This is my first Mother’s Day as mother to a child who is born of my body, but it is also my 25th Mother’s Day as a daughter.
In beginning to write about Mother’s Day, about this enormous whole that is motherhood, I find myself stumbling the old familiar way I have always stumbled around Mother’s Day. Even as a kid, long before I could understand what it meant to be a mother, or to be mymother, I couldn’t help but feel like even my most genuine effort at appreciation and gratitude didn’t even scratch the surface of what was owed to my mother. This one day of the year, even with all it’s brunches and flower arrangements and chocolates and heart-shaped-pancakes, it just can’t be enough, right?
Right. The sacrifices of mothers for their children cannot be numbered. My own transition into motherhood has meant giving up “sleeping through the night” (a phrase that at this point feels just as grounded in reality as “peace on earth”), the luxury of ever taking a shower alone, my evening-hours social life, and my ability to begin and complete a task in one go to name a few, not to mention the loss of the woman that I was before I was Joseph’s mother and the real-if temporary-sacrifice of my body as I lent it to Joseph as his first home. The work and the struggle that our mothers engage and endure to raise us becomes more real to me every day as I walk through it myself. But my new perspective as a freshly-wrought mother has me thinking that I’ve had Mother’s Day wrong this whole time.
A phrase I hear all the time goes like this: Motherhood is the most challenging and most rewarding job you’ll ever have. At the first ring, it sounds true enough. But if that were true, then there would be some eventual possibility of being compensated fairly for it, to be paid something like a living wage for Mothering. The laughability of such a proposition is telling. The idea that a child might even try to repay some little bit of the care and love given by their mother undermines what it means To Be A Mother.
The story of Joseph’s birth is for another day, but what happened as he breathed his first breaths lying there all slimy and soft on my chest was nothing short of magic. In the same mysterious and impossible way the alchemist transforms straw into gold, I was transformed at once and forever into this child’s mother.
I do not want to romanticize or simplify. It was beautiful and I am grateful beyond belief, yes. Becoming Joseph’s mother also meant undergoing the brutal loss of the woman I was before, and I am still mourning her. I also recognize that actively mothering my child is choice that not everyone makes.
All that being said, to me a mother is something like the rain, and we should no more seek to repay her for her work as the oak should seek to repay the rain for nourishing her roots and nursing her acorns to life.
The rain, like our mothers, gives us gifts beyond measure, but there is not a feeling of indebtedness. It is easy to recognize that the rain is merely playing her part in the complex and perfect pattern of existence.
Do I thank the rain? Yes. I stand at my window and see her falling gently on the vulnerable new sprouts setting their roots in our garden beds, and aloud I say thank you. I walk in the morning and see the woods shining with the brightness of the night’s rain, and I say thank you. I lay down with my baby in our attic bedroom and I am lulled to sleep by her singing on the roof, and I say thank you.
But so much better does the earth thank the rain. Our sprouts thank her with their growth, by becoming strong and tall and bearing fruit, the forest thanks her with it’s shining vitality, by lifting its’ leaves towards the sun. Thus we might aspire to thank our own mothers. With professions of appreciation and gratitude, certainly, but also with our own thriving. Go forth, be an amazing human being, become your best self.
Because at the end of the day, after I’ve stuffed myself full to bursting of chocolate chip pancakes and I’ve hung my cards up on my desk and the flowers are adorning the kitchen table, what brings my heart the most joy is to see Joseph taking his first unsteady yet determined crawl, or finally warming to the arms of a new friend, or devouring a whole hard boiled egg, or laughing hysterically at the slapstick stylings of my roommate’s three year old. Then I know for sure that I am appreciated, and that I am doing a damn fine job.