By Mary Becelia
It's a favorite pastime of many moms, yours truly included: bemoaning how difficult parenting is "these days." As we sip our nonfat lattes, or tap on our Blackberries, passing Goldfish to the wee ones in a desperate ploy to buy a few more minutes of adult time, we commiserate on the woes of potty training, paccie-weaning, kindergarten angst, and the like.
It's a marathon to be sure, from sun up to sunset year in and year out, but deep down, I know I don't have it that bad. When I think back to my grandmother, for example, I have to laugh at my petty complaints. Let me tell you a little bit about Marian Catherine Laing...
She was beautiful, first off, as well as ambitious and smart. She graduated from Cornell University and moved to a small town in western New York to be a teacher—not her first choice, but times were hard then, during the Great Depression. She married a local farmer, Emerson Laing and after a few years, they started a family. Judy (my mother) and Tom were two years apart and she was eight months pregnant in the fall of 1944 when she was stricken with polio.
She delivered my aunt Mary Jane while being treated, and spent the next year in an iron lung and then at a rehabilitation center. Meanwhile, the two youngest were cared for by relatives while my mom, the "big girl" at three stayed at home where Emerson watched over her while also tending the farm.
When Marian returned, she was a stranger to children. She was weak from her long illness, and for the rest of her life, walking required a full-length brace on one leg and two canes. The nearest town of any substance was several miles away, and there was no TV, McDonald's play area or Gymboree class to help entertain the children. How she kept from going mad is anyone's guess.
Of course the kids had the farm to play on when the weather permitted and Emerson, being a farmer, was able to take a much more hands-on role than most dads of that era. It was he who did all the grocery shopping, and ran the children to doctor visits. Still, Marian was in charge of the household, and with few of the modern conveniences we take for granted. She also had the three kids who, let's face it, must have been underfoot a good deal of the time.
My strategy for surviving the early years of motherhood was as follows: Keep busy! "This did not equate to staying at home making crafts, or distracting my two with patty pans and dough while I baked the weekly bread. No, we got out and about, a lot. We were regulars at local mommy hot spots such as Kenmore and Alum Spring Parks, took many a stroll downtown, made weekly trips to the library, enjoyed play dates with friends, and, yes, occasional visits to fast food establishments with play areas. I survived through parenting by distraction, which is maybe why I look back at my grandmother's day-to-day reality and wonder how on earth she did it.
With a crippled leg and weakened body, how did she do it? With independence limited and beauty stolen, how did she do it? With no Moms' clubs, internet chat boards or coffee shops, how did she do it? I guess I will never know, but this Mother's Day I remember her with love and awe, and feel great gratitude for all the blessings in my life.
Mary Becelia lives in Stafford with her husband and two children