For many years, Mothers’ Day was a day of conflicting emotions for me. I had a powerful longing for recognition and appreciation that often was unfulfilled in some way, and I also had the accompanying guilt that maybe I didn’t deserve the rewards I hoped for in the first place. There were nagging doubts about whether I was doing a good job. There was also the burden of identity involved. I became a mom at 22, right out of college, and still had a lot of unresolved questions about who I wanted to be in the world. I relied on my husband to bolster my neurotic ego and assure me that I was exceeding expectations doing a job that was valuable and appreciated. He did a great job at that for many years, and for that, I will always be grateful.
I still long for appreciation around Mothers’ Day, even though my kids have all flown the nest years ago. I spent 12 years at home concentrating on doing my best at that one job and the next 12 years trying to do my best at that job plus another one outside the home. Now, I know that I did just fine. My kids tell me that, and I believe them. But my co-parent, my late husband, is not around to remind me in loving detail of the specifics….and I miss that. So this year, I decided to give myself the gift of cherishing myself as a Mother.
My chosen medium for cherishing, looking long and lovingly at something, has always been photography. I have taken countless photos of my kids and my husband — intimate, spontaneous, ordinary as well as posed. I wish someone had recorded my image with that kind of generous eye.
Well, it turns out someone did. Not exactly someONE, several someones. Whether with their own camera or with mine and my instruction (I used an AE-1 manual for 30 years), I have managed to gain a collection. I went through my albums and digitally scanned 48 images this morning. Now, should my memory fail me in the coming years, I have photographic reminders that I did snuggle, feed, play with, teach, comfort, listen to, attend to, and applaud my four children year after year after year.
I have had a happy motherhood. I don’t need my husband to tell me that. I don’t even need my children to tell me that, although I’m really glad they do. I am owning my happy motherhood myself this year. I think it’s a great gift!
I became a mother a year after I was married, when I was only 22. I had recently graduated Phi Beta Kappa from a prestigious women’s college, and the prevailing response to my new role was, “Why are you throwing away your education to be a mom?” followed closely by “Why are you throwing away the freedom of your twenties to be a mom?” I was wracked with anxiety about whether I was “old enough” to take on the awesome responsibility of Motherhood. I was a very young-looking mother; I got accosted in public places by people who felt compelled to tell me what I was doing wrong with my child and with my life. I turned to my church community for support and was mentored by some wonderful women. Then I took on a leadership role and led a group I called M.O.M.S. (Mothers Offering Mutual Support) for 9 years. These MOMS were mostly older than me and from an affluent suburb of Chicago. Motherhood was most often discussed in terms of practical instruction in efficiency, in education, in success.
Now that my nest is empty, I am turning my consciousness more and more to Nature. It is now that I am more thoroughly accepting, befriending, and appreciating the tremendous biological grounding of life. I notice how my attitudes and concerns have shifted away from social influences. I feel the memories of Mothering in my body; I am beginning to forget the words, the events, the situations. Childbearing was a fine activity for my twenties. I gave birth 4 times without surgery or drugs. I rarely drank alcohol. I never smoked anything. I nursed all of my children for a full year. In my thirties, I cuddled and carried and played. I was not an athlete, and I was not particularly wise about food, but I was healthy. In my forties, I was stressed. My husband was dying. My teen aged children were struggling. I started making relaxation a “conscious effort”. I found it difficult to regain my biological grounding, so I would go off to the prairies and woods near my home – alone – as often as I could.
Now, in my fifties, I am rarely stressed. I do notice a gentle waning of energy. I have zero gray hairs, but I do have drier, spottier skin. I don’t feel “old”, but I do feel “mellowed”.
I suppose that my thoughts today on Motherhood are simply about the awesomeness of Life. As far removed as modern humans may be from the rhythms of biology, that pulse continues. When all the screens go dead, when all the mini-vans run out of gas, when all the PTAs and soccer leagues disperse and the suburban homes fall into the dust, there will still be the energy of Life seeking a new generation. It will find a way. I enjoy feeling part of that flow.
What a perfect topic for a photo challenge! Mother Earth is my favorite subject, and I’ve got LOTS of nature photos featured on this blog. Check out my Wisconsin Outdoors and Wilderness pages in the header above for some of my favorites!
Since this is the beautiful, lusty, bright month of May, I think I will highlight one of the woodland ephemeral wildflowers that emerge in my neck of the woods at this time: the Mayapple. Yes, the tiny bud eventually becomes a little green fruit rather like a crab apple, but I hear it’s unwise to eat them in any quantity…because…well, you know… Anyway, here’s one small citizen of Earth, from bud to maturity.
I probably greeted about 200 mothers at work today. I talked to each of my 4 children on the telephone, and left e-mail and voice mail messages for my own mother. Mother’s Day was sunny and bright and happy, or at least seemed to be, here in the Midwest. The local grocery store ran a sale, as did most businesses, and featured a picture of a mother and daughter in 1950s style matching dresses, matching pearls and matching smiles on their outdoor sign. How American. How stereotypical. How misleading.
Every mother-child relationship is unique. We use the term “mother” for convenience, like we do any other word, and run the risk of that symbol replacing the concept of an actual individual living out a particular life in a particular way. This is where we have to be vigilant and intentional in order to keep from assuming a role instead of forming a relationship. My mother is not a cookie cut-out on an assembly line. Neither am I. Nor are my children. I want us to know each other as real people, in the present tense. We have histories together that span our lifetimes, but we are always evolving. I don’t want to get stuck in old habits, old emotions, old psychological baggage. I want to keep a vital, dynamic exchange going with these people whom I so dearly love. That takes effort. Distance complicates it. It takes dedicated time, too. I am humbled by the idea of loving my mother and loving my children. I want to have more than the sentimental attachment or the Hallmark moment once a year. I desire more and they deserve more. I guess this is another way that “convenience” and ease can lull us into accepting a substitute. Just send the card, the flowers, the e-mail. Say the words, do the brunch, go through the motions. Done. Off the hook for another year. Nope, not good enough; not to me. I want to slow down, appreciate, be present, be real. I want to know and be known. I want intimacy. It’s actually a scary venture, so I’ll only try that with a few people in my life. I think my mother and my children qualify. So, my darlings, I’ll keep trying to overcome the distances. You are very important to me.