mothers…it’s complicated

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children..”
John Steinbeck


(a bluebird nest with two remaining eggs that never made it / Julie Cook / 2017)

Perhaps it does indeed Mr Steinbeck,
perhaps it does take courage…..

It should come as no surprise that no matter whether you’re young or old,
Republican or Democrat,
Christian or Muslim,
Jew or Baptist,
liberal or conservative,
black, white, brown, red, yellow…
alive or even dead…
the one single thing that I think is safe to assume for every last one of us,
a matter in which we may all find common ground…
and is surely a topic which we can each unite upon is…..

the single fact that we have all have had a mother!

Oh we’ve had a father too, but since today is earmarked for all things mothers…
mothers shall be the focus.

Mothers and motherhood…

It’s complicated.
Ask any mother….

And getting more and more complicated with each passing day I fear.
Because that role, that contribution, that definition is now morphing faster
than I can blink my eyes..

There was a time in history when more women died from complications with childbirth
than from anything else.

So it would be safe in assessing that birthing is not a piece of cake.
Then there is the raising…

Some of us are better at the whole motherhood thing than others…
Pintrest being probably the current best portal into
the realm of successful mothering and of those who are up for the current year’s awards.

Yet we each must admit….that during the course of a lifetime….that we have…
loved our mothers,
hated our mothers,
loathed our mothers,
divorced our mothers,
disowned our mothers,
liked our mothers,
acknowledged our mothers,
ignored our mothers,
not claimed our mothers,
never known our mothers,
been angry at our mothers,
been embarrassed by our mothers,
cried over our mothers,
missed our mothers……

but in the end…
we each must admit…for good or bad, we had a mother…

And petri dishes and test tubes aside…

Some of us are good at mothering and nurturing and loving….
and some of us, not so much.

Some of us want a boatload of children while…
some of us give away the only child we had.

Some of us “mother” children who we did not birth,
as some of us choose our children….
while still others are given the children they are to raise.

Some of us mothers are actually fathers who have had to take on the role of mother
for a variety of reasons…

So yes, this one simple fact of a mother, mothering, motherhood…
is complicated.

I am not a Catholic…so no one can accuse me of bias or blindness…
but there is one thing I know for certain, that being the example we have been given as to
what a tremendous job mothering can demand…
an example is found in a simple woman named Mary.

Oh we all have some notion about Mary–something akin to a fairytale really.
An image of a benign gentle face, adorned with white shroud with blue tunic,
hands tenderly folded as her unblemished face looks lovingly down upon mankind
from atop some heavenly throne as the stars dance around her head….

And that may very well be how things are for her now…in Heaven….

But I actually think of a young dark haired, olive skinned Jewish woman who’s hands
are calloused as her feet are dusty…
She is neither fair haired nor do flowers adorn her beauty.

Oh she is indeed most blessed among women, but she is also greatly burdened.

She carries in her heart a burden none of us shall ever know.
We may glimpse her burden, her pain, her hidden anguish…but we will not know
exactly her magnitude.

I see her the day she is angry at this strange yet gentle son of hers who speaks with
adult leaders as though he is one of them…

I see her when he becomes lost to her for days during a family trip.
Literally lost, as in gone.
He is young and seemingly naive to the ways of a dangerous Palestine under Roman Occupation.
Panic has taken hold of her as she and her husband desperately search.

Has your child ever been out of your sight for even just a minute or two
and for those moments of uncertainty, did you not feel that nauseating hold on time,
the feeling of drowning without being under water…?

And I see her releasing both relief and anger as she finds him comfortable and selfishly lost
in his own time with no apparent concern that perhaps his family had been anxious
during the three day search.

There were no phones, no Amber alerts, no police who would aid in the search.
And yet, he is among the elders, teaching.
In his mind, a perfectly normal place for him to be
but so frustratingly odd for her….

What does the mother of God do?
Does she yell, punish, reprimand, perhaps even ground him…
or…
does she bite her tongue as he speaks to her words that come from some place else.
As she is pondering, wondering, bearing the burden hidden in her heart.

I next see an older woman, hair greying, the lines on her face run deep.
She is no longer young or vibrant, but tired.

She stands in the middle of an angry crowd.
She is hot after standing for hours in the midst of this pulsating mob
as her nostrils burn from the heaviness of both sweat and dust mingled
sickeningly together.

The shouts from these people, some she actually knows, pains her but pales in comparison
to the sight now standing before her.

