This Day is for you, Mothers

Mother’s Day.

I wake to the smell of homemade lavender scones and the gentle rattle of a nine-year-old opening the door bearing a platter of such scones, lemon curd, a cup of black coffee ethically harvested and locally roasted, a small bud vase from Heath Ceramics filled with delicate buds from my blooming garden.

I page the advertisements and beauty advice from Real Simple as I bite into the scone, still warm from the oven. One by one, my dressed, showered and groomed children come to give me a kiss and wish me a “Happy Mother’s Day.”

My husband bears the baby to me who has nestled his shoulder just right to indicate she is ready to be fed. After a nurturing moment, I return her to his eager arms. I lay in bed, indulge in the morning of relaxation and peace.

We refer to this as a “vocation vacation”

and they only happen in advertisements and in our dreams.

The vocation of motherhood itself has the same sweetened brushstrokes over its surface. She is tender, kind, patient, a teacher, a lover, a chef, a housekeeper, a hospitality goddess. She is our solace and our refuge.

Or, in more modern times, she is the ultimate multi-tasker, the woman who shows us we can have it all, a powerful presence inside and outside the home. She is a strong advocate. She is fearless. She will never give up. She is our hero.

Or, in more desperate times, she is the resourceful one, the woman doing the grocery shopping, scanning every receipt and entering data into coupon apps. She hems torn pants into shorts. She grows vegetables. She is the Good-will guru. She made it possible to go to college. We saw her little but knew her endurance and sacrifice was the reason we are where we are.

We tell these stories, hold these memories and then look at ourselves.

Because I have not yet finished snarling over my own meal, I brush the child away who sneaks up behind me to ask if he can have a bite of his brother’s unfinished food. I turn aside from the sniveling six-year-old. I yell “no!” when the four-year-old begs for something across the house and I am juggling the baby and ingredients for a dinner I will work myself into a frenzy over, only to collapse on the couch in tears and blame myself for all kinds of failures.

I say “come on!” more than “good job!” during school work and hide in my room in the evenings, drawing out baby nursing times simply so I do not have to see the mess in the kitchen or manage the moods and tempers of tired, hungry, picky, goofy, excited, talkative children who just want to share their lego creations for the day or the absurd play, ahem, vignette, they staged.

But then, on better days,

I see I am the mother who sits and reads picture book after picture book because I, too, am interested. We schedule show-and-tell so they have my undivided attention. I stop talking, sit back and listen to their prattle knowing the value of sharing in a moment together and receiving their words. I do not cook well, if at all, but I know how to throw together raw ingredients with all the colors and food groups in a pleasing manner. I can set the table for my husband, light the candles and initiate a conversation with a family of seven.

Women may be home. They may be at work. Their children may be in their arms, in a homemade school room, off at school, or adults and providing care for the aging parents. There may be grandchildren or an empty home and lost communication. The children may outlive the parents or be held in the quiet grief following miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss. For these children, she lives and breathes and tries to escape at times in search of the self she lost or was tempted to lose as she explored the new normal, as she learned what it means to be mother.

There is no image that will fully capture her in all her complexity.

She is a mother.

However Mother’s Day is carried out may be just as messy as the vocation itself, but it is still a day, a day that is for her.

How to celebrate motherhood for what’s worth

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Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

 

I want to celebrate motherhood for what it is. I want to be aware of the trials and the heartache and that not everyone is a mother (some are men). Some women chose not to become mothers and maybe they are satisfied or maybe they are lonely or feel regret once the time to change their minds has passed.

Some women are mothers but do not know it because of an abortifacient in their contraception, or some women chose to abort their children, “terminate their pregnancy,” or some women had to choose to leave their 8-year-old boys to fend for themselves as they all starved and moved through the mass of bodies as refugees. Some women still grieve their miscarriages, some refuse to acknowledge their miscarriages. Some women are mothers by surrogacy, either her own child that another woman carried or carrying a child who genetically and contractually not her own.

