Mother’s Day is a more complex holiday than our brunch and flower-filled culture gives it credit for. I love the idea of celebrating motherhood. But if you peel back the curtain on this day of card-giving and perfume, there is quite literally blood, sweat, and tears.
It is a day to celebrate the best of humanity. The love of mother and child. The blessings of family. And indeed those are all amazing reasons to celebrate.
But there is so much more.
My own mother is a tiny powerhouse of resilience, faith and generosity. She is the most determined and hard-working person I have ever met. And looking back on my childhood, I recognize so many ways that she tried to bring magic, and fun into our lives. We lived in a small, rural mountain town, and resources and amenities were definitely limited. She would sit down at her sewing machine and make beautiful costumes, dolls and other clever things for my sister and I to play with. She made birthdays something to remember, she played piano and sang. She remembered every possible holiday and made sure we took advantage of reasons to celebrate. She had a way of making special days feel even more special. I remember music in our home, good food and lots and lots of love. My mom never seemed to miss a beat.
What I didn’t see as a child though, was that my mother was working 15 hour days on a regular basis. That her hands (now almost crippled with arthritis) were already beginning to twist in pain, even as a young woman. I didn’t see that she was exhausted. Truly exhausted from working, and from caring for our family. She hid her fatigue from us, and we lived in blissful ignorance of all the things she was juggling.
We used to tease my mom that she just never seemed to sleep. She went to bed late, and was up before the sun. She would finish her day of work, make dinner for us, clean up and get us to bed, and then my mom would read. She would read until late in the night. Reading was, and continues to be my mom’s rest and refuge. In hindsight I see that my mom lived a double life. Part with us, and part with the characters of the books she adored. Her books gave her a break from her toil, and though they kept her up late, I know they kept her imagination spinning, and gave her energy to carry on. I inherited my mother’s love of reading, and now I understand what reading must have really meant to my mom all those years ago (and still does to this day).
Hard work and limited resources were not the only challenges my mom had to navigate. My mother’s generation was still serving as guinea pigs to the medical community, and my mom suffered through invasive procedures that caused more harm than good, insensitive and demeaning treatment by caregivers, and long-term pain and discomfort that only she can know. Women like my mom paved the way to better days for my own generation. My own easier, healthier and frankly more humane treatment in the medical system rests on the foundation of pain and hardship borne by the women before me.
I say all this because I don’t think we appreciate the silent suffering that women have endured, and persevered through. A woman’s body simultaneously becomes a vessel of creation, and the subject of cold inquiry. Women are creators and victims throughout their lives, nurturing new souls within their bellies, while being poked and prodded, tested and studied from the time they begin their first cycle. Women experience loss that they take with them, and cannot speak about, not because they don’t want to, but because the pain is ingrained in the very cells of their existence. Miscarriages, the loss of a child, the pain of birth, the joy of childhood, the fatigue of keeping up. So much is carried inside a mother’s soul that cannot be shared. So much is absorbed, and melded with the woman she was before she was a mother. Changing, growing, expanding her into the mother she will always be, no matter what she has been through.
My mom has persevered through so many storms and hardships, and yet she shielded us from almost all of it. I respect her so much for the weight she has carried, and I have learned to appreciate this role of being a ‘buffer’ in my own family. Mothers protect their children, and often their spouses in ways that are difficult to quantify. Mothers project a shield of love that taps into the very core of their being, and they maintain that shield every day, as long as they remain on this earth.
It is no easy thing to project this buffer of love. It requires strength. It requires persistence and determination. When your kids are screaming and your house is dirty, and your partner just doesn’t get it, the buffer persists. The love is a permanent fixture of a mother’s psyche, and the shield remains strong and intact, regardless of what the mother is experiencing.
In a mother’s love I see a power greater than all others. There is no other love like it. I feel this when I look at my own children, and I have a new-found appreciation for what I now know my mother feels for me.
My mother is a quiet hurricane. A rainbow of dreams and aspirations who chose to focus not on herself, but rather on her children and their potential. My mother filled my cup, and set me off into the world ready to create my own best life.
So today, I recognize my mom. I thank her for her strength, for her tenacity, her imagination, her heart and spirit. I thank her for her unfaltering love, her steel resolve and patient understanding. As I endeavor to carry and extend my own shield of love around my children, I honor the shield maidens who came before me, and surround me now, the women whose strength lies in unbreakable, expansive and enduring love. I hope that my own daughter will one day have the chance to experience the depth of the love I feel for her, and that I know my mother feels for me.
Happy Mother’s Day indeed.