In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re interviewing our moms to find out how their lives changed when we were born and what they learned about love and life as a parent. Today, Amelia’s mom.
I think I have been truly heartbroken twice in my life. The most recent one was obviously when my relationship with my ex-fiance ended. But the first time my heart broke wasn’t due to a boy. When I went away to college, I was bowled over by the truly unexpected pain of leaving my mother behind. We had always been close, but in my teenage years we fought loads, as teenage girls and their moms tend to do, and I’m sure I shouted, “I can’t wait to get out of this house!” more times than I choose to remember. But when I moved hundreds of miles away to go to school, I missed her so goddamn much. I felt a hole in my heart that I know she shared, which eventually subsided, of course, but I’ll never forget that feeling — it made me realize how much I should and do appreciate and love her. (And, lucky for my brother and me, she recently moved to New York City!) That’s why I was excited to interview my mom, Cheryl Parry, who is a wonderful painter, in addition to being a longtime English as a Second Language (ESL) educator.Did you always know you wanted to be a mom?
I think so. My mother was very nurturing and to a great extent, it was expected of me. I loved dolls as a child, and took care of my younger sister and pretended I was her mother. And to this day I find children and the whole experience of childhood fascinating. Watching children is watching the development of a human being. And the experience of childhood is the period when we experience reality very intensely and very directly, and I like to recall my own childhood experiences. I draw from them in my creative life as an artist.
At the same time, as a child I also loved to do things boys did, like climbing trees, and being in the woods, and pretending to be characters that were not necessarily male or female. But, yes, I always knew I wanted to be a mother.
How was your life different before you had kids?
Before becoming a mother I was only responsible for my own welfare and I had many adventures. I studied ballet and art and traveled alone to Europe and lived on the Oregon coast for a while. I did many things I wanted to do and that you can only do if you are not a mother. I had long periods of solitary time, as well. So I did feel somewhat ready when I discovered I was going to be a mother. Suddenly as a mother, I became responsible for someone else, and their well-being became more important to me than my own. As a mother I found myself absorbed in the development of another person who came from by body. It is like becoming more than one person.
My time and how I spent my time was altered radically. It became directed toward caring for a child, and thinking about the child, and planning for the child. I didn’t decide how to spend my time. Taking care of the child decided how I would spend my time. Suddenly my entire life opened up and included this other person who needed so much from me. The responsibility is awesome. And like anything awesome, it is both sublime and frightening. I found I had to call forth all of my inner resources, like patience, and humor (lots of humor), and also trying to imagine what the child is feeling and experiencing. You really can’t be self-absorbed and be a good parent. You really have to put a lot of your own ego and self-centered interests aside. And suddenly all of my worries about the future of this planet (the environment, war, economic injustice) became magnified. I was already highly conscious of these things. Now I became even more so.
I resorted to thinking about my own childhood a lot and hope I didn’t over-project. I didn’t like school as a child and I hovered over my children when they went off to school. I constantly worried that my child felt as alone and misunderstood there as I did as a child. That is the time when society suddenly takes over. You have your child all to yourself before he or she goes to school and then suddenly there are these outside influences. In my case, I didn’t like a lot of what the school was trying to do. I wasn’t able to home-school because I had to work. I wish I could have been part of a home-schooling community so my child could have experienced a more caring and thoughtful and really fascinating early learning environment (which is hard to find anywhere, in my opinion). I was happy in that both of my children went to an amazing daycare center but it was all down-hill after that, as far as I am concerned.
I am an artist and had to put a lot of my artistic creativity on hold. That was hard. I didn’t go back to it until my second child was about 7 or 8 and my first child was a young teenager. But I also found that I didn’t have the same desire to make art when they were very young. It is very demanding of a person physically to be a parent. There are periods where you don’t get much sleep or time to yourself. I have to admit sometimes the most exciting thing in the world looked like a good night’s sleep.
What were your fears about becoming a mother?
