My biological mom died twenty years ago, but Mother’s Day still stirs the memory of her as if she were still here, home with Dad in their little house in Kentucky. Her last years weren’t her best; she couldn’t remember our names or who were were in the family hierarchy. When we gathered for our folks’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, she ate butter for dinner and insisted that I pour her wine exactly to the top of the glass.
When I finally managed to push the limits of surface tension in the glass, she settled down to playing with her blouse buttons, and ignored the rest of us (and the overfilled wine glass) completely. It was the last time I remember seeing Mom dressed and in a normal setting.
She wasn’t always that way, of course. When my sister and I were in our early teens, we got a wild hair to make mudpies one rainy day. Mom surprised us by hauling out the wheelbarrow and joining in the messy fun. I must have looked bewildered when she rounded the corner of the house with that wheelbarrow, because she said to me, “This is the last time I’ll see my children playing in the mud. I don’t want to miss it.”
Moms come in all shapes and sizes and with a wild variety of personalities and parenting skills. I’ve been a mom, too, and it’s not all that easy. Loving your children is the joyful, natural and practically brainless part. It’s raising them well that makes your stomach ache and sprouts the gray hair. Most of us manage to botch the job thoroughly on occasion, even with the best of intentions.
There is something about that tension between maternal loving and living—tenderness bound by steel—that draws me in. A child enters your life and for years afterward you live in the chaos of trying to shape them safely into their future without destroying their uniqueness, and mostly you can’t figure any of it out in advance. Basically you really don’t know how you’re doing until your chance to change it is long past.
I often think Mother Earth is suffering a similar angst with her human children. We are filled with possibilities, eager to try every new thing that catches our attention, convinced we will live forever, blind to the messes we make in the process of growing up.
So, Happy Mother’s Day — to you, Mom, wherever you may be, and to you, Mother Earth. Both of you gave me life, and sheltered me, and fed me, and tried your best to see that I grew into a compassionate, responsible, happy adult. I hope you are thinking all that effort was worth it.