My husband bought me flowers for Mother’s Day. He often jokes that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were created by Hallmark. So I looked it up. The American incarnation of Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914. Jarvis would later denounce the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar. She did not succeed. I love Mother’s Day, a time to think more intensely about my own mother and a day when I am guaranteed phone calls and gifts from my own three children. It’s wonderful.
Birth: An Ongoing Process
Once a mother gives birth, she day to day continues that birthing process, determining what we will become, the person we will be because of her physical love, guidance and nurturing. The words a mother says and the choices she makes in her raising, profoundly affects the person each of us becomes.
Introducing the Outside World
The womb is great. It’s the time the mother has total control over her child, literally takes the kid with her everywhere–controls the environment. After birth??? Is that person supporting the head? Does my aging aunt have a good grip on the bottle? “Oh that’s okay, I’ll change his diaper, his skin is well… ” You don’t want to say he’ll get a diaper rash if I don’t do this. We’ve all been there and it gets worse, because we often see the control we have as very fragile and tenuous. But is there a lucky charm?
When Tess’s daughter Sara almost loses her sight in a dumb accident, she has to release her mother-fears and at the same time release her daughter into the real world.
“It is one month after the accident. Sara no longer has to wear an eye patch so Tess takes the children to the pool. Summer is ending and pool is quiet…The child has a large inner tube that she twirls in the water, throwing her head back and laughing as she goes around and around. Tess feels a rush of contentment and leans back to look up at the solid blue sky…” Later that night, after she tucks her two children in bed and they profess their love and that they will see her in the morning, she has a final thought about the future and the love they share. “Tess stops. She listens, the words falling on her with their weight of wonder. And welcoming all of it, she holds them, keeps them like a charm her two have hung gently around her neck.”
Then Comes the Birds and the Bees
Consider Cara, in the seventh grade, moving closer to body changes that will eventually make her a woman. But right now, she’s beginning to bump into that adult world, and one night tells her mother: “Tom Brody said I was a sexpot. But I’m not fat, Mom, and I don’t look anything like a pot. I don’t get it.”
Divorced and struggling with her own sex life, Cara’s mother goes to bed that night, realizing that the words and ideas she will share with her daughter are crucial.
“Cara’s question about sexpot comes back to me; half asleep, the fatigue of the day taking over, I pretend I am her age, wrestling with the word myself, struggling to visualize it. All that forms in my mind is something round and soft. Sexpot. Maybe my own mother, her belly, when as a kid I needed comfort and plunged my head into her warm, apron-covered lap. Yes, that’s it. I fall asleep.”
Raising a Child is Always about Looking Forward and Looking Back
Rachel has just been divorced from her husband and charged with the deft process of raising her daughter Heather–who of course is suffering because of the divorce. But not all ties will ever be cut. Rachel has spent the better part of her day taking her mother-in-law to the dentist. Now home, she tries to organize her thoughts with the reality of this situation that is her LIFE.
“At the kitchen sink Rachel turned on the water. She stood waiting for it to get warm. Though she could hear Heather’s chatter in the next room and feel the light and space around her, she was still looking down, still seeing her mother-in-law’s face and remembering what a doctor once told her at a cocktail party. ‘You wouldn’t believe the number of children women are capable of having. Why even after they’re dead, you can cut open an ovary and there they are–all those seeds.’ Rachel bent to the water, cupping her hands. In a moment she would hold her face in the towel for as long as she needed to.”
No Matter Your Life Choice, There’s a Mother In It–Your Own
When my mother was slowing dying, fighting dementia, living in the Memory Unit of a Senior Facility, I had to write about how I felt–lost, useless, angry, confused. All of it. There was no ONE MESSAGE anyone could give me to soothe my state of mind. And if it happens to you, forgive yourself. Because there is NO ONE MESSAGE for this time in your life–the point of not wanting to hear the last line in the excerpt below.
“Ruth was awake, not wanting to be, but awake. Dan was softly snoring next to her, their upper arms touching, so that his sonorous noises almost vibrated through her. But her thoughts went immediately to her mother–the ninety-six-year-old probably having her breakfast, sitting in her wheelchair, her hair flat against the bones of her head, her hand trembling, raising the lukewarm cup of coffee. No aid had called during the night–no Kathy, Betty Mary. This the pattern of her nights and days, ups and downs: how was mom or how mom was. When to plan–anything; or how to plan anything. But you’re so fortunate to still have her.”
Thanks for reading and sharing these moments with me.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY. Every day the role of being a mother and having a mother is one to hold close, to consider and to most often cherish.
Tess, Cara and her mother, Rachel and Ruth continue to live in my collection of short stories, A Mother’s Time Capsule. I had the privilege of talking to M Eileen Williams about A Mother’s Time Capsule on her podcast on blogtalkradio.com Thanks again, Eileen. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/feisty-side-of-fifty/2017/05/04/elizabeth-havey-a-mothers-time-capsule M Eileen Williams and Feisty Side of Fifty.
Artwork: XiPan Gallery Painting