Imaginary Motherhood

Belakane und Feirefil by Margret Hofheinz-Döring

I’m a much better mother in my imagination than in reality.

That imaginary mother has casual grace and unflappable calm. She doesn’t speak in funny accents or talk to inanimate objects. She also has the confidence to wear a bathing suit. In public. Without scuttling around using a small hut as a beach wrap. But I digress.

In my imagination I sparkle with enthusiasm for trigonometry and better yet, can explain it. I drive everywhere for everyone without grumbling about contributing to global warming. In fact, I am the mother my teens long for. I tell them I’ve secretly been saving up for one son’s trip to New Zealand to study spiders and another son’s year long trek along the Pan-American trail. As they leave I wave goodbye cheerfully.

The real me doesn’t sparkle unless craft supplies get loose.

I’m guilty of excusing myself to hide in the bathroom when my offspring go into lengthy monologues about topics I’ll never fathom. I ply my family with goodies in a not-so-subtle way of getting them to watch the documentaries I want to watch, even though it is entirely necessity after that endless German film about Mongolian salt miners. The stories retold with great hilarity by my kids usually feature my tendency to trip over invisible objects and my exaggerated startle reflex.

In my imagination I cook using recipes instead of improvising. When my children ask, “What are we having for dinner?” I’m able to answer with the names of actual dishes. This reassures them that someone, somewhere has taste-tested the food before them. This also spares me the daily trauma of watching my offspring tolerate meals made with home grown vegetables, dark scary grains, spontaneously seasoned sauces, and no names for anything.

“Why,” my son once asked, “can’t we try the kind of macaroni and cheese that comes in a box? It’s really bright yellow!” He regretted the question instantly, because unlike that imaginary mother who laughs sweetly at such questions, the real mother explains things. Or according to the daughter in the family, she rants.

In my imagination I am never preoccupied, never busy. When sought out I’m fully attentive. When my children look up from their pursuits they find my adoring eyes, but not often enough that they think I’m creepy and plot to institutionalize me. My wonderfully creative life inspires my children to live their own dreams (while still getting their omega-3 fatty acids and sufficient rest).

The real me falls terribly short.

I kvetch. I get tears in my eyes easily, even from poignant long distance ads. I juggle obligations badly while tossing out sarcastic asides like a performing seal. I plot giant world-saving accomplishments while forgetting to water the plants. I fuss and grumble and speaking of short, I’m also shorter than everyone in the house. That can’t be right. In my imagination I am tall.

In my imagination our family spends every evening together as we used to when the kids were small, back when we snuggled on the couch reading books, making puppets out of our socks, and making up games out of nothing. Although now we wouldn’t all fit on the same couch and the kids would suffer withdrawal symptoms away from glowing screens and friends.

But still, the vision of togetherness keeps the imaginary mother in me happy. She is able to hold on to every moment of the kids’ earliest years. She builds precise memories of each squabble and laugh and each child’s way of drifting slowly toward his or her larger self because she knows the actual mother, me, never could have imagined how fast time would go by. For real.

bittersweet motherhood, children nearly grown, being a better mom,

Nachtgespräch by Margret Hofheinz-Döring


15 thoughts on “Imaginary Motherhood

  1. Laura:
    Thank you for following your calling to write from your beautiful imagination. This is the kind of Mother’s Day sentiment that makes me smile.


  2. LOL
    I love that you cry over ads – I do too. 🙂
    I’m still in the early years of parenting, but can imagine this will be me one day too. I will definitely be the shortest in the house.
    The way time flys by astounds me too. How can those long days make for such short years?!
    Do you really have a son studying spiders in NZ?


    • Oh you’re doomed Karyn, the older I get the more often I get tears in my eyes. Happy as often as sad.

      I have a son who WANTS to study spiders in NZ. His imaginary mother would be able to save enough to send him and would be casual enough to wave goodbye without those aforementioned tears.


  3. I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time (I can’t seem to remember how I found you… possibly through BUST?), but this is the first time I’ve really felt compelled to comment. This paragraph:

    The real me falls terribly short. I kvetch. I get tears in my eyes easily, even from poignant long distance ads. I juggle obligations badly while tossing out sarcastic asides like a performing seal suffering with Woody Allen syndrome. I plot giant world saving accomplishments while forgetting to water the plants. I fuss and grumble and speaking of short, I’m also shorter than everyone in the house. That can’t be right. In my imagination I am tall.

    Really resonated with me. I’m not a mother and I’m not sure if I plan to be one (I’m not even married, though happily partnered for many years), but this paragraph seems to sum up my entire life these days. How the me I see in my head falls woefully short of the me that exists day to day. And I guess I just wanted to say thank you for sharing something so honest about yourself with the wide, anonymous world – on this morning, today, it is really comforting for me to know that someone else out there feels the same way I do.

    And on a more general note, your blog has seriously been saving my sanity lately, so for that, too, I thank you. Keep up the wonderful writing.


  4. Haha love your post! Actually all your posts! I live in New Zealand and I have a big house, your son is welcome to come study spiders although they are not my most favourite creature in the world….


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