I was a bit down about Mother's Day this past week; it wasn't my finest week as a mother. I feel, often, that motherhood is a lot of sacrifice for very few moments of give-back. I think this is exacerbated by all the moving because there are few people filling my bucket (so to speak), so I rely a lot on the people in this house. That can be hazardous, expecting an eleven-year-old and twelve-year-old to bring their A-game of tenderness, appreciation and affection.
But last night, my husband took them to Rite Aid (of all places) to shop for me, and when they came home they were so excited and running around wrapping gifts, I couldn't help but smile. How lovely is it to have someone giddy about handing you a package of caramel-filled M&Ms?
It's really lovely.
Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, to be sure. I now am full of regrets and wishes for do-overs with regard to my own upbringing and the large amounts of crap I put my mother through. That she still speaks to me is a testament to the absolute biological nature of parenting rather than any rational thought on her part.
I love you, Mom.
Here are a few of my favorite paintings (and one photograph) of motherhood. The first, the Renoir, I used to sit and stare at when I was a kid. My mother had two art book stacked on the coffee table, and when I was bored (and there was no technology back then), I moped around the house looking for something to do. That often led to the art books and the sofa and hours spent looking at this one painting and thinking deep thoughts.
My favorites, beyond the Renoir, are the Gari Melchers painting, and this last photograph, so iconic: Migrant Mother. I suppose those two works feel closest to the time in which I am a mother, so they seem more relevant to me somehow.
I think Mary Cassatt depicts motherhood the best, overall, however. There is something in her paintings that seems so natural, like she conveys feeling and a sense of place more than the actual subjects.
I obviously know nothing about art. As I get older, however, I keeping pulling toward the arts and wish I had a better background to understand all of it better.
Finally, this poem about motherhood struck me. That isn't to say I love the message (or even wholly agree with it) but somehow it resonates. I read it over and over again, and I kept thinking: this is good. This is a good, solid poem. There are parts of this poem that are hard to read but that never feel dramatic or misused, if that makes sense.
I've never heard of Maggie Smith; now I want to know more.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
And as I kept reading through poems, I came across this:
Stephen Dunn, 1939
When Mother died
I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable
yet I’ve since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who’ve been loved by their mothers.
I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she’d live,
how many lifetimes there are
in the sweet revisions of memory.
It’s hard to know exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,
but I remembered when I was twelve,
1951, before the world
unbuttoned its blouse.
I had asked my mother (I was trembling)
if I could see her breasts
and she took me into her room
without embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.
Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who’ve never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancer,
feel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breasts
when girls my age were developing
their separate countries,
she didn’t doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,
perhaps to suck them,
what would she have done?
Mother, dead woman
who I think permits me
to love women easily,
is dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficient
and to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.
So now I have to go and read up on Stephen Dunn.
I'll stop there. My children and I have been eating the caramel M&Ms as I go about this blog post. They come sit with me in bed and say, "Maybe one more?" I said I hoped the bag would last the entire week (hahahah), and my son said, "More like the entire hour!"
It didn't last even that long.
Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers, daughters and sons out there. We're all one, if not the other as well.