Our last day of motherhood stories. Thank you for letting me share my friends here this week.
Mother’s Day is perhaps hardest for the women who’ve faced a mother’s unimaginable fear–losing a child. We can expand our sweet and shiny view of motherhood to include paths that are challenging–infertility, single moms, disability–but loss is a hard one to shine light on. It hurts just to think about it. And yet, it is a part of many mom’s stories. My friend Sukey Forbes carries the grief of losing a child–her daughter Charlotte died when she was six. But she also has two children on earth whom she celebrates with Charlotte’s memories. I’m honored to have Sukey’s words about grief, living, and the balance of loving children in two different places on Mother’s Day. You can read more from Sukey on her website and her book, The Angel in my Pocket.
My middle child is an angel. Really. She has been an angel for 13 years now. The other two have their moments.
Charlotte died at the age of six, and Mother’s Day, like all holidays, is now bittersweet.
Ever since my first child was born I have thought that Mother’s Day and birthdays were celebrated backwards. I spent my entire first Mother’s Day reveling in the sheer delicious perfection of the soul encased in blue eyes and and round belly with pudgy fingers and toes and a personality that revealed itself more vividly by the day. I pondered how my sweet boy had changed from a tiny baby with limbs folded in on himself to a gurgling, wiggling, ravenous devourer of pureed peas. Recollections of the challenges, the joys, the firsts, the physical and mental exhaustion filled my heart. The day’s focus for me was entirely on honoring my cherubic child and marveling in all we experienced during the year. And then came the second child. And then the third. Each year on Mother’s Day the highlight reel of kissing skinned knees, building sand castles and jumping in puddles plays through my head accompanied by a cheesy soundtrack. Depending on the year the playlist has ranged from “Rockabye Baby” to “Be My Baby” on up to “Yakkety Yak, Don’t Talk Back” and now even a bit of “Cat’s Cradle”.
Grief, in the softer moments, reminds us to savor the sweet when it presents itself. Mother’s Day has continued to be for me the day to consider what it is to be a mother and to remind my children of how deeply they are loved and appreciated. It is a balancing act caring for two children and grieving for their sister who is now an angel. As a mother, making sure that in a reasonable expanse of time, none of my children gets more attention at the expense of the others has been tested in every possible way. I have worked mightily to not let my grief take up more space than active mothering of Charlotte’s surviving siblings. They needed love, guidance and attention more than ever after the rupture in our family. Equal attention to children and grief was particularly challenging in the early days when I could barely force myself to get out of bed and get the family fed, let alone emotionally nurture anyone. Yet I do believe that my long term commitment to balancing time and attention between angel and earthly children allowed our family to maintain some level of normalcy during a most raw and painful time.
The reflection on motherhood for me is tinged with melancholy for the mothering that I did not get to give my daughter Charlotte beyond her first six years of life. On Mother’s Day I do the best I can to keep the focus on the blessing and experience of each of my children, the two who are living on any given day in various stages of angelic grace and the one who is an angel now and for always. For me, Mother’s Day is about mothers honoring relationships with each of their children. While handwritten love letters and breakfast in bed are a lovely treat, it feels more healing to my heart to be the one bestowing the love and appreciation upon the greatest blessings in my life.
Nici Holt Cline
Nici’s one of my favorite friends to introduce to people, and I like to show her off because having her as a friend makes me look cool. Her life is really beautiful–and not, like, shiny staged beautiful. It’s real life art, and the beauty that pours out often comes from the purpose Nici puts in. She is a beautiful homemaker, raising her two girls in Montana, teaching them how to do all her favorite things–garden and sew and make bread, art, friendships, meaning. Watching her mother, you’d assume she’s dreamed of this role her life. But before she was braiding hair and sewing nightgowns, Nici was an artist whose path to her dreams didn’t involve distractions like kids. And now…here she is. I’m so happy to have my friend in this space again today, sharing how she got here. You can find more of Nici on her website or follow her Instagram. And hopefully later his year, I’ll be sitting in her kitchen, doing one of my favorite things–talking about motherhood, womanhood and loving people with one of my best friends.
I didn’t want to be a mom. I mean, I was open to changing my mind but I wasn’t like so many of my childhood friends who knew in their bones they’d be a mama. I just didn’t have that unwavering compulsion. And the more I said that out loud the more resolute and defensive I became. Because, for some reason, many take a young woman’s choice to not procreate personally.
I met my husband when we were 12, we started dating at 19. By the time we married at 27, my grandma had been urging us to get knocked up for a good two years. One time someone asked when we’d get pregnant and I said, “Not sure. When was the last time you had sex?” I was so irritated with the small talk about my fecundity. How are you today? My, nice weather. You look ripe. Are you ovulating? When I did express my thoughts — that I was unsure, that I loved my career, that I wanted to travel, that I just didn’t know like other people know — the response was usually rife with zero curiosity or trust and lots of judgment. You know, “you’ll regret it!” or “what a pity!”
Then our grandparents died. My grandma, Andy’s grandpa, Andy’s grandma. Death softened me to imagining birth. Especially with the passing of my last grandparent. The last time I saw her she pulled her arthritic pinkie fingers across my scalp as she french braided my hair and when I asked her if she was afraid she looked into me and said she was dying a happy woman because of THIS.
It was five years later that I was shocked to see those two lines show up on the pregnancy test. I took five tests. Impossible. We used birth control. I had just gotten into graduate school in Chicago. My world was spinning. I wanted this? I wanted THIS.
I have always known there are lots of ways to satisfied life, an authentic life, a rich life. Early in my pregnancy I made a vow to myself to not let motherhood define me, to not lose myself to motherhood. That line of thinking came from years of trying to make sense of the implications of parenthood on my life path. Years of wanting to say the right thing at the right time for others’ approval. Having it all! I gave up defending my choices, trying to convince others (because, yes, I also got raised-eyebrow earfuls from colleagues and friends about “not letting go of my dreams” when I deferred grad school and then never went). I gave up on that bullshit and I gave in to my very own raw, uncharted, heart-aching adventure. Turns out I am the one in charge of my dreams. And, for me, motherhood released my truest self.
As for not losing myself to motherhood? Truth is I’ve never been much good at resisting the glory of getting lost.
I’m off to Seattle tomorrow to be part of the Terrible, Thanks for Asking live show. (Close by? Come!!) So an early Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who’s ever loved a mama and to all the different kinds of mamas loving babies and children and students and nieces and nephews and friends. To embracing all the heartache and love this weekend holds and making something beautiful with it.