Posts tagged Mother
Motherhood

It was the year I turned thirteen that I broke my first bone. Spring had begun to shift into summer, and I was walking my dog, the leash wrapped tightly around the first two fingers of my left hand. Our dog wasn’t the smartest creature, and he was prone to pull and yank without warning. I knew this, but still held his rope precariously, an invitation for injury. It was only a few feet from our house that he spotted a soft-coated white lab, immediately pulling tight against his restraints. I heard the snap first, the sound of my index finger breaking, then the pain followed, white hot and instantaneous.

My parents weren’t home at the time of the incident. My father was out, and my mother was on dinner shift at the restaurant she worked at. My fifteen year old sister did the best she could in the face of this crisis. Putting into practice what information we had gleaned from hospital scenes on television dramas, we tried to coax the finger back into place. It was only later, when my mother had left work early and driven me to emergency, that we understood how futile these efforts had been. My x-ray showed an injury that couldn’t be undone with a few skillful (or in our case completely amateur) manipulations of the finger. The damage was a diagonal fracture that cut clear through my bone.

The solution was surgery, metal pins to be inserted, and a cast for the summer. I had remained relatively quiet through all of this, but I was thirteen, and to me this diagnosis seemed catastrophic. On the way home, in the passenger seat of the car, I started to cry. I was mourning the loss of what was important to me at the time: summer, swimming, and the freedom of being unencumbered by something as socially damaging as a cast. I am embarrassed now when I think of the lack of grace with which I dealt with this news. I was dramatic. I yelled. I questioned the fairness of the universe.

My mother was quiet for about two minutes of this tantrum. She drove, her eyes affixed on the road in front of us, and then suddenly she stopped me.  “That’s enough,” she said. “There are kids in this world dying of cancer. You can handle a broken finger.” At the time I felt wounded. To me it was a glaring example of how she failed to be like the other mothers I had seen both on television, and in the homes of friends from school. Mothers who baked cakes, planted soft kisses on the tops of heads, and lingered in doorways if only to spend one more minute in the company of their children. While to many of my friends these mothers were a source of embarrassment; to me the coddling, the pet names, and the adoring looks all spoke to what I assumed was a deeper and more powerful love for their children than my mother held for me.

Love wasn’t something we talked about much in my house. We didn’t say the words often, and in fact my mother almost seemed suspicious of people who were apt to use the phrase in ways she deemed reckless. “Love isn’t something you say to just anyone,” she said once while talking about an acquaintance who used the words too liberally for her liking. “If you claim you love everyone, well then you probably have no idea what the words actually mean,” she said. But what did those words mean to her?  In my house an ill-timed “I love you” might be greeted with a curt head nod, or worse silence, and I sometimes questioned why it was so hard for her to say the words back. I understood you shouldn’t say things you didn’t mean, and you should mean the things you said. But, if as I suspected, love existed in our house, linking the five of us together, why couldn’t we speak it aloud?

Much of her emotional reserve I put down to her upbringing. Born in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1950’s she was the second child to parents with a fourteen year age gap. Her father was a large, indifferent man. One who I suspect loved both of his children, but didn’t really understand what that meant in practice. She was closer to her mother, a woman full of life and much adored, although not a person to cater to anyone’s need for validation or reassurance. It was a different time, a different place, and while I don’t imagine it was ever discussed, I know there was a thread of love that ran through their family as it does mine: quiet, constant, and almost imperceptible.

I believe in this thread because it reveals itself through my mother’s stories of leaving Scotland. In them I can hear her yearning, her loneliness in this new country, and her wish to return to what she knew. I believe in this thread because twenty years ago when my grandmother died, my mother fell apart. There was a sudden lapse in health, flights to Scotland to stand at her bedside, and then suddenly she was gone. My usually stoic mother was a mess. She had never been good at expressing feelings, and in the face of this loss she didn’t know how to hold herself together. She wept. She was angry. She couldn’t make sense of what had happened. I understand now how lost she must have felt without her mother. She was frustrated that none of us understood her pain. But how could we? I was a teenager at the time. I was inwardly focused, selfish, and deep in the process of taking my own mother for granted. It didn’t occur to me then that mothers were things that you could lose, even in the face of this clear evidence. My own mother was a fixture in my life, as solid and permanent as my own being. I didn’t understand then what my mother was in the process of learning. Those threads that tied us all together, well they were tied tightly to our mothers, and when they were loosened, everything could change.

