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mother

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. Another year I searched for a photograph of my mama to post on social media that the world hadn’t seen before. I found one of her in her housecoat, standing in the kitchen, looking like she just woke up, looking like she was making biscuits. I remember her that way, bleary-eyed and looking for her glasses, squinting at whatever she was trying to see, sipping a cup of coffee, and getting ready for the day. Her biscuits were delicious, by the way.

That got me thinking about how my son might remember me.

Will he forgive me my weaknesses as I forgive hers?

Will he remember the after school snacks, the special hamburger patties with the chia seeds hidden in them, the way I melted popsicles and poured them into molds and refroze them so I could sneak vitamins in?  Or will he remember my constant urging to use the appropriate utensil when eating instead of his hands or my complaining about cleaning food off of the floor when he throws it? Will he remember the way I gave in and sometimes let him sleep in my bed when H. was away because I just wanted to hold onto the few moments that it was still halfway appropriate? Because I just wanted to listen to him breathe and be with him without having to constantly do? Because it comforted me to see him be peaceful for a few hours? Or will he remember when I gave in because I was too tired to lead him back to his own bed for the fifth time in a night but would’ve much preferred the bed to myself? Will he remember how patient I was with him? Will he remember that I used up most of my patience on him and had to work really hard to have any with the rest of the world? Will he remember when I absolutely lost my shit because he stuck his popsicle in my coffee cup or when he poured the water from the vase of flowers on the floor so he could slap his foot in it? Will he remember my habit of blue streak cursing and my near constant stress? Will he remember how mad it made me when he soaked the bathroom walls and floor every night at bathtime because he loved splashing in the tub so much but that I let him do it anyway and mopped it all up, time after time, day after day, sometimes two or three times a day? Will he remember my tears? Will he remember my hugs and kisses? Will he remember how I advocated for him, how I cheered him on, and how I fought so hard through my own emotional quagmire to try to figure out Who. He. Is? And how to honor that? Or will he remember my annoying habits, my nagging, and my exhaustion?

Will he remember my love?

You don’t get a halo and wings when you give birth. You’re the same person after as you were before, no matter how it changes you. Some things seem to come naturally with the miracle of becoming a mother — the ability to discern a hungry cry from a sad or angry one, the instinct to protect — but we don’t seamlessly become beings who always know what to do or how to handle everything correctly. Every human being walking on the planet is a testament to the failure and success of a parent in some way. We can’t blame everything on them, good or bad, there is personal responsibility, growth and maturity, and sometimes an outright miraculous distancing from anything unhealthy, but we can trace a lot of our flying and falling back to childhood. I digress…

The thing is, what I remember most about my mama was the way she loved me. She didn’t execute her intentions to bestow it on me perfectly, but that’s okay. I know that I fall short as a mama every day too, but I hope that I’m raising a child who will know that I tried, and who will forgive me for my imperfections, as I was taught to do. I think mothers show us, above all, how to be in the world. Wow, is it ever a hard job. It requires constant holding on and letting go, and whether or not we have wings, that is the dance of the angels.

Peace, love, and happy Wednesday.

AM

PS – I’d like to make a recommendation this week: Listen to Mary Susan McConnell’s MAMA BEAR PODCAST. I’ll be a guest sometime soon and I’m super excited about that, but you should listen anyway. McConnell is a badass mama and smart as a whip.

mother

It’s so simple. It’s so complicated.

 

It’s simple because the impetus to care for another comes quite easily to most of us, if not through instinct then through conditioning. We’re told, from almost the time we’re born, that it is virtuous to attend to the needy, that we’re supposed to respond almost without thinking to those who can’t care for themselves. There are baby dolls that cry tears and wet their diapers that are given to us so we can practice. And that’s supposed to be play.

