Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Some miscellaneous thoughts for your Mother’s Day:

1. Isn’t it cool that Mother’s Day is in spring? It makes me very happy to come out of the church into sunshine and blooming flowers. Spring is the best time for Mother’s Day because it is a holiday about renewal—renewing my own resolve to do better, renewing my own forgiveness of myself and my weaknesses, renewing my faith in the atonement, renewing my gratitude to my own mother, renewing my belief in the power of women.

2. I spend too much time on Mother’s Day thinking of my own mothering, and not enough time thinking about my own mother, and about motherhood in general. The guy who taught our Relief Society lesson today (interesting strategy, no? Can’t say I agree with it because any time you have a guy teaching women on Mother’s Day you’re going to get a lot of the Angel Mother stories and various apologetics which I hate—but this guy did a valiant job and actually made me think some) made the not-so-original comparison of priesthood and motherhood which always makes me wriggle a little but which I don’t 100% disagree with. But he did say it in a way I hadn’t heard before: he compared the office of high priest WITHIN the priesthood to the office of Mother WITHIN motherhood. Some of us hold the office of mother now, or at various times in our earth life, he said, but that is not the same as motherhood in general.

And so it follows to ask what exactly is motherhood if it is not the state (or office) of being a mother?

I’m not sure I agree with this very nice man’s answers to that question but I think it’s worth pondering.

The thing is that it’s hard to isolate what it is that women have access to, by virtue of having ovaries, that men don’t. But that thinking is flawed because it has as its premise something that may not be necessarily true: that only women can exercise this power of motherhood. When we assume that, we start looking for whatever it is that women have that men can’t have, and that gets us in trouble. None of us feels comfortable claiming that nurturing is solely the province of women (or gentleness, or parenthood, or any of the other virtues people extol on Mother’s Day). But I wonder if it’s really necessary to identify and celebrate certain virtues as belonging more to women than to men in order to understand and celebrate motherhood itself. Going back to the comparison with the priesthood, I have always felt that in some ways I share the priesthood with my husband, that the two of us together form a priesthood unit, and that there is a lot we have yet to really understand about how the priesthood is administered through certain individuals for the benefit of others. Could it be possible that motherhood is the same? Could there be ways that motherhood is shared among parents, among all who accept the responsibility to nurture those around him or her?

Worth thinking about . . .

3. Missionary work and motherhood really are the same thing. There are all sorts of offices in this life, but they are all the same thing: nurture those around you and yourself. Be in the business of saving souls.

4. I tend to think too much about motherhood as it relates to ME and not enough about the other women in my life (particularly my own mother) on Mother’s Day. I think that’s a sin I need to repent of. And so I have tried to spend some time thinking of my own mother today, and wondering what sorts of things she would want me to be thinking about her.

First, since I don’t know my mom very well now, and didn’t know her all that well, as an adult, before she died, I’ve thought a lot about what kind of person she was. If I moved into a ward that she was in, would we be friends? (And, it follows to ask, were we friends before we came here? Will we be friends in the next life?) And I’m absolutely convinced that the answer to that one is yes, yes, yes. She was down-to-earth, earnest in her faith, happiest when serving but also able to spend time just having fun and enjoying herself. Yes, I think we would be pals, and we would hang out together, go to chic flicks together, enjoy book group together. She would be one of my gang for sure.

Second, since I know what it’s like to be a mother and what a mother’s deepest fears are, I can imagine what sort of compliments would mean the most to her. And I have no hesitation in paying them, so here goes:

Mom, I consider your work with me to have been 100% successful. Although (as is the case in all families) I am aware of weaknesses that you had as a person and a mother, I think that you were successful in spite of them, and I have forgiven you for them. You taught me joy—joy of service, of worship, of reading, of food, of springtime, of music, of nurturing others. I can’t think of any better definition of a good mother. You also convinced me that I was valuable. And you gave me the habits of faith that have sustained me when you couldn’t be with me. I know you’ve been near me at times, and don’t doubt that you watch over me and my children.

I’m curious about the relationships that other grown women have with their living mothers. Do you talk to your mother on Mother’s Day? Is it awkward? (I bet it is. “Hi, Mom. Tradition dictates that I tell you I love you and am grateful to you today, so I am.” All the phoniness of visiting teaching, I imagine.) I’d like to hear about your relationships with your mothers.

And as a Mother’s Day present to you, here are a few of my poems about motherhood. (It seems I have quite a few. Maybe I SHOULD assemble a Mother’s Day chapbook sometime.)

Since You Were Born
by Darlene Young

Since you were born I’ve never been alone,
never will be, standing now at zero on a line
that stretches out forever to the right.
Always at the edges of my sight
you pull at me, your dance a haunting grace.
Nevermore I’ll live in just one place:
my restless senses stretch like tentacles into
other rooms and lives to protect you.

Since you were born, I’ve stood upon a cliff,
exposed to gales until I’m stony stiff
with fear, which I disguise as rules or whims
to keep you safe. Humming the hymn
of “all is well” to soothe myself, I stride
ahead. But dizzy with an inward tide,
the wash and pull between “enough” and “should,”
I flinch. Constant atonement, motherhood.

Since you were born there comes sometimes at night
a sense there’s something dark that I must fight
without a sword. At night, upon my chest
you and all your children’s children rest,
a leaden handicap of dread, of grace.
The future is both straightjacket and brace;
for though I gasp, I must admit the cost
of breath is just: untethered, I’d be lost—

because, since you were born, I’ve tasted fruit
I never knew could grow from the thin root
of my cold life. I’ve savored all your grins,
your honeyed sleep, the freshness of your skin—
delicious. This new fruit is more than sweet;
my tongue prickles with terror as I eat.
But even terror lends a tang: it’s joy,
since you were born. My son, it tastes like joy.

Given and Giver
by Darlene Young

tears and milk and sweat.
filling and draining, at once,
I thirst.

Hurtling through the day,
or else meandering
(both perilous, both right)

haunted and hungry,
yet blossoming, widening,
I abound as I yearn.

A whole universe
to some, and still
less than the dust.

Bent forward, I fret,
bent back to regret.
waver and wash to and fro.

Careen, sometimes,
with joy or fear,
but still it is a dance.

Ebb and flow,
enfold and reach,
wait and watch,
weep and sing.

By Darlene Young

I got your jewelry, a couple of scarves and an old dress
I claimed just because it looked like you.

But familiar though the earrings are, the scarf, the dress,
the emerald pin, no matter how I squint into the past
I can't make out your face and now I fear
I never really saw it. Being a mother too,
this worries me.

But also when you died I got your books
and, reading them, I find you after all.
Your voice, your voice, with sweetest clarity,
rings through the words you chose to share with me.

And so in fear of leaving my kids motherless--
and as a feeble recompense for all the times
I sneak into their rooms at night
to beg forgiveness from their twitching eyelids
for the petty strictness of my ways--
the one thing I make sure of all my days
is that they get my voice.

Stories they will build their worlds on, stories
teaching how to yearn, tales that break
their hearts apart then knit them back
a little softer—all the words I got from you.

Your voice in mine will carry on
in their bright dreams after I'm gone.


Ang said...

Darlene, my wise friend. I was just thinking the other day how lucky I am to have a friend as wise as you. Beautiful post, as always. And beautiful poetry, as ever. Thank you.

Reluctant Nomad said...

"Although (as is the case in all families) I am aware of weaknesses that you had as a person and a mother, I think that you were successful in spite of them, and I have forgiven you for them."

I loved this and hope my kids can say this about me one day.