I am thinking about mothering. It is another Sunday in May, another Mother's Day. I hear my son and husband in the kitchen, preparing breakfast in bed. Atticus presents me with a stone heart, wrapped in a cloth. Later, I speak with my two almost grown daughters, in the midst of the end of the college calendar, offering love and inquiring about how I will spend my day. Lost in correcting papers, I am late to my massage, my mother's day indulgence, a gift from me to me.
The day connotes a luxury and abandon that irritates me. Today, I should be Queen of the May? Not tomorrow or yesterday?
I am looking through time's periscope at other times -- my own childhood, making a fuss over my mother, who eschewed fusses; sending my mother flowers and feeling smug that I had remembered to do so; the long saga I call "the infertility years," many years where we hoped for a baby but no babies came, and the first long-sought pregnancy ended in miscarriage on Memorial Day. On that Mother's Day, so long ago, we imagined having our baby with us the following year. Four more miscarriages followed. Those dark years made me loathe Mother's Day. The day symbolized membership in a club to which I could not be admitted. Other people's joy made me weep. I felt small and spiteful. The joyful birth of our daughters and, much later, of our son, couldn't wholly erase the metallic taste in my mouth from those and endless years.
Today, I remember those five babies lost, the death of hope. They are my shadow children, never really real, just hopes. Once a woman said to me during a massage, "Maybe you haven't lost five different babies; maybe it's the same baby circling, trying to reach you." It was a New-Agey idea that comforted me hugely as I grieved.
Some days, I am astonished that I am the mother to three children. After all that loss, such wonder. And, how grateful I was to have children who love me, who loved me with hugs and understanding when my own mother died. Such a strange moment, to be an orphan when one is, in fact, full grown.
Mothering brings with it lots of complexities. When one waits so long for her babies, there is an expectation that she will be really good at being a mom; after all, there was plenty of time to plan, right? The baby years are actually the easy years. Feed, burp, change, repeat. I think the real challenges of mothering come as children grow; their needs change, and our understanding of what they need changes, too. I don't think mothering college-aged daughters is for the faint of heart. And boys! Goodness, for me, who has spent a life among girls, boys are like aliens. I am intrigued but am a visitor in a strange land with a son. I have cherished each mother's day card, poem, gift. What will I do with them all? I appreciate the effort made, the cultural push to acknowledge, but it is often in the spaces in between that my children most gloriously communicate to me that I am loved.
Today, churlishly, I muse about women who have had to end pregnancies, think of women who carried babies to term and gave them up because they hoped someone else would be able to give their children what they could not. The day seems full of anguish and loss. And what about my friend who lost a child not long ago? What does this day of brunches and bouquets do to her heart? Of course, she is still her daughter's mother, but there will be no phone call from college or lovely card mailed a few days ago. I imagine all the mothers who lose children to war and to dread illness and to accidents missing their children today. So many weeping mothers crying alone, in quiet anguish.
And, finally, there are the motherless girls in my life -- young women I love who are without their moms this day. I, too, am without my mom, but I was lucky to have her for a long, long time. These young women had to bear wretched sorrow far too early -- and there are too many of them. I imagine being able to reach my arms in a huge circle to enfold them, but I know I am not their mother, cannot be, can only wrap them in the circle of my love and honor their grief and rage for being without their mothers.
So, all in all, it's a tricky day. The origins of the day, widely communicated across the Internet, remind us that in 1914, Anna Jarvis, herself, childless, wished to honor the sacrifices mothers make for their children. The quickly exploited commercialism of the day dismayed her. She sought to get the day canceled, but she failed. Perhaps it is more comfortable to celebrate mothers for only a single day? To contain those sacrifices? If we really stopped to acknowledge those sacrifices, we might never stop. Anna was right to want to acknowledge mothers, right to raise awareness. Yet, 100 years later, in this country, patriarchy endures; women still lag significantly in terms of equity in pay and representation in government or as CEO's of major companies. We are a country that devalues motherhood -- no paid maternity leave stands as a single, glaring example. All of a sudden, in a paragraph, I have left breakfast in bed behind and feel a rant coming on. And perhaps that's just it. Mothering is not a day; it's a way of being in the world, vastly undervalued in too many homes and too many nations. From the perch of privilege, I perceive my exquisite good fortune and hope not ever to take it for granted.
By my bed is a small stone in the shape of a heart, offered to me this morning. A stone is a great gift; it endures through wind and weather. Like my love for my children. Like my love for my mother.