 

It’s complicated because there is nothing playful about taking care of another human’s needs. In fact, in my experience there is nothing so anxiety producing as new motherhood, or really any stage of motherhood. I think we start to relax a little bit at some stage only because we’re just too tired to worry quite so much as we once did. And yes, of course our children develop and progress and (with any hope) learn to care for themselves, but they are Always. Our. Responsibility. So the anxiety never really goes away.

 

I’ve observed motherhood from many angles: I watched my own mother struggle to provide for my sister and me — not only with the material things that she worked hard to get for us, but also to provide the safety she knew we needed, to provide a template for living that would be good for us, to be available to us despite having to navigate the ups and downs of living with a jealous and abusive husband, to even always tuck us in at night and without fail always show us and tell us she loved us. She didn’t get a chance to complete the job she battled mightily some days to do but if I can be sure about anything I’m not sure about, it’s that she left the world fighting for us.

 

I watched her mother be an almost perfect version of a quiet, contented, domestic titan who could pinch a penny until President Lincoln screamed uncle and reportedly once jumped into and stopped a moving car full of children that some other harried woman had absentmindedly left in gear. It was drifting into traffic and she saved the day, and most likely those babies’ lives.

 

I watched my aunt almost seamlessly take me into her home and treat me as close to her own child as I would allow when I was an emotional bloody pulp of an orphaned teenager.

 

I watched my very first boss, a fiercely talented and independent Ph.D. psychologist (who is still practicing now at age 87) and mother of five, impart more valuable life lessons to me than I am probably even aware of and trust me to do a job I probably shouldn’t have been trusted with at 18 (managing her office and most aspects of her life), shape and help me hone my character and code.

 

I have observed more angles through knowing more women than I can name here. They have all been and continue to be angels in my life. They were and are not perfect, but were and are giants, though they were never deserving of being reduced to vessels or providers. Each mothered and mothers differently. They were human, despite having given birth, are were and are not to be solely revered or reviled because of how they conducted that one aspect of their lives. Some of us ease into it and make it look like the most natural and happy thing in the world, and some of us go kicking and screaming, feeling assaulted by the little being who threatens to take us over and rob us of our choices and freedom. A lot of us fall somewhere in between, vacillating in the middle of the spectrum of emotions that comes with sudden, forced maturity and supposed reduced options.

 

The 10-year period after a woman has a child is often referred to as the ghost years. If a woman is an artist, her output is expected to decrease if not in quantity then surely quality as she tends to her charge or charges, putting them first every day of her life, and putting herself and her work mostly last. But how many of us have dispelled the notion that we no longer have anything valid to say after giving birth and kept creating, doggedly searching for new depth and new avenues to express ourselves, often finding that yes, we have changed in some ways, but that we haven’t developed one giant brain cell that functions and exists only to feed and care for our families? In many ways we become even smarter, more capable, more efficient, and much hungrier for our own, separate identities because yes, our autonomous selves sometimes in fact do become in danger of being eaten up by time sucking domestic duties. Our identities do change after we have children, how could they not? But I argue that they almost always become richer, more rounded, and more empathetic. Not to say that doesn’t happen for women who don’t procreate for other reasons, but I’m not covering that here except to say that motherhood isn’t nor should it be for everyone and everyone is entitled to that choice under any circumstance. Period.

 

We intellectually know this, every one of us. So I wonder why we so often think primitively when anything emotional is introduced into a discussion about mothering? We’ve been raising the question of why we’re reduced to what does or doesn’t come from our wombs for a long time. There’s no reason for me to go through the list of all of those things here. I’ll just say that there is more than one way to go about the job. And all of the women who taught me how to do it taught me that. It is hard. It is rewarding. It is full of joy and sorrow and sweet smiles and heavy tears. It is simple. It is complicated. It is, above all else, the cause for expansion in a million different directions. And finally, it is to be done as originally and individually as the unique spirits that live within each of us. There’s just no way around that. I could go on, but my hour is up, and my list of things to do, domestic and artistic, grows.

 

Hail to the mothers.

 

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM