Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hallmark is partially right about mothers

...I thought of my mother as springing into the world, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, ready for the action of being my mother.

This Mother's Day, I am enjoying a vacation in Sooke, BC on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  We are in a modern cottage on an expansive property overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca surrounded with beauty and quiet. The place is conducive to reflecting on blessings. My own mother  has been a blessing in my life, and I hope that I am a blessing to my children. I was also blessed in my relationship with my mother-in-law, my grandmother, and several aunts.  

Around Mother's Day, we tend to focus on the traits that we commonly associate with mothers; flowery cards abound extolling mothers for their gentleness, kindness, compassion, and lifetime support. One of the dangers of this Hallmark style of effusiveness is that we may reduce women to the biological role of child bearing and the sociological role of child rearing. While I am privileged to be a mother and am extraordinarily blessed in my children, motherhood is not the sum total of who I am, or of my contribution to the world.  

Springing fully formed, ready for action

I suspect that from an early age we quite naturally think that the primary role of a woman is to be a mother.  We literally begin life attached to our mother’s body, and in our immaturity, we think that our mother is an extension of our own self.

My mother and father 

I’m not sure when I first came to the realization that my mother had her own identity. For a good portion of my life, I thought of my mother as springing into the world, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, ready for the action of being my mother.  It just did not enter my head that my mother was once a little girl, skipping on the street; or a teenager, breaking loose from her own parents; or a young woman with dreams and aspirations for her future.

My mother's brown coat
If I were to design a Mother’s Day card, it would have two pictures: a mother in a brown, wool coat with the caption, “a generous mother”, and a mother in a navy coat with the caption, “and a talented woman”.

My mother had two such coats.  I remember the brown coat clearly. It had a beautiful fur collar and big round black buttons.  At the same time the brown coat made its way into her closet, a white faux fur coat appeared in mine.  I loved that coat; it was haute couture for a little girl, and I felt special and glamorous when I wore it.  It was a sad day when I outgrew it. I wonder if my mother felt a similar sense of sadness when she said good-bye to the brown coat.  You see, while I wore my coat for one season, my mother wore her coat for years.

The brown coat is fixed in my memory as a symbol of generosity. It never occurred to me that Mom went without so that her daughters could be well turned out.  But, it was even more than that. We enjoyed Mom’s lavish generosity on a daily basis, even if we failed to notice it. Material sacrifices, like wearing the brown coat winter after winter, meant nutritious food on the table, a roof over our heads, swimming and piano lessons, properly fitting clothes, and a university education.  With the gift of her time, she nurtured us and our dreams, while her own took a back seat. 

And her navy coat
Perhaps my mother did feel a touch of nostalgia when she got rid of her brown coat because that coat had seen us grow from children into young women. It had been with Mom through the busy years of raising four daughters and the lean years of building a business.  But more than likely, Mom was ready to put on her new navy coat as a symbolic welcome to the next phase of her life, a phase that gave her the freedom to explore new avenues of service to the community, to discover new talents, and to have some fun of her own along the way.

I have never asked Mom if she minded wearing that brown coat for so many years, but I am confident that she would look at me incredulously and reply, “No, why would I mind?”  And in that reply, lies the lavishness of a mother’s love and the generosity of a woman who graces the world with her particular talents apart from motherhood.

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