I think a lot about these threads of motherhood now that I have a child. I wonder how much of my experience, and how many of my choices are defined and shaped by my mother, and by her mother before us. On the surface it would appear very little. Where my mother is emotionally reserved I am expressive. I am always reaching for my child. I repeat the words “I love you” like a prayer. I know for sure that I will be one of those mothers who embarrasses their children, hovering in doorways trying to sneak just one more kiss. This is my fate, and I will embrace it.  But it is careless for me to assume that this one component of who I am as a mother defines my whole reality. I am different from my mother yes, but underneath that surface level there is a genealogy of motherhood that snakes from me to her. I like this idea. That we are connected by a shared history of motherhood, and that I may not be as different from her as I have always assumed.

My mother is not warm in the traditional sense. She won’t hold your hand. She won’t tell you you’re beautiful. She expects you to know you’re smart so those words will never have to escape her stern Scottish mouth. A few weeks ago I told her I might write a piece about her, and that the topic was warmth. She laughed at this, then looked thoughtful. “Well, that’s the last word anyone would ever use to describe me,” she said in her matter of fact way. I didn’t disagree with her then, but I think perhaps I should have. My mother is warm. Although we don’t always see it right away, it’s there just below the surface. It’s quiet, subdued by a layer of strength, obscured again by her blunt truthfulness that can sometimes sting.

My mother the center of us all. She has stood by my father for over forty years. She has raised three children who are great friends, and created a family that still gravitates together for meals, celebrations, and sometimes for no reason at all. She has built a home where the door revolves and everyone is welcome. She has been there for each of us at every turn: through challenges, broken hearts, emergency room visits, disappointments and great joy. There are times I have taken my mother for granted, or failed to understand her. I thought because I couldn’t see her love for me in her words that it wasn’t there, but I was failing to look at her actions.

I realize now that that day in the car, my broken finger cradled in my lap, my mother wasn’t trying to be harsh or unkind. She was trying to tell me that I was going to be ok. My finger would heal, my life would go on, and she wanted to make sure that I understood that. My mother assumed that I was strong enough to handle whatever would come, and that assumption is a gift I want to give my daughter. I am grateful too, that she has a grandmother who will be there for her as well. Quick to remind her that life will throw you challenges, but you will survive. It’s interesting to me though how different my daughter’s relationship to my mother is. With Saoirse, my mother is playful, free, and loving in a way that I find equal parts surprising and beautiful.

I have watched them together, Saoirse cradled in my mother’s arms, a lilting Scottish tune being hummed. I have heard soft words, coos, and praise quietly directed at my daughter. I have even once, I’m sure of it, heard the words “I love you” whispered quietly into the tiny seashell of her ear. In that moment part of me wanted to draw attention to it. To say aloud, you said “I love you. I heard it.” But another part of me realized that the words didn’t really matter. To point them out was unnecessary. They were always there, invisible but present, unspoken, but no less true in their silence.

JOURNALIST: Beth McKinlay

Worthy of Time
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This month began with a weary soul.  The soul, though weary, was happy - content in her role as mother, wife and homemaker - but a soul that somewhere along the way had left herself and the things that made her her, behind.  Consumed by those roles, passions which once lit her up before the powerful, luminous light of “wife” and “mother” was bestowed upon her, had drifted out to sea.  Ultimately, her life had more purpose than she’d thought possible.  But as time passed, like a hand plunging into soapy dish water, cautiously searching for any pieces left behind, she, too, was searching; probing for any remanences of herself she may have unknowingly, or otherwise, left behind.  Tirelessly, she quarried through the rubble of laundry, housework and other routine duties comprising her days and nights.  As the day drew to a close like every other and she tucked her sweet babies into their beds, their goodnight kisses brought a gleaming warmth to her tired soul, and in that blissful moment, quietened the search often tallying emotional weight to her existence. 

Ten minutes for myself, every day, for thirty days. Seems manageable, right?  Not necessarily.  There are many minutes in a day when I'm not chasing my children, when I’m alone and uninterrupted.  But rarely time when I’m not accomplishing an act of service for my family or working from home.  Most days, my “me time” is spent crawling into bed and planning things many might consider unworthy of mentioning, such as when I'll shower next, as I drift off to sleep. 

