Motherhood is the most joyous thing ever bestowed on me and the hardest thing I ever did. The big question is: who do I need to mother?

It’s Mother’s day and I’m happily going to a local diner for breakfast to see my son and his family. He calls right before we are to meet to tell me his children and wife will not be coming. My cheetah mind races to the conclusion that there must be something wrong. But just as quickly I calm myself because we had been meeting the last few weeks to work on our relationship. We had been mired in a swamp of missed communication, disrespect, and boundary violations. The swamp had been growing for years and the details were no longer clear. I might not be the next Mother Mary, but I thought we agreed to work on our relationship. Just the weekend before we left each other with hugs, kisses and promises to do better. My halo was sitting squarely above my head. When I heard the whole family wasn’t coming I thought there was a logical explanation. Of course there was, just not the one I had expected. As we ordered breakfast, my son proceeded to tell me that the relationship was over. He and his family didn’t want anything to do with us. No communication unless he initiated it.

I was completely blindsided by his pronouncement. I was expecting a cute card with an outline of my grandchildren’s handprints saying “l love you”. Instead I received what felt like a bitch-slap across my heart. I tried to listen to what he had to say but I got defensive, my halo slipped over my ears and I couldn’t hear anything. As the discussion continued my halo dropped around my throat like a noose, leaving me choking on my omelet. For the first time in my life I think I was speechless, though I did manage to gasp out that I loved him as I left.

As days went by the initial shock wore off, my mind kicked into high speed. I heard that life’s challenges are merely growth opportunities, but this was no fucking growth opportunity. One minute I was Mother Mary, the next minute Cinderella’s wicked stepmother. When the sun was out my mind forced a strained smile. While during the darkness of night my heart couldn’t contain the river of tears.

Months later, while driving near my son’s house on the freeway my heart broke through to my mind with a tsunami of emotions. The gut-wrenching, snot-dripping, tear-blinding, never-ending sobbing that I had suppressed for so long came gushing out. There was no Kleenex and nowhere to stop and pull myself together. I was all alone with my painful thoughts and only traffic speeding by to distract me. I needed help. I felt like a fly caught in a spider web of hate and love. I hated the son I claimed to love with all my heart. I hated myself for hating my son. I was the spider and the fly. Suddenly a horn blared. I had veered into the next lane, and could barely see as I swerved back into my own lane. Here I was, trying so hard to love mankind and simultaneously killing a few of us off in the process. I was living in a sticky web of my own destruction and it’s not a place I wanted to be anymore.

As my tears dried I started to take notice of my real surroundings. A graceful hawk soared overhead and I realized I didn’t need to be a spider. I have other choices, did I want to be stuck or soar free? The next few days were filled with sightings. A carved wooden hawk, a nesting pair outside our window, a hawk’s tail on the beach, another circling above my head, a chick laid at my feet. Did I really need a hawk to swoop down, talons extended at me to realize I needed to start doing something different?

I sought help from friends, podcasts, books and even my hawks. I seemed to remember I couldn’t do this alone, or I would have done it a long time ago. Where did I remember the feeling of soaring, the feeling of coming home? Fifteen years ago I walked into a room of friends I hadn’t met yet and it felt like home. It was a welcoming place where we shared our experiences, our stories and most importantly how we survived and even thrive in our journeys of pain and joy. So rather then remaining stuck in a mire of misery I decided to step up using what I’d learned in this support group.

I had learned that I’m not alone and that expectations are premeditated resentments. I used to be angry at the world and the people in it. I had written a script of how the world should work and how people should act. Oddly enough, nobody was following it. The script went on and on, it was longer than War and Peace with absolutely no mention of peace. I found when I could quit thinking that I had control over how other people behave and take responsibility for my own actions, life became better. I began to feel more loving towards others. But here I was writing another script for my son. I decided to put my pen down. Now was the time to do something different.

Calling up my inner hawkness I decided to go on a retreat into the wild. I began my journey chanting the mantra: “May you be well, may you be happy, may you find peace” with my son in mind. While witnessing the intricate grandeur of nature we came upon a lion. He powerfully strode up to our open air vehicle while I focused on taking his picture. He approached so near I couldn’t capture even his head in the frame. As I lowered the camera I found myself physically leaning into the experience. His eyes locked on mine and time stood still. A sense of peace not fear washed over me like a warm summer breeze. To this day, I can’t find words to describe the depth of that serenity. It was as if we were the only two things existing in the universe. Upon reflection, that was when I came to understand what it means to be present in the moment. I found that forgiveness was a doorway I could walk through from the past into the now. My mantra changed to: “May I be well, may I be happy, may I find peace”, because I felt that not only did I want to forgive my son, but also myself.

A wise woman once said to me, “move towards what makes you heart sing and away from what turns it to stone”. More than a year had passed since my experience in the wilderness and I realized I needed to move toward joy. The loins were calling, so guess what? Off I went once again into the wild with a group of friends. One night while sitting around a roaring campfire a friend shared a story of her caustic relationship with her mother. I felt the darkness of the night close in as I recalled my own painful childhood. Instead of feeling frightened I felt that I could be a light. As she recalled a scene of intense abuse I spoke the words “It’s not your fault” she said “I know, but I should have…. ” interrupting I repeated “It’s not your fault”. She replied “yea I saw Good Will Hunting too and your no Robbin Williams, if only I had….” the group joined in “It’s not your fault”. Chanting quietly “It’s not your fault” to her protests of ” I should have…” she finally had no words left to blame herself. Her heart broke open with cleansing tears of sorrow and grief as I held her close. The group of friends encircled us in a wondrous spiritual dance of healing. As the embers died down, a feeling of such gratitude for that experience and her vulnerability overtook me, and I too could finally feel my heart soften. Letting go of the thought that it’s my fault that I wasn’t the perfect mother allows me to accept my humanity. I’ve learned that nobody can control situations outside of themselves, not even me. We do the best we can and then life happens. Acceptance of reality is such a freeing feeling, it’s where joy dances.

When I reflect back on that Mother’s Day I now see it as a growth opportunity, in my case a Fucking OUTSTANDING Growth Opportunity, a FOGO. An acronym that’s easy for me to remember when I need it most; FOGO. I now see the bitch-slap as a wakeup call, a stinging blow that I needed to open my heart to understand that joy is found in the present moment. I can choose to spend my time polishing my imaginary halo or softening my heart and loving my son with all of it. I choose love, whether I can be with him or not. When I mother myself with kindness and gentleness, I can accept myself for who I am, a loving, kind and joyful human. Now in this wonderful journey that is my life, I can see this FOGO for what it really is, a perfect Mother’s Day gift.