 

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Some women are mothers because they loved and devoted themselves to a child whose biological mother and father betrayed them by drug use, abuse, neglect or abandonment.

I want to celebrate motherhood for its wildness, its recklessness, its boundless love. I don’t want to grieve, though I probably will because it wasn’t Sunday when I wrote this. I’ll probably start out fine then get all bent out of shape because I am ignoring that inner force that pulls me to the cemetery on every important day.

 

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In my first year of marriage, I wanted to stand up in mass indicating that I am a mother. I wanted that recognition. I got that recognition.

Not every woman does.

But lots of women do.

 

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Photo by Julia Janeta on Unsplash

 

Let’s celebrate that gift of self, no matter the outcome, whether you held your child or not, whether you held your child only after she passed, whether you held your child the night before her wedding, whether you held your child as she grieved the death of her child.

We aren’t just celebrating how great motherhood is, we’re celebrating how great mothers are for all they do, for all they sacrifice. We’re publically recognizing you because you are a mother, whether or not the world knows it, values it or rewards you for it.

Because for those who were blessed to change a million diapers, we know recognition is not inherently part of motherhood. Sacrifice is.

God bless you, mothers.

 

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Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

 

Thank you, mothers.

The Giving Tree

What is the Giving Tree?

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The Giving Tree is the mother. She gives with joy when the boy takes with joy. She rejoices in his joy. As he ages, her gifts mature. They are more substantial. Yet his receipt of the gift requires him to leave. To fully use the gift, he must leave her.

He returns when his well is dry, when his ideas have failed.

His need is deeper.

His longing is greater.

And so she gives.

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She gives until she is fundamentally altered. Her body is no longer recognizable as the tree she once was. She has substantially changed. What seemed to make her what she was when she was young, when the boy was young, is gone.

All that is left are the profound remnants of a life fully given. She is sad when she is alone.

Is she so old, so different than the things that make trees beautiful, that she has nothing left to give?

No, in her suffering, in her altered state, the boy returns again. He needs very little. In the end, his depth of need comes face to face with the love of an infant. He needs just her. It is not something he can take from her. It is not something that can be taken from her. He needs her. And she is glad to be with him, glad to have a gift.

We give and we give as mothers. We give with joy and with our bodies in those early years. Yet we are still recognizable. Perhaps there is a certain charm we have now as mothers that we did not have before. People smile in passing to see those names carved on our hearts and our bodies, held from danger in our hands. But the day comes when people no longer smile. Maybe they see a wasted life or a useless life or worse, perhaps they do not see us at all. A 60-year old woman rarely turns heads the way a 20-year old woman can. And so a society obsessed with youth writes her off.

But she gives and gives. She no longer just gives out of the usual way a tree or a mother can give. Now she must see the child she tried so hard to protect suffer and grieve and it hurts her all the more.

At some time there comes the time of loss. Maybe she was young, as I am, or old. But some loss occurs: the loss of a home, the loss of a child, the loss of a grandchild, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a marriage, and so on. Some loss happens. That suffering makes her forever different. She bears in her body the marks of the life she gave for her children. She will never be the same.

Children take and take. It is not folly but some thing written into human nature. In the end, though, there is nothing to take, just a nearness to experience, the rest of being in the presence of a mother. Whatever Mother gave, whether she gave well or often or with weakness, when she is present, her presence is so much more powerful than all the strangers in the world. And the presence of her child -the physical presence of her child- is more magnificent to her heart than all else. Whether the child is small or taller than she or dead, her body is complete when she is near that child.

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I do not know what it is like to have grown children. I do not know what it is like to see them leave for college or start a new job or grieve a loss I hope they never would know. But I know what it is to lose. I know what it is to be separated. I now know a fear I can never “un-know.” And when I fear for my child, I fear in a new way. Then, I must let go in a new way.