As time passes and my children grow, some aspects of life become easier while others become harder.  Through my almost-six-years as a mother, I've come to the conclusion that parenting doesn’t get easier over time.  Instead, it introduces different challenges with each transient year. 

Life with children, a husband, a home and a job definitely has me on a merry-go-round, demanding thought-out structure and consistency in order to keep its course.  Schedules must be made and followed to obtain order.  I proudly observe my schedule; carefully calculated to flow through daily tasks efficiently.  Like a puzzle, it all fits together; however, once presented with this challenge, I realize there is something unaccounted for.  The responsibilities I've been allotted consume me to a point where I sometimes forget to consider an incredibly-crucial part, the very foundation of our family’s intricate puzzle, firmly keeping its center intact – the caregiver: myself and my wellbeing. 

What would a puzzle be if time wasn't taken to find each piece and carefully complete its border?  I am deserving of the effort.  My hobbies, my passions, my soul – all missing pieces worthy of the chance to be found and nurtured.  So, I’ve revamped my schedule, allotting time for crocheting, prayer, friendships, writing and yoga.  I’ve picked up my crochet hook and began to create - not for a customer or my children, but for myself - quietly inviting my Maker to pour into and make whole my weary soul.  I’ve made time for friendships, time to call or go for coffee.  When I can, I sit in the sunlight beaming through the window and write, giving voice to the words of my heart, allowing them to flow through and wash back over me, replacing my restlessness with contentment.  In quiet moments, I retrieve my yoga mat, pose and focus solely on my breathing, the pull of my muscles and the pounding in my chest - casting aside any thought trying to penetrate my tranquility.  For the sake of ten minutes and a mind cleared of the hustle and bustle of my responsibilities, I become my main priority - something I hadn’t considered in a long while.  By doing so, my spirit awakes.  She dances freely to the rhythm of my heart and to the song my soul passionately sings, as the long-lost pieces of me begin to wash ashore. 

Beginning the search to find unfamiliar pieces of myself is a journey unto itself, and one that may require a lifetime to complete.  I was convinced I had figured out entirely who I was - what I held to be of utmost importance and what I aspired to be.  The desires of my heart seemed clear, but once I began to retrieve those scattered pieces on the shore, I was faced with things barely recognizable - parts I was unaware had gone missing in the first place.  Their level of importance had little to do with the fact they were unfounded or forgotten, but simply, as I grew, life and motherhood swept me up and carried me away.  Suddenly, looking at what lay behind me isn't as demanding as the gifts I've discovered before me. 

As pieces come back, I understand things about my present self, the deeply-rooted qualities I possess, driving me to react to circumstances in the manor I do.  Focusing on working through personal battles as they resurface throughout the journey brings peace to the restless parts of me; those areas I was once unaware needed calming. Parts I love and have missed dearly are revealed, the familiarizing with these long-lost treasures of my soul bringing colossal joy.  One thing I’ve come to realize, though, is how much I have grown, and I now understand how both trials and beauty I have been graciously given will continue to shape me.  The woman before motherhood I once knew seems so foreign to the woman I have become, and the growth in my life thus far brings me great pride. 

I hope my expressions have revealed just how crucial it is to carve out time.  So, it’s time to learn, time to dive into the search of your soul and time to discover who you really are and to reunite with pieces missing.  It’s time to work through past chapters left abandoned, unfinished; time to find the divine purpose of motherhood and all it has to offer. Pouring yourself into the life of your family is a magnificent responsibility, one you should not tackle without insuring you yourself do not run dry in the process. 

A mistake I often make is having high expectations.  Expectations of people or possessions to fill places within often render me empty and barren.  I’ve come to realize it is unfair to have such hopes.  Sure, you can look to your partner, family, friends - whatever outlet you see fit to bring fruit to your branches - however, you and your Creator, alone, know your true strengths and weaknesses.  Therefore, those are the only outlets we should expect to fill and nurture.  We should continue to make a conscious effort to make the process of self-pursuit a priority.  This process, containing one meaningful revelation after another, has the potential to allow you to begin learning all you are composed of and, to cultivate unending personal growth.  Your hobbies and passions, those left-behind pieces drifting aimlessly out to sea, are desperately yearning for the cries of your searching soul, calling them home. Ten minutes for yourself, every day, for thirty days - it takes effort, but I promise you, my darling, you are worthy.

Journalist: Emily Earle