For my first Mother's Day (the first Mother's Day when I had a child out there in the world--my very first Mother's Day I was seven months pregnant), when L. was just 10 months old, my mom sent me a white t-shirt with "Mom" printed on the front. This was an unlikely gift, actually, for both the giver and the recipient (I'm not a t-shirt person), but she'd gotten the T-shirt for free and I was, after all, a "Mom" finally. I still have the shirt. I keep it folded in my drawer and it's moved with me three times now. I'm as attached to it as I would be to any thoughtful gift from someone I love--that shirt, a little corny and over-sized, is special to me because I connect it so closely with that first Mother's Day of mine.
Mother's Day for me, that first year when L. was 10 months old and beginning to walk, his rounded limbs all earnest energy and his cheeks puffed out in concentration at everything he did, was more than just a celebration of my role as a mother. It was, I think, a chance for me to move emotionally closer to the mothering women in my own life: to my mother, and to my grandmother living across the Atlantic, so many miles away. In those early days of motherhood I think I was still uncertain what the word "Mom" really meant. In those days it was about caring for a small child; loving him, tending to him, and putting his own needs before my own. It was about watching him begin to walk, toddling away from the grasp of my hands. He took his first substantial steps that day, Mother's Day 2001, and I watched him lurch out into the golden sunlight splashing across the grass, my heart about to break from pride and love.
Mother's Day 2004--my first as a mother of two--found me cradling my four-month-old daughter in my arms, at a local Greek restaurant. I felt so much more a "mom" then, tired still from sleepless nights, still carrying the pregnancy weight around my body like a heavy blanket, bowed over almost with nagging worry about T.'s upcoming surgery in July. L. was wired and rambunctious that day, I remember, and T. fussy and inconsolable. I wondered, as we sat under the arbor at the restaurant, all the other mothers apparently having calm, relaxed luncheons with their well-behaved offspring, if this was what being a mom meant--was it really all about the worry and fatigue, crowding out the joy of the day? Of course it wasn't--and isn't--but motherhood, I found out, has those two sides: the joy and the worry, the pride and the pangs of nostalgia, the struggles and the easy days, when it all seems so effortless.
Mother's Day 2010 finds me more rested than I was six years ago, more forgiving of myself, more at ease with who Scott and I are as parents, and who I am as a mother. But it has also found me less patient in some ways, as my work-related responsibilities have increased and as I realize more and more that there just aren't those hours in the day that I need--those hours that I greedily want to spend with both my children, who are now at school all day. I sometimes blink and feel I'm straddling some great divide, that my children's childhoods are on one side and yet I can almost reach out and touch who they will become, one day, as they grow older and more independent. They are little bright boats, their moorings stretched taut, almost to snapping point. I dream about their baby hoods, yet at the same time my heart is full over what they can do today, and what I imagine they might do tomorrow. Sometimes I lie awake and think about how unbearably painful motherhood is; yet it's unbearably beautiful, too. Being a mother is about bearing that pain--the pain of both things, existing side-by-side together, curled around each other.
And finally, in thinking about Mother's Day in more universal terms, I think I like what I heard a few years ago, on my way home from work one day, when I was listening to the local NPR jazz station. The theme for that hour of the show yesterday was--in honor of Sunday, of course--Mother's Day and motherly love. The host talked about his own love for his mother and his wife, but he made a stirring and, I thought, unusual point. He said that we should celebrate all women today, regardless of whether they are mothers or not; that Mother's Day is not just for mothers, but for all women--women who are, after all, the mothers of so much that is right in the world. Mother's Day shouldn't just be a day for brunches and breakfasts-in-bed, but a time to think instead of the far-reaching importance of the women to our worlds (and in our worlds)--individual and universal--whether they are mothers themselves or not.
Happy Mother's Day!