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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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Arts + CultureCultureA Mother's Day lament (and celebration of all who...

A Mother’s Day lament (and celebration of all who nurture)

A reflection on the recent loss of my mother, and the wider circle of those who help us through life

Have you been thinking about May 14? It’s Mother’s Day, that special day when sellers of flowers, vendors of handmade cards, and servers of brunch rejoice if you remember your mom’s or grandma’s specialness (and tip well)? Or maybe you are a mom, already salivating in anticipation of the misshapen pancakes your kids will serve and the drawings that crack open your heart, displayed to wilt and curl for years on your refrigerator?

Or, maybe you are sailing in an entirely different ship, the one whose deck I fell onto on April 16 of this year when my 90-year-old mother died. She had been giving hospital staff hell just one day prior on Saturday and on Sunday, decided she’d rather continue the game somewhere new and leapt to an alternative playground. Specifically, my mom—a feisty woman who loved a good joke, was curious about everything except mathematics, and never met a book she didn’t want to read—would probably chuckle and approve the language if I said she is mothering me and my sisters remotely, virtually, from now on.

With her death, I became an orphan, having said goodbye too soon to my father in 2021, and to my truly kind and loving in-laws in the two years before that. Which means family members remaining on Earth’s horizon are sparse, and I and my husband have moved forward in line. That is, if sequentiality is certain when it comes to births and deaths, which we all know is a fallacy.

But getting back to May 14 and Mother’s Day and pondering what it all means, I at first allowed myself to sink into moroseness. Oh, the miracle to have a mom, be she gentle or fearsome; to love a mom despite at times having extreme loathing enter the picture; and then, to be with or without that mom.

Which led me to think about people who never know their mothers, or, as in the case of my son, who is adopted, who never know a birth mother. My son knows his real mom with no uncertainty (or I’ll be first to tell him in a loud voice, “It’s me, forever,” if he forgets or has doubt). But thinking about my mom and my role as a mom led me to think about mothering in general. That seemed vastly more important than a holiday fabricated to boost commerce, and broader than the sorry-for-me perspective that felt tiresome and selfish and left me feeling only grumpy.

Rising above other questions was this whole idea of mothering. What is it? Can only those people whose bodies produce babies provide mothering? After all, I have never “made a baby,” but gosh darn it all (the closest my father ever came to swearing), I sure have mothered that young person who is now a man. 

I swiftly latched onto that idea and realized that to me, mothering isn’t something delivered by or received exclusively from a cisgender woman, or a woman who has given birth, or someone assigned as a woman at birth and who later identifies as trans, non-binary, lesbian, queer, or another designation. Nope, I say if you have a dad, or two dads, or a parent or caretaker of any gender identity who sticks with you through the toughest times, you are being mothered. If you and the “mother-er” can shout, fight, fidget, refuse to forget and struggle to forgive, but that person never, ever gives up on finding or at least trying to find love for you, you have been mothered.

Just as no one owns the color red or the sky or clouds or particles and molecules too small for us to see, but upon which we are reliant to sustain life, no one owns mothering.

So on Mother’s Day, I will celebrate not only Mary Fancher, but the neighbor up the street who sometimes drops off extra groceries, and another, a man who exchanges potted plants for jazz CDs I leave on his stoop. And there is a friend from high school who miraculously still makes me laugh on the rare, precious occasions we manage to see each other, and a long ago Horton teacher who helped me believe a gangly kid from the midwest could make a career in ballet, and there is even and especially, my spouse, who has mothered me through all those times when the woman I called “mom” wasn’t nearby. These people are mothering me, no doubt about it.

So this Sunday, lift your glass—or bouquets/cards/candy/gifts if you must—but certainly, lift your hearts and salute whoever it is that is, was, or might someday provide mothering for you. You might find there are many mothers in your life. I know I will—having thought these thoughts and written them down, I might even stop thinking of myself as an orphan.

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