Mother’s Day

JESSIE-W-S-MOTHER-DAUGHTER

Moving Picture

God, I thank you for the mom you lent me to,
and for too short a time it often seems…
much more I could have learned from her
about serenity, I find, now that I know what
she went through. Well. What an education
from my infancy, to see her resurrected from
her private hell, and learn to celebrate her
victory.

Oh, I hated her and spurned her hugs and
turned to Dad for love instead. I only knew
she went away and when she stayed she
drank too much and stank of wine and
cigarettes; the house was always an
embarrassment (I’d yet to learn that life itself
is messy)… well—except my siblings’ rooms
and Daddy’s dresser—little islands gleaming
in their tidiness amid the chaos that my
mother left for Alma to bring order out of,
goddess that she was, on Tuesdays, nine to
five, and Friday afternoons.

Dear God, I praise you for this mother and
the love she kept in escrow for me when
I came of age, and that I did so while
she lived; I thank you that we had those
years of friendship. When I carried Marian,
I asked my mother, What if I don’t love
my baby?
(I was, after all, the youngest.
What could I know of an infant’s captivating
winsomeness? I’d been unlovable enough
myself, unkind, to punish her, as if she didn’t
have her share and more of torment.) And
she told me, You would walk through fire—
no, you would run through hell to save
your child.
And so I have, for all of them.
And so I would again.

Father-Mother, thank you for the scent of
Shalimar that sometimes drifts by… through
the window… from the sky. And thank you
for the memories, which are not fixed like
pictures in a book; they are alive, as she is,
very near, I often sense. And I can see her
now, the way she’d sit, one leg tucked under
her, in tennies on her favorite chair, and how
I wish I hadn’t sold it years ago to pay the
rent. She would have told me to, however.
No regrets, then. Now she sits on air.

Creator, thank you for my funny mom,
who would have looked around, as I do
now, at papers, manuscripts, and laundry,
at the baskets full of miscellany, at the dishes,
pots, and pans; and she would not have
been dismayed. Well. She had Dad and
I have cats. I can’t say Dad was much more
help than they are, not indoors, at any rate,
although he kept the bills paid, did the yard,
and loved us all inordinately, as fathers must.
He didn’t dust, however, nor did Mom,
except for company, and that, once I had
learned how wise she was, how rare and
good, was fine with me. Amen.

Forever Pregnant

The Unselfish Automobile and the Good Christian

Detail from "Views of a Fetus in the Womb," da Vinci

Detail from "Views of a Fetus in the Womb," da Vinci

When I was a child in Presbyterian Sunday school, I was taught that being a good Christian means being unselfish. Somehow I interpreted this to mean that my wants and needs were unimportant… that I had been put on earth exclusively to Serve Others.

This was a troubling concept, but it didn’t cause much of a problem until I was out of my teens. During one’s adolescence, it’s almost impossible not to be self-centered and self-aware. I think it’s a hormonal thing.

By the time I was twenty, I was married with an infant. Self-abnegation is a poor basis for marriage and motherhood. I was a slave to my husband and my baby. I was unhappy – but wasn’t that okay, since God wanted me to Serve Others and to be Unselfish?

At that time I owned a 1960 Mercury Comet. Like me, my Mercury had been created to serve. It was unselfish. But in order to serve, its basic needs had to be met. It needed fuel. It had a hydraulic clutch (or something) that needed to be filled from time to time. It needed regular oil changes. It required maintenance and occasional repairs.

Eventually I learned that I too required maintenance and occasional repairs. Without receiving, I became unable to give.

Over the years, I have found that giving and receiving are inseparable. Think of a lake that has an outlet — a stream flowing out of it — but no source of fresh water. Soon the lake will dry up. It will no longer be able to sustain fish or waterfowl. It will have no beauty to be enjoyed. It will be unable to cool and entertain swimmers on hot summer days.

When I discovered that I, like the Mercury Comet and the lake, had needs that could not be ignored, I learned a great deal about myself and about how the world works. Knowing myself better, I took better care of myself. I made wiser choices. I was happier, and so were the people around me.

I now believe that people — women and men alike — should always treat themselves as if they are pregnant. Caring for oneself beautifully and wisely during pregnancy is, as it happens, the best way to care for one’s developing fetus. And I believe that there is a sense in which we are all, always, “pregnant” with our future selves. We carry inside us the embryo of what we will become.

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