This knowledge bears itself in my body and in my heart. I am fundamentally altered by the gift I have given, by the lives I have loved. I cannot know what the future holds, but I can say with the gift that I gave, that I am happy to have given it.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day.

There are debates surrounding relationship awareness days like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. I think any ire against Mother’s Day generally goes quiet most people acknowledge many mothers work without thanks. It seems fitting they should be celebrated. Who wants to be the cad saying, “let’s not celebrate mothers”? At the heart of the complaints, is often disgust for commercialization or personal pain associated with the thing celebrated that day.

With any holiday, we can complain of commercialization.

Anna Jarvis founded Mother’s Day, as we know it, in 1908 with a national campaign to put it on the calendar. It began as a well-intentioned celebration in a Methodist church, financed by and widely celebrated in Philadelphia retail stores. Florist shops helped promote the day as part of the petition for a national holiday. Is it any wonder, with these roots, that Jarvis would find the holiday usurped by the commercial process? She spent the latter years of her life fighting the commercialization of this day intended to honor all mothers everywhere, with or without flowers.

As a popular holiday, Mother’s Day is unique is how new a holiday it is, and how it was founded apart from religious observance or patriotism. That it is one of our most popular holidays, and one of the biggest for consumer spending, speaks to something deep inside us as a nation and a culture.

For whatever struggles women have in society, on a personal level, we can see our indebtedness to mothers. Even those with emotionally or physically absent mothers, or oppressively present mothers, feel the lack so much because of what it should be. If mothers did not matter so, no one would care if their mother were absent. But motherhood matters, not only biologically, but the relationship with one’s mother follows throughout the individual’s life. Healthy attachments affect later relationships. Through his mother, the child learns the world is a place where it is safe to explore. Mother acts as a home base. They are more commonly the primary caregivers. As such, they often responsible for teaching children healthy coping skills. In Mother’s relationship with Father, children witness problem solving and cooperation between two very different individuals. A mother becomes aware of the baby’s every move in utero and maintains that awareness even as the toddler seeks out mischief in the house. She is the first word learned by an infant and the last word spoken by the soldier on the battlefield.

Not everyone has this family structure. Not everyone has a mother of whom they can say they owe everything. Not every woman can be a mother. Not every woman wants to be a mother.

However, you observe the day, make it personal. Take time to reflect on the wounds and graces of motherhood’s impact in your life. Resolve to do better or to imitate, whatever the case may be. While biological motherhood can be quite limited in scope, the concept of spiritual motherhood, a motherhood that transcends biology providing us with “mother figures” in our lives, is quite remarkable. To mother is to care for, ahead of oneself, in an intuitive and judicious way.

Give praise to a mother in your life, be she your biological mother or spiritual mother or someone else’s mother. In your reflection, spend time with old photographs, videos, and memorabilia from the days of parental monitoring or personal crisis in which a mother cared for you. Consider and write down what words come to mind. What are you grateful for? What lessons were learned, what passions or hobbies acquired, what qualities admired? Thank her for them. It can be written on a post-it note or a fancy card. That you see her and recognize her in her motherhood captures the spirit of the holiday.

It is okay to have holidays to raise relationship awareness. Mothers seem to be around, wherever we go. It is quite human to need reminders. And, after all, it is our humanity we’re thanking them for.

To the mothers who never met their children

I did not plan on writing today. I posted two things about Mother’s Day yesterday and the day before. But I feel somewhat compelled to write.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day to those mothers who never had a chance to meet their babies,

who never had a chance to see their babies,

who never had a chance to act in all those wonderful ways their hearts ached to act,

who, at too short a time, could never again hold their babies,

who, at too short a time, had to say bury to their babies.

You have lived out your vocation to its very depths.

