Because she’s the most lovely person I’ve ever met, apart from perhaps my own daughter, whom I don’t know so well yet. (Boys go into a separate category for now)
Because, when I was seven, she’s taught me what acceptance means, and I will never forget that lesson. There was a boy in my class at school, whom nobody liked. Did you have someone like that in your school? And why would we? He was disruptive, loud, obnoxious, he made a mess of all our games and nice play, he didn’t get it. And he smelled. That was probably the worst thing for me, who’s always had a finely tuned smelling organ.
But when I came home to talk about how weird he was, my mum just said this: The more he feels that you all don’t like him, the more strange he’ll become. If you let him feel included, he’ll probably become a lot nicer to be around. So the next day, I invited him to our house to play and it was, of course, fine. From then onwards, this is the truth that I try to remember every time I meet someone I find difficult, including myself. We become acceptable once we’ve been accepted.
Back to my mum: Now, that I’m five times the age I was when I first learnt about accepting the unacceptable, she is still my primary teacher of unconditional love. You’d think I should know by now? Probably. But there’s something so powerful in watching yourself react to your children and then remembering or indeed continuing to experience the way your own mum is with you. In the face of tantrums, mishaps, disrespect and demands it can sometimes be such a challenge to accept my kids fully. To have a view of them that isn’t tainted with everything they cost me. And often, among mummy friends, we have a bit of a culture of commiseration, when we talk about parenting. A focus on how hard it is – which it is, truly, and which we do need to be honest about.
But it’s easy to perhaps miss one of the underlying issues, which are to do with unconditional love. Such a cliché, I know. What does it mean? Well, I think it’s about focus. Away from me. And onto who they are. What they’re becoming. What, like all of us, they’re still in the process of learning. That the tantrums aren’t there to spite me and the spillages on the new winter coat weren’t planned. That, at their core, they’re the most amazing of God’s creations that I’ve ever come across, even the boys (this is a joke). That they have treasure residing in them, that they want to love and laugh and learn and be. And as soon as I choose that grace factor it all becomes a little lighter, a bit more fun and the pain is a little less hurtful.
If it wasn’t for my mum, I don’t know who would inspire me to see this? If it wasn’t for recognising how she endured me, even at the times when my tantrums were spiteful…and how she still bears with me like only my husband does, gently correcting me where I really, really need it, it would be a much lonelier and less colourful journey, the one of learning to love. It also would be a little less humbling, I give you that. But then it’s also mysterious and exciting to be humbled by the ones we strive to honour.
Next time, more food stories!