So, Mother’s Day. Blah, blah, blah. It’s never been my favorite.
To me, it feels a little like the holiday equivalent of finally listening to your mother when she’s screamed at you for the millionth time to clean up your room. You only pay attention when it gets super obvious and you’re afraid she’ll get mad if you don’t.
Still, thinking about mothers makes me think about women in general which feels especially important in this current social climate. Guess what most mothers would love instead of a card on Mother’s Day? They’d like more than 6 weeks of maternity leave. Better post-partum support. For you to keep your opinions about breast-feeding to yourself. Those are great places to start. They’d like not to worry about their daughters getting date raped. They’d like for society to stop telling their sons that the only way to “be a man” is to pound his chest and haze underclassman at frat parties. They’d like to be able to sleep at night without worrying about the world they are sending their kids into.
But, since we are supposed to celebrate mothers on this one day of the year (so we can go back to ignoring these things that matter to them the other 364 days) I will play along. Because, the thing is, I’ve known some spectacular mothers. I’ve known mothers who have walked with their child through a mental health crisis and looked those ugly days right in the eye and you know what they did next? They kept on going and carrying the load of their children’s pain. I’ve known moms who poured their heart and soul into loving a tiny baby only to have that child snatched from their arms through sickness or injury. And these moms did the most amazing thing ever: THEY LIVED.
Moms are women, after all, and women possess a strength that is to be admired and, sometimes, feared.
My journey as a mom has been less dramatic. I have loved fiercely. I have feared the unknown. I have walked the halls with a sick child and had my heart break when my child experienced the cruelness of this world. I have endured the pain of losing three babies before I could feel my body swell with the fullness of their lives. And because my own mother has passed on to me that beautiful strength and glory that all women possess in their bones I became stronger from it. I grew more determined to protect and love and change this world through the force of my love for my children.
When I was a little girl my parents bought me a cat. A cat I had wanted for my entire life. You know, approximately 6 whole years. So, when we moved to a new house they picked the most beautiful cat to give me. A perfectly lovely dark black Persian cat named Midnight. And here was the deal. If I wanted to keep Midnight I had to take care of her. I had to keep her safe and protect her and love her and never let anything happen to her. So I did.
One night right after we moved in we discovered that the train tracks out front had a train that passed by around bedtime each night. Is there anything more exciting than a train when you’re 6 years old? I certainly thought there wasn’t. And if 6-year-olds love trains so much how much more would a cat love to see it? (You see where this is going, right?) The next night was a warm summer night and right before I went to bed I brought Midnight outside with me to watch the train pass. I stood on the front porch of our house shirtless in my pink pajama pants and waited. As it so happens, cats are not big fans of trains. Midnight reacted exactly like every adult in the world would predict she would. She tried to climb out of my arms and get away from the loud whistle of the train. But Midnight was my responsibility. And I would not let go. And so I stood bare-chested on the front porch as my beautiful Persian cat clawed me bloody until the train passed by. I never once released my grip. I was scratched and bleeding and delivered that cat right into the panicked hands of my parents. Now 31 years later I realize that motherhood is the emotional equivalent of that night.
Motherhood, I really believe, is about sacrifice. It is about loving enough to endure the painful moments that are necessary to protect others. It is about holding on even when it hurts. Even when you can’t endure the wounds that the one you love inflicts on you. Even when you know it would be easier to give up.
My kids are young. The toddler years are exhausting thanks to innumerable tantrums. The elementary ages can be frustrating with their constant questioning of the who/what/when/why of the world. The early teen years are maddening as boundaries are pushed and lines crossed. But I know the fight is just beginning for me. Motherhood is all about endurance. And the stakes begin to get really high the bigger the consequences get for behaviors.
I have known so many moms who have loved when it hurt. Who have set boundaries and consequences with a stern face even when it drove them to weep in the quiet corner of their room. Because motherhood is about love. And love is not always about the easy choices.
So, today I celebrate mothers. My mother. My grand-mothers. My friends who are mothers, who wanted to be mothers, who love and miss their own mothers. I celebrate the perfectly imperfect state of motherhood. I celebrate its complexity. It’s silliness. It’s middle of the night throw up duties. It’s quiet moments of snuggling on the sofa and reading the same book for the hundredth time.
Being a mother is the best thing that ever happened to me. It taught me who I am. It taught me what I love. It taught me how far the breadth of my love could grow. And so, to my children, I say thank you. Not for the presents and super secret dance you’ve choreographed (oh, yes, I know about that! Mothers know everything!) but for being patient with me as I discover what it means to love you with the full strength of a mother’s heart. And for your continued love as I imperfectly navigate this privilege of being the guardian of your love.
Like so many times in my life, a single simple poetic phrase says everything I labor for hours to convey. Happy Mother’s Day, friends. May we all recognize the sacred duty we have been blessed with and accept the grace that we are given when we don’t always do it perfectly. And may we all give our children the world in the best way we know how and continue our song even in the midst of our tears.
She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.
I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.
But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more,
Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.