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The One Thing We're Guaranteed As Mothers

A tale from author Kristan Higgins.

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Lydia Leclair
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Over Christmas, my son, age 24, sat me down for a talk about my mothering skills. He’d been living on his own for five months and he knows things. He is not a parent, something that will become obvious throughout this tale.

“I know you didn’t want me to move out west,” he began.

“What?” I replied. “No! You’re completely wrong about that. I’m thrilled! I always wanted to live in another part of the country, too, but never managed it. I’m really excited and proud for you.” 

“I don’t know about that,” said he. “Now let’s talk about the yelling.”

Readers, I admit it. As a parent, I have lost my temper. Not daily, not weekly, not even monthly, but yeah, of course I have. It was never a proud moment, but (cough) they deserved it. Or rather, their actions created a situation for which I was unprepared and to which I reacted with anger and, er, high volume. My son has a list of those times. To be fair, he also said I was “perfect” until he started high school. After that, not so much.

My only goal in life was to be a mother. When I was a kid, my ambitions were lofty — become a pediatric surgeon/mother/home owner/dog rescuer/resident of Australia. I hit three of those things. But truly, the one thing I knew was that I wanted to be a mom. Even if I had never found the right person, I would have been a mother. And I was blessed with two wonderful, kind, smart, funny children who are the lights of my life.

I took to motherhood naturally and worked hard at it, too. Sleep training. Nursing. Homemade baby food. Lots of outdoor time, wholesome games, no TV outside of an hour of Sesame Street or Bob the Builder. No TV on school nights. Tightly monitored social media after they turned sixteen, and yes, I had their passwords.

When they had the throw-ups, I rubbed their backs. When they had fevers, I slept in their beds. When friendships were hard, I gave thoughtful advice. The day my then 9-year-old son came downstairs and said, “Oh, I forgot! I need to bring a camel to school,” I stuffed some pillows into a brown cape, tied it up with twine, and voila. He had a camel. He wasn’t even late for the bus. I got up before six every school day and made them breakfast and lunch and drew cartoons on their napkins (until my son told me to stop). I went to their events, cheered them on, drove them around, taught them to drive and read their college essays. I baked desserts from scratch, didn’t get upset when they broke stuff and moderated their sibling arguments. And I did this all while working in a very competitive field that required a lot of mental energy.

I loved every minute. Being a mother was my destiny, my purpose, my dream come true. All I want carved on my gravestone is “She was a great mom.” And, my son believes, I can be that again that if I do a little work on myself, which is something we all should do, continuously, throughout life. He’s not wrong in that. Did I feel a little unappreciated? Damn right I did.

In A Little Ray of Sunshine, we see a plethora of mothers. Harlow Smith placed her newborn for adoption when she was 17 years old, a devastating choice for her. Monica Patel adopted that son, doing all the things an adoptive parent can do to prepare for and raise their child, but he withdraws from her anyway. Cynthia Smith’s mother adored her and made her into a mini-me, only for Cynthia to find she was uniquely unsuited to adult life. And Elsbeth Smith, mother of five, finds out her five grown children have kept a lot of secrets from her, though why, she just doesn’t understand.

As mothers, we’re guaranteed one thing: we will mess up. Our kids will judge us and find us lacking at least once (or a thousand) times in their lives. Every therapist in the world wants to know about our mothers. And until our kids become parents, if they ever do, they’ll never understand the superhuman effort, the endless energy, the terror, the heartache, the wonderful pain and exquisite love we’ve lived every single day of their lives.

This past year, my daughter had a baby. In the Mother’s Day card she gave me, she wrote, “You never understand how much your mother loves you until you become a mother yourself.”

As for my darling, beautiful, intelligent son, I can only think of that Irish blessing: “May you have a dozen children just like you.”

Kristan Higgins’s latest book, A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE, is out on June 6th. Find out more about the author and her books at