in our world. I’ve taught them right from wrong and I’ve also worked to make sure they understand that not everyone plays by the same rules. People are mean sometimes. And as much as I would like to think it’s not true, my kids—wait for it—don’t always behave wonderfully either. What to do in a situation where our children’s problems are overwhelmingly self-inflicted? Clearly, let them suffer the consequences of their actions. And then stroke their hair when they lay their heads in our lap looking for comfort when they find the consequences particularly uncomfortable. Such a fine, fine line. So hard to walk without stumbling ourselves.
I’m pretty sure my mother would have bubble wrapped me and kept me at home throughout my childhood if she’d had the option. And while I understand the impulse, it’s one I’ve resisted over and over. Sometimes, when we make our kids too safe, as Pia’s mother tried to do, we cut them off from experiences that would help them stretch and grow and achieve their wildest dreams. If we teach them to be completely risk averse, we also teach them to limit their expectations.
We want our kids to play safely. But playing it safe is not a strategy for a life lived fully, at least in my humble opinion. Fate favors the bold! And being bold means sometimes falling flat on our faces. Or our asses. Not sure which is worse. But I want to encourage my kids to take chances while shielding them from harm. Oxymoronic, I know. But I can’t help myself. I’m a mother.
The thing about parenting is this: it’s a dance. We do our best and hope that our kids will ignore our advice when they should, and take it to heart when it’ll help. Which means that we hope they will be smarter than we were. Most of us want our children to be more successful—however we and they define it—than we are. And we all hope that every decision we make as parents will benefit our progeny. But we, like them, pays our money and takes our chances.
If I can be half as good a mother as Pia’s—or even as Pia herself turns out to be — then I will be content.