to the ones who won't get a card this weekend

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Creative Commons - Gates Foundation
"To all the unselfish moms out there who traded salon cuts for pony tails, designer bags for diaper bags ..." So it begins.

The barrage of Mother's Day messages.  For the next four days, we will be cobbled with sentimentality everywhere we look - TV, social media, grocery stores, restaurants.  Don't get me wrong, I love my kids.  I love being a mother more than I could say.  But this year, the Mother's Day sentiment has made me cringe.

I picture Faith Wambua, singing and 'playing dead' with her two small children in a Nairobi mall.  Her hand rests on her baby as she keeps him still and quiet for five hours to avoid being killed.  Five hours.  Can you imagine?  I picture her lying on that tile floor, and tears rise from my chest.  Mothering is so, so hard.

I think of the missing Nigerian girls right now, and of the women who mother them - the mothers and aunts and sisters and friends who are, right this minute, pacing their kitchens. Wondering if she is hungry or alone, and how scared she must be.  I think about it, but only for a second, because I can't stand the thought very long.  I would be wild with fear and anger.  I marvel at how those women can get through their day.

And of the woman in the Haitian earthquake a few years ago who talked and sang to her trapped son for days until he died.  To sit on the ground while your child is squeezed under it ... for hours that stretch out forever ... until eventually he just stops crying.  The weight of that moment, the helplessness and loss.  Mothering is so, so hard.

I think of our own failed adoption.  The dreams I had, the mistakes I made that I will never be able to make right.  All of the potential and love and hope.  Gone.  Or of the mother who just spent week 29 of a very scary pregnancy in a hospital bed, trying not to move and hoping beyond reason her baby stays alive.  Mothering is so hard.

I think too of the women who devote their energy to nurturing those given to them.  A dear friend who will never give birth, who spends her days comforting and praying for her friends.  She too feels the heft of mothering, the longing and the weight of a love that demands to be given away. Or my dear single friend who pours her life into my kids.  She knows all the secrets to get my toddler to sleep, she comforts my son when he's anxious.  She understands there is a moment in roasting green beans when the kids will eat every single one.  Leave them in the oven another second, they burn, and the kids won't touch them.  My friends are mothering, too.

It is a sacred weight, ordinary and beautiful, marked by sacrifice and rejection and fear.  Yet we long for it, beg God for it - for the bonds that link us both to those we nurture and to one another.  The life of a mother is both universal and unimaginably different, but in the face of so many complexities, we all do what humans must do to survive.  We simplify.  We conjure the picture we can most easily draw, and we honor the predictability of an ordinary mom.  Of the moms like me.

We aren't wrong for what we do.  But this year, I am aware of how incomplete the image is.  I am thinking of Faith Wambua and the Haitian mother and my infertile and single friends and my own loss.  This year I will honor all of it, the sacred and the ordinary, the hurts I cannot fathom and the ones I know too well.  I will remember all mothers this week.

Peace to you all this Mother's Day.


  1. This is beautiful, Stephanie.

  2. Thank you for remembering and writing about all the kinds of mothers and all kinds of hardships. I've thought about this before and it hits me again - both the pains and the joys of mothering.



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