Our Lady walked the road of discipleship, the way that follows Christ, the way to the Cross. And with pain and tears, she stood by the cross, waiting, wondering. How many times, how many threats on his life, times when they nearly threw him over a cliff, did she hold her breath and wonder, is this it? We don’t know how much she knew. Maybe she knew nothing of the path laid out for her. But she walked and stood and loved and gave.

I have three children…I have five children. I thought of my two children today, the two I never met. One of whom there is no evidence except a CD with sonogram images of an empty sac from the emergency room. For the other we have a grave. We will not know their sex until we are in Heaven. But we named them.

John Marie.

Paul Joseph.

They are my children. They are with God.

You may have children too, in Heaven, who, because of original sin, our broken world, the chaos and madness of death, you have never been able to meet. I pray for you.

I count my blessings that I should have three children alive. But I know, if my time comes again, I will wonder, is this it? Will I have to endure that loss again?

No spiritual consolation changes the devastation of a mother who could not love her child in all the countless ways God made mothers to love their children. The earthly sorrow cannot be comforted.

The gentleman who sell the carved wood statues from Bethlehem were at our parish recently. I told my husband of a statue that moved me very deeply. An angel held a child in it’s arms. I could barely speak the words: it looks like the angel is taking it to Heaven.

This morning, my husband gave me the statue. So I would like to share this with you.

 Angel with Infant carved in olive wood

God be with you on this Mother’s Day.

A Journey Through Mother’s Day

A journey through Mother’s Day.

I love the idea of being pampered. I love it all too deeply, I’m afraid. So my first Mother’s Day as a mother, 2010, was really wonderful. I was really excited to stand up and receive that special blessing at mass. My child had not been born yet. We lived in Virgina far away from family. My husband took me to Le Madeleine and let me buy myself a present. I forgot to buy a card but I called my mom.

DIGITAL CAMERAMy second Mother’s Day, 2011, was probably wonderful too. By then I had one baby born. I don’t remember very much from it. We were still in Virginia.

IMG_2639 My third Mother’s Day, 2012, was when things got complicated. We were back in California. This meant two families plus my own motherhood to celebrate. We went to Marie Calendar’s with my family for brunch. It was nice, but hot and very crowded. I had one baby born and one on the way. My husband’s family plans much more last minute. They planned to eat lunch at Johnny Carino’s that afternoon. We announced my pregnancy after lunch. It was a very tiring day going out twice like that. I was sad my husband did not write out a card for me because I’m spoiled like that. He put together a brilliantly sweet and funny picture-card written in the voice of our 1 ½ old daughter.

IMG_3502After that, we had two kids and naps became more and more important so we were unable to attend get-together’s planned in my husband’s family, as they usually involved lunch. We had a picnic at Micke Grove in 2013.

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Last year on Mother’s Day, we had two kids and one newborn.

IMG_4674My husband tried to make me breakfast in bed with our eldest’s help but I was already up taking care of the baby.

Last year I read a very good reflection piece online about Mother’s Day and disappointed expectations, disappointed because sometimes we mothers get confused about what Mother’s Day is about. As much as it is about celebrating mothers, that celebration of motherhood is a day that does not make motherhood stop. So there will still be dishes, diapers, crying, but it’s a day when I, as a mother, can reflect on the magnitude and beauty of the call. I can spend time thinking about how my motherhood would be weak indeed without the support of my husband, and I can thank God for him.

IMG_3688Our children are growing older and so we are able to start involving them more. My daughter loves to buy gifts for people and she is wonderful to shop with. She can copy letters and write cards. It’s a good time to be a mother. It’s a wonderful time to teach my children about gratitude and generosity, I mean, when it’s my turn to lead them in celebrating Father’s Day. Now it’s my husband’s turn.

I will probably not sleep well the night before. I will probably wake up an ungodly hour and not be able to fall back asleep. My husband will probably very sweetly have something planned (I left a magazine clipping on his desk, after all) but the fact that I get up, get dressed and put on make-up before he’s up will make that breakfast-in-bed difficult.

