As I grow older I have become less and less willing to celebrate commercial holidays. Maybe the blatant consumerism, the grab for more and more of the less and less money I have is fueling this resistance. Maybe it is just weariness, every month seems to hold another event to “celebrate,” decorations to pull out, hang up, put down, stow away. Why can’t my home just rest as it is for a bit, the constant shifting of the wreath on the door and moving the items on the table to clear space for the tchotchke of the moment means the stuff I really like rarely gets displayed. Have I become a curmudgeon? Is it really that the fractures in my family are more visible when holidays are quiet, when presents and picnics are not planned with anticipation around this home? This estrangement is wearing on my soul and another Mother’s Day is rolling around, must we have this day this year? I know I can’t be the only one who wishes to hide as the calendar flips to May, knowing there will be no honoring me as I question my very worth in such a basic role.
Schools build craft activities around celebrating moms, how painful it must be for the children who have no mom to take the handprint plasters and tissue paper butterflies home to, no one awaiting those treasures to fill the box and look at years later, measuring the development of the artistic and handwriting skills of each child year to year. I have one of those boxes, filled with cards and letters and art projects, a cedar chest that holds the most prized baby clothes, tiny shoes with scuffs from wobbly steps, bits of ribbon and squares of bed sheets. More than just evidence that I was a mom to those children, it reminds me of our love, of our lives together. The cedar chest is our time capsule, one that they often would search through, ruffling the contents, pushing aside the items that belonged to the other as they sought clues to their early years, asking for anecdotes they had heard many times over. This time capsule may be buried now for them but it sits still in my home, a ticking living beating heart of our story. One day like long lost travelers they will come home again to discover our history is still in that box, that our relationship as mother and child began with my hopes and dreams and the ankle bracelet the hospital attached as they first entered the world. They will pull out cherished locks of hair to hold against the heads of their own children, comparing colors with a wistfulness that will break their hearts.
My treasure chest contains the last cards I received on Mother’s Day, lauding me and dripping with gratitude. As I read and re-read the card from my Stella, the estrangement becomes even more difficult to grasp. She was real in that card, those were her words, the daughter I knew since birth. Only months later she disappeared into a darkness that my light and love cannot reach, is there anything harder for a mother? Moms who have lost their children to death or to the world, who ache to have one more conversation, to caress those baby locks that have turned into teen and adult hair styles that no longer need our brushing, just one more. But I am not being honest, I want more than one, I want to hear the phone ring as it once did, see that my Stella was calling to include me in her daily or weekly musings, especially now that she is a mother herself. I knew her when she played with dolls, when she painted them with nail polish and bathed them in her own tub of bubbles. I long to see her bringing her fierce love to those babies now in her care, to see her teaching and reaching and carrying without thought, to watch how she juggles the one on her hip and the one wrapped tightly around her as she fixes snacks and tends to her home. I want to see her be a mom, I have seen her in every other role throughout her life and it has been a magnificent view. Like watching the most amazing movie only to have the film snap, sputter, the reel spin, the screen go black, I still remain incredulous that the connection has been broken. Offered tickets to a lesser show, this one of muted colors and b-side music, I long for the glorious vibrancy that she brought, the birds sang jazz, the colors were neon. I want that bigger life that comes from generational connections.
I long for my Arrow, differently, trusting that our break has more to do with his addiction, will someday soon result in restoration. I feel more in control of this fracture, knowing that if I gave in on boundaries and rules, we could be in contact daily, he could walk into my door. What mother would stop that from happening and then say she misses her children? The mother of an addict, the mom who has visited her child in rehab and hospitals and prison, a mother who knows the peril of enabling. Arrow gets clean and sober and sees the light, touches base again and the glorious light of his presence fills our home and my soul again. Our break is only a splinter, one along well worn tracks. Every day that he is away, I pray for his safety, I beg for him to make the turn into a life with sustaining colors, to find the little boy who delighted in God and then rest there, find peace there. Then he will come home and dig through the treasure chest to show his children who he was, before this long detour.
Chef and I watched the movie Lion last night, a profoundly moving story of a child lost and found, the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. Even though he was established into a new life, he never stopped aching for his family of origin, his mum. I know these children of mine, I know their hearts, I felt them beat against mine. Without reservation, I know they too are lost and can’t find their way back home, the call too hard to make, the gap seemingly too wide to bridge. As I sobbed watching the movie, seeing this young man make a trek finally to find his mother, seeing the support and encouragement of those around him to go on the journey, I could only wonder who in my children’s lives are planting those same seeds? Who tells them to go, to reach out, to try again? Anyone? My children know the way home, they know where I am, like the mother in the movie who 25 years later had not moved, just in case her lost boy ever came back, I am here with the cedar chest, holding our lives and our history, waiting.
The calendar has flipped not just for me but for my children as well. They too know that the day to honor your mother is fast approaching. While they are currently committed to a position of separation, I know that they do so only with full knowledge of the luxury that stubbornness affords them. They have a mother who will wait. They have a mother who accepts their scraps and bits and saves their plaster handprints and baby clothes. They have a mother who has always championed their success and held them during their struggles. I know in the quiet moments of their honest souls as the tv shares another ad about honoring your mom, they know what I know. I am still here loving them regardless of the month or holiday. They are playing the odds, as many friends know, that they will always have time. They ignore the memes and the reminders on social media that you are not guaranteed tomorrow.
Being a mother, having a mother is soul work, more than a day on the calendar. Women across the country will be celebrated this Sunday for the achievement of having sacrificed their bodies and their souls. Women across the country will be ignored even though they too made those same offerings. Other women want nothing more than to have the chance to make those sacrifices. Ultimately, we all have a mother, many are a mother. The current state of our relationships do not negate what we know, that we have a cedar chest full of tissue paper butterflies and old crayon scribbled cards, to remind us of who we were and who we are. If you are longing for your mother, if you are aching to carry babies, if your children are lost and your soul cries out for them, if your family is whole and this year is full of celebration, I will being praying for you this week. Let us remember all those who will get cards and flowers this week and those who won’t. Those who will sift through the treasure chests and remember when sticky fingers brought breakfast and crumpled handfuls of dandelions. Sometimes memories are all we have to sustain us, until the calendar flips again.