A man striped of clothing, no dignity remaining, naked, bloody and bruised
head lowered in exhaustion.
He is bound, bleeding profusely as he is the image of a man who has
been savaged.

This is her son.

The once young, gentle naive boy who spoke of things she did not quite understand.
Her mind flashes to holding him, cradling him, soothing him as she now longs to do the same…
wishing to not only kiss away the hurt but to wash his bloody and torn skin
while shielding him from the abuse—
yet she is frozen and paralyzed knowing there is nothing she can do.

A mother who bore Salvation.

So yes, mothers, motherhood and mothering is indeed complicated
as it does indeed demand courage…from every last one of us….
Mary should know…

So on this springtime Sunday in May,
may we each remember the mothers in our lives…
with love, with forgiveness and with hope…

Happy Mother’s Day….

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2:33-35

Parenting

“St. Joseph was chosen among all men, to be the protector and guardian of the Virgin Mother of God; the defender and foster-father of the Infant-God, and the only co-operator upon earth, the one confidant of the secret of God in the work of the redemption of mankind.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux

It is enough for you to know that Mary is the Mother of Jesus…She loves us so much that she offered to God the Father His only natural Son to save His adopted sons…She is a great and inestimable treasure who encloses in herself an infinite treasure, the Son of God.”
St Padre Pio

DSCN0707
Bas Relief of the marriage of Mary and Joseph / St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

During these mystical days of Christmas, as we recall and remember the birth of the Savior of all mankind, may we also pause, taking care to reflect upon the dutiful two who were charged with the care of the very Son of God.

Examples of obedience, faithfulness, dutifulness, devotion, sacrifice and unconditional love…

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20

Mr. Mole, Continued Forgiveness and Grace

IMG_0542
(photograph: my dad circa early 1930s)

My Dad.

There is a great deal of emotion wrapped up in that simple statement. Good and bad. There is also a good dose of guilt and regret. I am not a “daddy’s” girl. My dad was never that oh so strong and ever protective figure. I spent, or I should say, wasted a great deal of energy and time regretting and resenting him over all of these many years for not being that strong male in my life. That’s not to say however that he was not there for me—on the contrary, I have always had a dad in my life. Thankfully, I still do.

My parents were never divorced or separated, except for the when my mom quietly gave up her battle with the cancer in 1986. They had married in 1953, adopting two children over the course of that marriage. My dad, being a big kid at heart, was probably the “better” parent when we were little as he doted on us at Christmas and birthdays, being most extravagant with gift giving, even though it was never affordable for him to do so, and enthusiastically enjoyed taking us to every Disney movie imaginable. Oh to be a child, in the very early 60’s, getting to go see a full length animated Disney classic at the oh so magical Fox Theater in midtown Atlanta.

A family movie night, at home, consisted of an elaborate production of setting up a screen at one end of our home’s small hallway, lugging out the 16mm projector and setting it up at the opposite end of the hallway. Woody Woodpecker was the featured film and I never tired of watching, albeit it silent, Woody getting into the same troubles view after view. I knew that obnoxious call of his from television. It was perfectly fine not hearing him on these occasions. My brother and I would lie on our stomachs with heads propped up on hands and elbows with feet tangling up in the air. Nice memories.

But if you ever read my post Forgiveness One Step At A Time, you will recall that this oh so bucolic scene of family bliss was not the norm. There was the dark umbrella of mental illness, which hung over my small family like a cloak of death waiting to claim it’s latest victim—all the while as my brother would eventually bring the very concept of “family” in our world, to its knees.

I spent a lot of time being angry with and at my dad for not being stronger—for not doing more, for being frozen with inability. For what so many today crudely say of those lacking in tenacity or a certain strength, “for having no balls”– for not taking the bull by the horns and for not working harder at saving our crumbling world. Instead he stood by watching rather hopelessly, wringing his hands all in ill effect. It seems now it is easier for him to lament that he drove my brother to madness… which is so far from the truth.

My dad has allowed himself to be a victim of my brother’s illness, and all these many years later, he constantly pulls out a picture of my now deceased brother, at a much younger age, telling any and all who will listen as to how he drove Ed to be what he was. This, always sending me in a silent fit rage as I and others gathered around continue the litany of “no, that is not true, that is not how it was”…… talk about frustration….

After my mother’s death, my father, who was not one to spend a dime except if it was your birthday or Christmas, slowly began to divest himself of some his tightly guarded and secured assets. I think there was a sense of silent guilt that my mom had not always had the new and improved things or appliances. No house updates, no upgrades or remodeling for us. No fancy vacations, luxury cars, private schools, or extravagances of any sort for us.

