Thursday, May 07, 2009


To be quite honest, I'm a bit surprised at what I think of when I hear the word "mother." Almost immediately I envision golden sunrises, Donna Reed aprons and breakfast foods so heavy with buttermilk, eggs and greasy meat that one might as well not even begin to count calories.

I think of sunsets on sticky summer nights when the only thing that has any power of the humidity is ice cold lemonade and when the only thing that soften the aches and pains of a fever or the flu is the cold washcloth held to your forehead or the chicken soup that she'll cross town to bring you even when you're old enough to cook your own. I'm surprised at my initial reaction to the word because I have grown up in a life that has taught me well enough that motherhood is not all Donna Reed aprons and calorific foods.

When I think longer about the what I think motherhood means... I think of how I was blessed with the influences of exceptionally strong mothers in my life. On my maternal side, my grandmother is the mother of 15 children. Hers is a life filled with the teachings of thank yous and pleases and buttoning up shirts and making sure everyone was in school on time. And my grandfather helped. She cooked all the dinners and the breakfasts and the lunches and she still does. And she's always the last one to sit down to the table.

She turned those 15 children into bright, intelligent, successful human beings. Who know how to laugh when what they may want to do is cry, who find strength in just the sound of her voice. Her love knows no time and no distance, as many of her children live an ocean away in a country thousands of miles and who knows how many time zones apart.

She bites her tongue when she has to, a trial and tribulation that comes when children grow up and insist they know what's best for themselves - but she's not afraid to speak her mind.

In her strength, I see my own mother. The single mother who raised three children, worked full time and still fought for a well balanced dinner that we were all to sit down to together. As we children battled adolescence and nursed our broken family wounds, she put her heart last. Left it carefully on a shelf as she made sure our clothes were clean and our shoes were tied and we didn't forget to thank our grandparents or wash the dishes. When we're young, those are the things that seem standard. But they end up meaning everything. We spend a lot of our grown-up time trying to recreate those dinners, searching for detergent that's not only organic, but smells vaguely of childhood.

When her eyes were heavy with sleep, she kept herself up long enough to soothe our own fears as we lay beneath the blankets, warding off our nightmares. And when we became the ungrateful adolescents that all children become at one time or another - she swallowed the hurtful words we slung at her and always said goodnight with an 'I love you.'

Though I never got a chance to really know my paternal grandmother - she lives in a vivid memory from a very young age. And sometimes, even when we haven't had the chance to know our mothers or our grandmothers through and through - their strength is evident in presence. I remember her fondly. As kind. And with very strong hands.

And I have been blessed to see some of my closest friends transition into motherhood. And perhaps that experience has helped me to the perspective I have on motherhood today.

That the best parts of our mothers - have nothing to do with us at all.

My favorite stories of my mother, are about her, her days at work, what she enjoys about her home, the things she did when she was seventeen. Many of my favorite photos of her are those that capture her at that age, young and with long flowing hair, delicate with an underlying strength the world had not yet seen.

My favorite stories of my grandmother are the ones she tells where I can envision her on a kibbutz in Israel sipping on cups of coffee laced with cream, tossing words back and forth with the rest of the motherly clan. My favorite pictures of her are those with my grandfather, trapped in time and in black and white, when she'd slip in the occasional drink, chatting up the issues of the late 1940s, and those even younger still, when she was just a girl with the moxie of legends at her fingertips.

Because I think too often we think mothers are simply defined by motherhood. But they are so much more. They are little girls who dream, young women who live on the edge, who love and break hearts and mend a few broken pieces of their own.

It's fun to think of mothers when the mothering is put down for the night. When the insides come back out. To think of Donna Reed with her feet up on the coffee table, some good music flowing through the living room, a glass of wine in hand. Or sitting out on the back deck with friends, laughing a little too loud for the neighbors. The aprons thrown off, the hair down and screaming at the top of their lungs to an old, favorite song, telling jokes or jumping into a round of bull poker (long story). Of course, those pieces of our moms are always there. We just don't always see them.

Our mothers continue to live outside a simple term. They are our stepmothers – and I'd like mine to know, she has not been forgotten here. And they are our aunts and sisters and daughters and best friends.

I applaud all mothers. I stand in awe of them. I honor them. And most of all I wish them the moments when they melt back into those little girls, who knew the exhilaration of a plie in new ballet shoes, of their first painting or their first home where the silence was all their own. The triumph of their love and everything that goes with it.

They have their own desires, their own sense of fun - dance when no one is looking and all that. As a matter of fact, I consider myself exceptionally lucky - because my mother dances when everybody is looking. And I always think, how I would love to be as brave as that.

What are you waiting for? Call your mother. Take your best friend some flowers. Shoot a twitter to your sister. It's their turn.

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