by Miv Schaaf

It's Mother's Day and guilt time. What -- you're one of the few who has no guilt? Well, my gosh, pin a star on yourself and your mother, too, and stop reading right now.

If you aren't guilty about your mother you can be guilty about the kind of mother you are -- there's plenty to go around, no need to stint yourself.

Why should we feel guilty on Mother's Day? Plenty of reasons. Maybe you really have been a bad kid. I kind of doubt that, but theoretically it's possible. Or maybe you're really a bad mother. Not too many of those around either, thank goodness; thank goodness quite literally because there's a lot of goodness around in the mother-child relationship.

Let's throw away for the moment real reasons for guilt and consider the non-reasons, the feelings we have and can't pin down why. Let's try a little amateur corner drugstore psychology here.

Mother should be happy, right? So should you. Say she is and you're not -- is that unhappiness her fault? Maybe. It's possible it is if you're under 10. For it's an inarguable fact of life that mothers can make children happy quite easily. They have that power and that responsibility. They may not have the money for an ice cream cone, but they have the time for a game or a word or a smile and that's all it takes when you're growing up.

And, at that time, it is easy to make mother happy, too -- you put a pretty stone, a leaf, into your mother's hand and she beams; you've made her happy.

Grown-ups are all powerful; they can do what they want. It seems strange that not every grown-up flies a plane or sails a ship, but if they don't it's because they've decided they'd rather do something else. The man who comes to check the gas meter loves gas meters more than anything else in the world or he wouldn't be doing that, would he? It's a logical assumption for a child. Mother, therefore, must have planned her life to be what it is and if she isn't happy maybe it's your fault.

Only when we become grown-ups ourselves do we find that we don't have all that power over our own lives we thought grown-ups did. Children are happily unaware of the cyclones of social pressure, the financial low ceilings on expectations, the fences of anti-feminism, the padlocks of prejudice.

Maybe your father's brother was ill and someone had to run the grocery store, that's why he wasn't an architect. Maybe your banker dad never quite had the courage to break social expectations to become the gardener he should have been. Maybe your mother, if she was ever free enough to have had dreams, had to turn to typing instead of textile design. You will probably never know, for parents are practiced in covering past disappointments with a dim smile.

It's that smile that gets you, that tinge of sadness that you feel somehow you should be able to erase. Pretty stones don't do it anymore.

Look, give yourself and your mother a present today: Remember that the responsibility for happiness has limits. You do not expect mother to take responsibility for your happiness anymore, now that you are grown-up (if you still blame her, grow up!), grown-up enough to realize a lot of life happened to mother to make her happy and unhappy before you came along, things that all the pretty stones in the world can't change.

What you are feeling may be only leftover child guilt. It serves no purpose to hold on to it; like lost sandals, it should be left behind.

Miv Schaaf, a resident of Big Lagoon, wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 15 years.

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