…in the lips and hearts of little children.” –William Makepeace Thackeray
To begin, Happy Mother’s day to all you moms & moms-to-be out there! I had the joy and privilege, yesterday, to work on several mom-daughter combos who were celebrating their mothers and their motherhood with a nice relaxing massage, or facial, or both!
How special is it to be a mom? Words don’t even begin. We are given the privilege to carry you inside us for nine months, building up in our heads all the things we wonder … for instance:
- Will you be tall? Short? Willowy? A boy, or a girl?
- Will you have the blonde hair of your father, or my dark hair?
- Will your eyes hearken back to our side of the family, or your father’s?
- If your eyes are from my side, and hair from your father’s side … oh, how beautiful you’ll be!
- Will you sing? Dance? Play sports? Read lavishly, as I do?
Then, you are born; even during the pain of our labor for you, we still wonder these things listed above, and so much more. And yet, when you are born — at that moment, just then, we realize “Oh. Oh, wow, this is a brand new human, and I am supposed to raise it to be self-sufficient, to be productive.” Talk about harrowing! The responsibility is seemingly insurmountable; I can barely keep myself productive!
All of this has been spoken of before, however. What can I offer, today, on Mother’s Day, that might be a bit different? How about I talk about some of the more amazing Moms I’ve known? I think I like that idea much better.
I can’t help but begin with my sister. You have to understand; my siblings and I? We were raised under what has been described as torturous conditions. Horrible abuse; you imagine it, we likely lived it. I was the oldest, so I was the “responsible” one, which just means I did better at not getting caught, most of the time.
My sister, Taura — eight years my junior, so I often felt very mom-like toward her. She grew up as hard as I did, and she fell into a very bad lifestyle; drugs, strip-clubs for jobs, you name it. When her children were 18- and 6-months old, she was arrested for abandonment of them. In July, in the middle of summer, in a mobile home that was completely shut up, she left them. Why? Because she was addicted to heroin. She went into prison and spent five years there.
And she came out of prison a new person. She had kicked the drugs, and set about herself with a determination to never go back down that road. She lived in Georgia and fought her way into jobs, including at times two at once — her main job and a job doing bookkeeping, or accounting, or whatever she could get. Further, she sent herself back to school. And even further? Well. My father had gained custody of her children; I fought against that, as I believed that he would do the same harm to them that he’d done to my siblings and myself; but the court decided it was better for him to have them than they be in foster care. And so he took them to California, where he lived. And my sister, while she was working two jobs and going to school, also pursued a custody battle to regain her children. A custody battle fought from Georgia to California; my father resisted, and made her fight hard for her kids, and it took her two years before she regained them.
She regained them in time to graduate from school, and finally land the job she’d been wanting forever. Landing the job gave her the ability to buy the house she wanted, and in this house, in this neighborhood, she became the quintessential neighborhood mom. We all know that mom, the one that has a yard and a way of being that all the kids in the neighborhood respond to. Her home was always overflowing with kids, and she was happy, in her element. She laughed as she cared for her children, and her neighbors’ children; she smiled, she fed, she succored.
She was taken from life, then; but in her life, she’d had the opportunity to completely screw up, then recover from that screw up and make something of herself. But her making something of herself was all focused on her children; on rejecting society’s labeling of her son as ADHD; rather than force meds on him — which she’d tried and found didn’t work as intended — she worked with him to begin helping him learn how to manage himself. She focused herself on being the mother her daughter could look up to and respect, rather than disdain. She focused herself on doing all within her power so that her children would always know her love. She was taken too soon, but the time between her going into prison and the time when she came out was all dedicated to becoming strong enough to teach her children how to be, and love, a strong woman.
I honor her for her determination, her stubbornness in fighting, her grace in saying “I will do this because I can do nothing else.” Her acceptance of what is, in order to achieve what she demanded life become.