We were, however, never were left “wanting” as we had what we really needed. Unfortunately however my Mom was only allotted $50 a week in order to buy groceries, clothes and basically handle a family of 4—leaving very little if anything remaining for herself– no lunch with friends, no trips to clothing stores or fun afternoons out with the other moms. She was a stay-at-home mom, but always, one, who I sensed as very unhappy—a very sad unhappy woman.

It was my friends and roommates in college who gave my dad, unbeknownst to him, the moniker of Mr. Mole, as it seemed my parents never went out for adventure, movies, ball games, etc.– never venturing far from our home, which they dubbed the mole hole. The name stuck and my dear old friends always lovingly ask today how is old Mr. Mole? Only adding to that sense within me that we were not an average family…compounding any growing resentments I was already harboring.

My dad, however, has since become very generous and kind the older he has become, not that these are traits he ever lacked— old family friends always talk about how nice a guy my dad was—and that may just have been part of the trouble—he simply was too nice and naïve a guy. I feel today that perhaps he, after losing mom, after my grandmother’s death, after he retired, after becoming a grandfather, having since remarried—thought deep down that now it was “ok” to spend a little of the tightly hoarded savings and to enjoy the little family he has remaining around him—to dare to actually enjoy and live life—all however in a very conservative small way—not being able to stray too far from those silent voices that haunt him.

If it were not for my dad, my son, his only grandchild, would not have certain opportunities that he now has and enjoys. My dad has helped to take care of and provide for my small family in ways that we could not necessarily do for ourselves and we are truly indebted to his generosity. It is now that I can see and appreciate his early frugal ways as they have helped to make life today a bit easier for all of us. My son has a very close relationship with his grandfather as they are “partners in crime” and for that, I am grateful.

I believe that it is not until becoming a parent and being able to put time and space between one’s self and that of one’s own childhood that a type of healing can finally begin to coagulate. I know this is true in my own life. All of the energies I wasted being hurt, regretting, and simply being mad that I didn’t have a strong dad have, thankfully, finally melted away. God’s Grace of healing has slowly been at work in my soul—for which I am truly truly thankful.

I have indeed been blessed, on the one hand, of having that sort of relationship a growing girl needs with a strong leading male figure, that with my godfather—a long since retired Episcopal priest. He has been that stronger male in my life– the one who I could run to with all of my worries, fears and regrets….the one who has often picked up all the emotional pieces of my life—I owe him a great deal as well. And I know today that I have been actually doubly blessed. All this coming from a once very angry young woman.

It has not been until I have seen up close the mistakes I have made as a parent, the poor decisions, the things I regret, those mismanaged moments of my own parenting– as a mom, that I have finally afforded myself the ability to “forgive” my dad and to forgive myself as well. As any parent will tell you, there are no owner’s manuals given out in hospital at the time of delivery. We simply do the best we can do with the resources we have, or don’t have, and hope for the best.

I hope one day my son will be able to look back and forgive all the mistakes I have made along the way in his upbringing. As parents, it’s as if we simply walk a minefield of error…screwing up here and there, but always hoping for the best. Humans are resilient and this is a good thing.

And perhaps in all of this, age is an issue—in my case, thankfully, it is the mellowing with age that is proving a saving grace. My dad never knew I was always angry with him or resentful, that was more of an intrinsic battle I was waging— but it is certainly nice to be able to shed some of its weight. Does he continue to frustrate me? Definitely! As he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his childlike nature is simply being compounded. He is manipulative in a very passive aggressive manner. He has elevated my deceased mentally unstable brother to the level of Saint—but even that, thankfully, I am learning to let go of…

So at 53 I am getting to a place of some peace—or that is, until the next crisis rolls around 🙂 I can also say a latent “thank you” to my dad, for all that you have done and continue to do for us. Hopefully God’s work in me is on going, as I know it is, just as my previous post stated– forgiveness one step at a time—forgiveness for others, forgiveness of self– Thank God!!

I am a true believer in God’s Grace, as I am indeed a product of that Grace. I believe in healing—on a grand scale and on the smaller more subdued scale—the healing that takes place in my own heart is that of a gradual slow trickle—and that is obviously the way I need for it to be—even though I would often prefer being hit over the head and suddenly being a perfect person—but who is that perfect person? I’ve yet to meet one…
May God bless you as He continues blessing and healing me—-
Here is to Mr. Mole, my Dad.