07 May The Patchwork Mother
I’m re-posting an essay I wrote a few years ago for Mama Moderne. It’s as true today as it was then, and some recent face-to-face conversations with friends made me realize how many women have complicated relationships with their mothers, and how many have wrapped themselves in their own patchwork quilt of strong, supportive, nurturing women. This is for them. -Gina
A few years ago, I would have told you that I hate Mother’s Day. For reasons that are complicated, my mother and I are estranged. Our history is painful. A day that should be all lightness and smiles, macaroni art and flowers and Hallmark cards and breakfast in bed… historically, for me has been heavy, soggy with high expectations and pressure to show affection and gratitude that wasn’t always felt. Growing up, it was a day to perform and pretend, not to celebrate.
Except, now I am the mother. So, as I stare at that Sunday on my calendar, it stirs up some conflicting emotions. Of course I want to be celebrated by my husband and children. I want to celebrate being a mom, too. My kids are my greatest source of joy. I work hard to meet their needs and keep them safe and show them all the amazing things this world has to offer. But there’s grief too. It lingers like a dark shadow over my shoulder.
I am a mom. I still need a mom.
No one warned me that having kids would trigger such a deep pang for mothering. But of course, it makes sense. We, as new moms, are so vulnerable. We carry enormous responsibilities and endless worries and also experience a full flood of joy that’s just so so… BIG, you can’t wrap your fingertips around it. We need understanding and encouragement and guidance from women who have walked this winding, uneven path before.
The past couple years, I’ve come to realize that I do have a perfect mom, though she is not tied up in one single person. She is a patchwork quilt of mother figures who entered my life so gracefully, each one covering and nurturing me with different gifts: parenting advice, a shoulder to cry on, pep talks, a home-cooked meal, babysitting, encouragement, admonishment, role modeling, empathy, the invitation to be unabashedly me and fully accepted in her presence.
None of them can go back and give me what I missed as a child. But right now? Today? My well is overflowing.
How I lighten the heaviness of Mother’s Day: I focus on the little gifts my children give me without even realizing it. Say, when my 18-month-old son feeds me a bite of his slobbery, soggy pretzel. When my 3.5-year-old daughter gives me a crumpled, wilted flower and insists I put it in a glass of water. When she draws me a picture at school for no reason and tells me “Mommy, I love you all day!” When my two children play together and share without prompting by me. The way they let me have access to their round, soft, warm bellies for rubbing and kissing whenever I want to. When my husband washes dishes before he leaves for work, because he knows how much I love starting the day with a clean slate. Or when he — so not a morning person — rolls out of bed at 6AM on a Saturday and keeps the kids away so that I can sleep in. The moments of stillness when my babes nuzzle into the crook of my neck and I feel their breath against my skin.
I realize I don’t need a calendar day to savor these gifts. But I’ll take the excuse to celebrate them even more, and I’ll remember to thank those who have mothered me so well.