My number one fear was something happening to either of my children. I cannot imagine losing a child. That’s all I can say about that. That in itself made me question whether I should have children because of the sheer vulnerability that comes from loving another human being so much. It is really a love that is like no other. It is unconditional. It is a mountain that cannot be moved. And I actually was aware of that fear before having my own child.
What did you think when you found out you were pregnant with me?
Well, the first feeling was fear about whether I was up to it. Economic issues were a real problem. But this all quickly subsided and I was soon out there reading Dr. Spock, what to do about this and how to handle that, etc. and imagining all the things we would do together and the things I would show my child, etc. I loved the physical experience of pregnancy. I had my share of fears, though.
Do you have any regrets about how you raised me?
I wish I could have sent you to an American Friends School where my beliefs about social justice, etc. were part of the curriculum so that what I was teaching you was supported by your school. It would have been easier for the both of us. And I wanted you to learn in an environment that was not competitive and where you were encouraged to ask serious questions and learn certain values that are often contrary to the values taught in traditional schools. I was unable to afford to do that so I found myself fighting the traditional school because I felt you were learning things I wanted you to “unlearn.” I am sure you felt pulled between the school and your parents and I sympathize. But what else could I do but teach you what I believe in? I am sure you were often confused and conflicted as to why your father and I sent you to school each day only to return and find us unhappy with much of what you were learning.
I know I am a very serious and intense person. I am sure you sometime wished I was less so. I wish I could have lightened up more. But it is hard to be anyone but yourself with your children because after all, they come from you. They come out of you. It seems incredibly dishonest to be anyone but yourself with your children and try to share with them your deepest values and concerns. At the same time, you have to let them become themselves. It is a very difficult juggling act. You have to give a lot to be a good mother. At the same time you have to keep yourself whole because if you are not a whole person, you don’t have a self to give. Not easy. Not easy at all. But I tell you, it is often such tremendous fun, just sheer and sublime joy. Some of the best times are just those ordinary days when the whole family is around the house together, nothing special going on, but just a sweet ordinariness in the day. Being a mother never stops. No matter how old my children get, I still find myself wanting to be their protector.
In what ways do you think you and I are similar? How about different?
I think we are similar in that we are both very emotional. We form deep attachments and have high expectations for relationships. I think we both place a tremendous amount of importance on loving other people. I think it is easier for you to have fun, and enjoy the world for what it is, while I am always conscious of what the world ought to be. I have an almost constant inner restlessness that is often reflected in nervousness, and a kind of hypersensitivity and idealism that makes it hard to just let things be. You are much more easygoing. Your idealism comes out in what you want in relationships with people and very sensitive to other people’s feelings. I think if you ever have inner conflict it is from that deep longing for connection. I am more cerebral than you and find adventure in ideas, etc. whereas you find adventure in doing things like learning to surf and standing up the very first day. I would never have courage for that sort of thing. You have always been fearless about things like swimming, driving, etc., whereas I am conscious of imminent danger. I think we are both alike in that when we do something we do it with real intensity. And oftentimes, not with everything, but certainly with some things, we have a similar aesthetic. We both love the book Franny and Zooey.
How was raising a girl (me) different from raising a boy (Max, 24)?
It wasn’t much different, honestly. People tried to make it different. You and your brother are different in many ways, but the differences do not seem connected to gender. You both cried the first six months you were born. You were both very active. You were both very sweet. You were both affectionate. He had no interest in having a toy gun and you were just as hooked on Star Trek as he was. I think I was different in that I had some experience parenting once your brother was born and was more relaxed about it.
Now that both of your kids are adults and out of the house, do you find that your life is similar to the way it was before you had kids?
My time is more my own. Yes, I got back time. But I am not the same. My life superficially looks more the way it was in the sense that I have more individual freedom. I am able to devote more time to art. I am able to devote more time to the things I love to do. And I have a lot more time to be solitary because there is a certain solitariness to my nature. But again, my thoughts are still those of a mother. And I think a person is what they think about. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson said something about that. And I still spend some part of the day actively thinking about my two kids and they are certainly always in the back of my mind. And it is rather wonderful to get a good night’s sleep!