Next, I think? My mother-in-law. Understand, I basically have no mother, and I’m too old to ask for a mother in my life. Further, when I met my future mother-in-law, I was still broken; it was difficult for me to interact with her. Compound that with her faith, her belief, her Christianity; I saw her as living within this bubble that didn’t include what I considered “real life.” She’d never had to struggle with the things I’d struggled with. She’d never had to deal with the torturous environment I grew up in. She’d not had to fight for her very sanity, for her ability to be a part of her childrens’ lives. In so many ways, I found reasons to remain separate from her.
But she was soft, and she was gentle, and she was accepting. Over time, as I’ve healed, she’s always offered to me the space I needed, when and as I needed it, so that I could come to a relationship with her on my own terms.
She has never demanded, never judged, never done anything more than offer me room to find my own way to some form of accommodation with her. I am not Christian as she is, yet she casts no aspersions on me. I smoked, when we met, and she met that without condemnation. It was as if I kept looking for some way to compare her to the example of “Mother” I’d grown up with, and that way was never found. But in the looking, I began to be able to see her as she is.
She is gentle, she loves, she cares, and she wishes to be of help, where and as she can. She is generous with her love, and with her self. She is very bright, and has a searing insight, but she uses that insight to build up, rather than to break down. Because of the very nature of who and what she is, I could not do anything except learn to accept, then appreciate, then love her for all she is, believes, and lives. I’ve learned that while she never lived my hell, she has lived her own, and she has her battles to fight, just as I do. But her example of grace is a truer one than anyone has ever shared with me before — even those who mouth the “grace” that they’re so generously offering. Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t speak it, she just does it. But she is an example of motherhood that I hope everyone has the opportunity to experience, some day.
Last, my daughter. Let me tell you, Moms out there, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience your child as a parent — just hold on. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s exquisite.
My grandson was born in October 2015; I was able to travel to see him that Christmas season. I had the wonderful opportunity to watch my daughter as she mom’d her son; as she held him close to her, so he could sleep. As she talked the gentle baby-talk to him that whispered love with every breath. As she made changing time special, by taking a bit of time after his diaper was changed to just put her face right next to his, as he lay on the changing table, and whispering gentle words of love to him. As she booped his nose, just to see his smile.
I’ve been able to keep in contact with them through Skype, and I hear little tidbits of her and their lives; her making crock-pot meals to put in the freezer, so she’ll have more time when she’s home with him. Her reading to him. Her giving him a counter to open with pot-and-pan lids made available for his inquisitive self. Her changing his room as necessary, so that he can remain stimulated, so that his ever-expanding mind always has something enriching in easy access.
In all ways, I consider her a perfect mom. But now, her world is shaking, and the more fierce side of motherhood is beginning to be awakened. Her husband, my son-in-law, is a drug addict; he’s lost his ability to pay for the prescription drugs that were his bailiwick, so he’s turned to the dirtier, cheaper drugs; a couple of weeks ago, he overdosed on heroin.
Now, I watch her pick up the pieces. I hear, through her sister, of her continuing on, of ensuring her son’s life remains as unspoiled as possible. I see, when we are able to Skype, her determination to keep her chin up, shoulders squared, so that her son is always put first. I grieve with her as she begins to have to make difficult decisions, decisions which will of course fully impact her son’s life.
And I believe in her. Because of what I’ve seen of her strength, her determination, and her abilities, I know that her son will suffer as little as she can help. Because of her fortitude, I know that she will overcome all the hurdles presented to her, and her son, and will both guard and protect him as those hurdles are exposed.
Not because of what I’ve taught her of motherhood, perhaps, as my examples weren’t always cogent, but in spite of what I’ve taught her, I believe she will surpass me in all ways, and I know her son will remain safe.
Three mothers. All different, all at different stages of their motherhood. The loss of my sister was great; the loss of these other two mothers will be equally great. But all of them, by example, can pave the way for other mothers, as examples of what is right, and beautiful, and loving and kind and generous and protective in a mother.
Happy Mother’s Day; may this day be a day of celebration for the mothers in your life(ves).