And the children will fight, whine, and tug on me…but this year, I’m arming myself with anticipation and preparing to take it as a day to reflect on what it means to be a mother. It does not mean pampering, but service.

And then, I can turn around and celebrate my own mother.

IMG_4232Happy Mother’s Day.

The I-Thou and Freudian Faith: A Reflection for Mother’s Day

In therapy there is an understanding that when a therapeutic relationship has been established, the client will likely experience transference during which the therapist unconsciously emotionally represents some other individual in the client’s life. The therapist can use this occasion to teach healthy interpersonal dynamics, such as how to express a need or confront when conflict arises. As the therapist grows in care for the client, the therapist may experience counter-transference. This experience of emotionally considering the client as the therapist considers someone else in his or her life is to be guarded against, as it brings the therapist’s personal feelings onto the stage rather than being totally present and open to the client’s own story.

This idea, that the relating which takes place in a relationship and the transferring of those feelings to another object goes beyond Freud’s couch. Richard John Neuhaus relates the classical explanation of it, called the I-you relationship, by Martin Buber: “the I-you relationship between persons carries within it the hint of the I-Thou relationship to the mysterious, to the Divine, to the strange glory.”

In Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus’ third meditation on the last words of Christ brings the reader to consider Buber’s proposition in light of the magnificent role of mother.

“Of course the child does not come into the world asking questions such as, Why is there something rather than nothing? Or, Why am I rather than someone else where I am? Balthasar writes: “And yet the child is aware, in the first opening of its mind’s eyes. Its ‘I’ awakens in the experience of a ‘Thou’: in its mother’s smile through which it learns that it is contained, affirmed, and loved in a relationship which is incomprehensibly encompassing, already actual, sheltering and nourishing.”

There are those who would like to dismiss psychodynamic theory Freud’s because of Freud’s over-emphasis on sex. Freud saw a dynamic life and key developmental points at the early stages of infancy. As one neo-Freudian psychologist relates more clearly, the infant at first does not distinguish itself from its mother. In time, the child learns to see itself as a self, and mother as and other. Whether he identifies with his mother or determines his sense of self as a contrast to mother, this comes later.

Of greatest importance here is the strange glory of parenthood which can lead a child to its later conception of God and the child’s sense of worth. Neuhaus explains

 “Everything is all right,” says the mother to the child crying in the night, and in that “Everything is all right” the child intuits a grand metaphysical statement about the nature of reality. In trusting the mother’s assurance, the child trusts that the universe is home, that he or she belongs here.”

So if the child is able to be free and secure in its mother’s love, this serves as a model for the later call of faith, to be like a child.

“Truly, I say to You, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus would later say. That turning is conversion, and it is in part a turning back. It is a retrieval of that first awakening to a world when all was miracle and all was play, when all was well in the security of a mother’s love.”

We’re called to experience that same security in God, that all will be well. Yet it is not regression, but rather “a matter of deciding, and deciding again and again.”

There are a thousand other moments between mother and child that serve as model for that child to one day call God Father. The faithfulness of the parents lay the foundation of understanding. As with any foundation, should there be some alien dust specks in the materials, the foundation can still be strong. So we ought not to worry too terribly that we are not perfect, that we fail, time and again, to be the parents we desire to be. In the end, all have fallen short of the glory of God, and parenthood is only a model, only a physical sign of a spiritual reality, that God is the perfect Father, complete in Triune unity, total self-gift.

So while the typical adolescent will wrestle with all the ways his typical parents are no longer a totally secure base but human, full of baggage and full of flaws, this can open the young adult to the reality of God who fills all things. This can help make peace with the absence of the parent, or the flaws of the parent, and aid the forgiveness and healing of broken relationships.

And if that was possibly not enough, for those whose mothers were absent, Our Lady of Guadalupe says, “Do not let anything afflict you and be not afraid of illness or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

IMG_4670Happy Mother’s Day (almost).