I had a very hard time with my mother, her words mostly wounding, her anger terrifying. It was my father's kind and loving heart that saved my childhood and my spirit. So when Mother's Day comes round, a tug of war ensues. I feel my heart segue-ing not to memories of my own childhood but rather to my experience as a mother -- and that, too, is complicated and bittersweet because of the loss of two daughters.
That and the fact that we never know the truth of parenting until we do it ourselves -- the sacrifices, the hard work, the unselfishness, the solving of unsolvable riddles -- all that our parents gave and did stands out in bold relief as we struggle to do as well as they did, never mind better. So for me, the emotions of this celebratory day are exponential and complex.
I touch the handmade cards and gifts from my two daughters who are now long gone from this world and I am overwhelmed by grief. I make plans to spend the Mother's Day weekend with my 24 year old, Dakota, and my joy is beyond reckoning. My heart brims over with Mother's Day memories, hopes and dreams -- the shiny kind that come with birth and life's best moments, the devastating ones that accompanied death. "Oh, Lord thou art hard on Mothers," the poet Padraic Pearse wrote to his mother the night before his unjust execution by firing squad. "They suffer in our coming and our going..." and never truer words were written than those, I can attest with sure knowledge.
It Isn't Just a Hallmark Holiday
But all those complexities acknowledged, there's still a heart-touching sweetness in Mother's Day that makes me want to celebrate the privilege of motherhood in all its convoluted permutations. What more profound learning could there ever be in life than this? What greater opportunity to love and be loved unconditionally? Success and failure, grief and joy, exhaustion and exhilaration, sacrifice and transformation, a test of courage and resourcefulness like no other. A never-ending fountain that sustains with love and confuses us with paradox.
Years ago someone sent me a tribute to motherhood that seemed to me to say it all -- one of those anonymous emails that flood our inboxes, with no way to find the writer and no way to say thanks for writing this sweet bit of wisdom. I've since found a million variations on the Internet, with no attribution for any of them... so I've altered it a little to fit my own experience and kept it on my bulletin board for years because it made me smile and cry - perhaps it will touch you the same way. So in gratitude and praise for all the mothers now and since the dawn of time, I'd like to pass it on to you.
"Somebody" Said. . .
"Somebody" said you carry a child in your womb for nine months.
"Somebody" doesn't know you carry your child in your heart forever.
"Somebody" said it takes six weeks to get back to normal after you've had a baby.
"Somebody" doesn't know that once you're a mother, normal never happens again.
"Somebody" said you learn how to be a mother by instinct.
"Somebody" never had a 3-year-old stick beans up her nose.
"Somebody" said being a mother is boring.
"Somebody" never rode in a car driven by a teenager with a driver's permit.
"Somebody" said if you're a "good" mother, your child will "turn out perfectly."
"Somebody" thinks every child comes as a clean white blotter, with a guarantee.
"Somebody" said you don't need an education to be a mother.
"Somebody" never helped a fourth grader with math homework.
"Somebody" said you can't love a fifth child as much as you love the first.
"Somebody" never had five children.
"Somebody" said the hardest part of being a mother is labor and delivery.
"Somebody" never had to choose a headstone for her child.
"Somebody" said a mother can do her job with her eyes closed and one hand tied behind her back.
"Somebody" never organized 10 giggling Brownies to sell cookies.
"Somebody" said a mother's job is done when her last child leaves home.
"Somebody" never had grandchildren.
"Somebody" said your mother knows you love her, so you don't need to tell her.
"Somebody" isn't a mother.