Happy Mother’s Day—to me. How odd.
I am getting used to the idea that I am a mother, although once in a while it still catches me by surprise to be awakened by a baby crying over a monitor or to realize just how many diapers I’ve changed over the last year when my previous record was, well, zero. But Mother’s Day was never a day for me. It wasn’t even a day I particularly wanted to be for me. I have usually felt more aware of how awkward and painful it can be for those without children than able to imagine myself accepting a hand-drawn card from a toddler of my own. I think being married but not having kids for years made me a bit more aware of how hard it can be for some to always feel locked out of the Hallmark store (and I hope I don’t forget this now).
It’s not that I was reluctant for our daughter to join our life or that I don’t enjoy being a mom, because I wasn’t and I do. It’s just that I never had a clear picture of myself at this place in life, a fuzzy dream in my mind beckoning me Someday this will be you. I was never one of those girls always looking forward to the day they would get married and have children. I remember a friend dreaming out loud about graduating from high school so she and her much older boyfriend could get married and thinking Are you crazy? You’re thinking about that now, in sophomore literature class? I wasn’t opposed to it in some kind of independent girl with something to prove way; I just couldn't picture myself that far ahead and didn’t think motherhood was a foregone conclusion, although I didn’t necessarily picture something else for myself either.
Then Aaron and I got married, young, and there were the requisite jokes and questions about when are you going to start cranking out the kids? and we’d defer, graciously and vaguely, since we could honestly say that he had to finish school before anything else and maybe in five years we’d start thinking about it since we’d still be crazy young. Five years came and went, and schooling came and went and came and went and finally got finished and went away. I started telling people that every time they asked when we were going to have kids, our even considering it got deferred by two months, and we already had a two-year backlog from being asked so much. (I really think that unless you’re close or the context of the conversation indicates the person would like to share their plans, it’s a pretty rude question that makes a lot of assumptions—namely that everyone should and wants to have children and that your question isn’t stabbing me in the heart because we want to but haven’t been able to, which was never the case for us, but please, people, be sensitive to others for whom it might be, especially on Mother’s Day.)
Then we got kind of busy moving our childless selves to the Oregon coast and feeling like this was a calling that we were sure of and that was keeping our two-person family pretty busy already. Meanwhile some kind of silent fertility bomb was apparently set off back where we came from, because our friends there started getting pregnant, and having babies, and getting pregnant again. And asking us if we were ever going to join in.
I don’t want to get into the whole thing here and now, but let me just say that that question is not as easy as it might seem when you have a genetically passed medical condition in the family, especially after bad things have happened in the family that remind you what that once-easy-to-ignore condition can do. And so we continued to defer and dance around the question, though we danced a little closer and a little more often.
How we got from there to adopting from Ethiopia is a book unto itself, but obviously the first decision that had to be made was yes, we want to be parents. Yes, I want to be a mom. What was the tipping point?
I finally felt like I could be a good mom. It had nothing to do with being around babies, as I remained blissfully-yet-terrified-ly ignorant of everything that entailed until we brought ours home. My transformation came from teenagers. Our girls. It came from moments in the kitchen making them snacks and making them laugh, challenging their teen psuedo-logic and asking about exams, listening to their complaints and refereeing their bickering. It came from marveling at these hearts and minds so fully formed before I ever knew them yet changing before my very eyes and suddenly feeling in my heart I want to share a whole life with a person, to know a child from their cradle to my grave.
So it is that I find myself this year as the one being wished well and honored on Mother’s Day. And I appreciate that, I do. Being a mother is important and tiring and just plain damn hard work sometimes. Many say it’s the greatest thing a woman can do—but let’s remember, being a mother is not the only way to love. My mother-love is exercised every day now, but it was there long before, as it is seen in each of us every time we step outside of ourselves to care for someone else. That is mother-love, no matter whose child receives it.
And so today I want to celebrate, thank, and affirm all the women who nurture—and isn’t that all of us?—and even especially those who nurture those who are not “their own.” Loving my daughter is easy, most of the time. I’m a mom now. It’s what we do. It’s my role, my job, my identity, my responsibility, my joy. But to serve others so consistently, so selflessly, so freely? That is hard, and I fall short. I am blessed to have so many who love and give so extravagantly in my life as an example. They are the ones who have planted the seeds of love that are bearing fruit in my mothering now.
I pray I may be like them in remembering, even as I fill my home with the love of a family, to open the doors and let others come in and be loved—for it is in loving that we find love, in giving that we find abundance, in seeing others that we recognize ourselves, in sharing mother-love that we become our Father’s children.
Does a husband make a woman into a wife? Does the birth of a child make her a mother? What lies sleeping inside a daughter of Eve that waits to be called out by one or the other or both? . . .
Could a mother’s love also lurk inside the heart of a woman who nurtures a stubborn garden, or a book, or a classroom of other people’s children? Is it mother-love to cheer the efforts of an awkward teenager’s attempt to serve a volleyball, or to set a perfect table and prepare a favorite meal (whether it’s hot dogs or homemade pasta) for a dear friend’s birthday? To craft a poem or tell a story that will delight a small handful of people, or even just one? Couldn’t that be a kind of mother-love too?
Does a wife’s heart beat in the woman who believes resolutely in someone else’s dream when the rest of the world says “get serious”? Who listens for the meaning behind the words “I’m tired” or “I’d rather not talk about it, that’s all”? Is it wife-love to overlook an unthinking slight or to remember that someone else likes chewy cookies best, instead of the crispy ones that you prefer? To stay still and let silence speak when words can’t say enough?
Maybe the same kind of love is there for the spending whether it’s focused on one man, or four children, or a roomful of old friends, or a stranger. Maybe it’s not lost in the spending, either, but strengthened and sharpened and multiplied.