Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday May 13th, 2019.
A few days ago, I read an opinion piece about Mother’s Day. The author, a teacher by profession, argued that less emphasis on the joy of Mother’s Day in the school environment would spare some kids of the heartbreak they experience as they do not have an all around loving and warm mother figure, whether due to social circumstances, medical or any other. The many reminders almost seem cruel, the author pointed out. I nodded in agreement as I read the piece.
To my Mom, on her birthday. She was there, every day, wearing her beautiful coat with grace…
Motherhood has no manual. Which is why snuggling next to your little ones and reading say, Charlie and the chocolate factory, on a grey subdued Monday late morning is the thing to do.
‘Can we nibble on some chocolate while we read,’ lil’ boy asks, a sweet mischievous smile pinching the corner of his eye.
Sure can. I used to eat slices of bread layered thick with butter while reading Heidi (by Johanna Spyri). I was about lil’ boy’s age, 11 or so. Reading and munching on whatever Heidi was munching on felt as if a giant hand deposited me right in the middle of the alpine meadow among Heidi’s goats, staring into a crimson sunset that had the divine power to put your heart in the right place for years to come. A well-placed lesson in magic if you will, which lil’ boy reminded me of by asking to nibble on chocolate while reading.
Two pieces of dark chocolate each, we dove under the yellow wool blanket, losing ourselves in Roald Dahl’s unique and clever writing; contorted, invented words painting word pictures weird and fantastic. We let the drizzle of synonyms peppered throughout the text to roll off the tongue, laughing ourselves silly and reading the sequence again and again until curiosity calls for the next paragraph to be read.
We read, eating chocolate and forgoing lunch; snuggles and chocolate for lunch, I rewrite the rules.
Motherhood has no rules really, except for one, perhaps. Be present.
The books you read when you sit with the new baby in your arms much like you do with a cookbook once you already have the meal half-cooked, trying to figure out the next steps… well, those are parenting books. Motherhood is a texture like no other, thick and see-through at the same time, fuzzy warm one moment and frosty the next, because life’s magic wand amplifies everything a thousand times when you become a mother. Or so it feels, possibly due to lack of sleep and magnified emotions, but the jury is still out on that.
Though motherhood, mind you, does not happen at the birth of your baby, but at a few pit stops down the road. It happens when you lay in the dark next to your barely asleep babe, wonder and gratefulness filling you to the brim, when worries creep in nonetheless, because somehow though all is nice and quiet and that little hand is curled around your pinky for comfort, which you know you have plenty to offer, worry is the weed that your fertile heart soil keeps on nursing to life as much as it does affection. It happens when you hug your growing child, when you make him a cup of coffee and you sip it together talking about life in the fast lane, which sounds exhilarating to him and scary to you. Sip, smile, sip. Motherhood lives in a cup of early morning coffee too.
Motherhood swells inside like a high tide when you allow your children to remind you of sweetness and soft presence when your rough edges dig too deep into their being and yours. It shapes you as you snuggle close, so your heart can hear theirs. Motherhood is what happens when you pack emotions and vulnerability and rawness in what seems to be the most fragile space of all: you, your heart and whole being.
You wade through tough times by holding small hands in yours, stickiness notwithstanding, relishing the trust and the reality of being inundated with much more love than you ever thought you’re worthy of. Humbling.
Can you still be loved just the same when you’re turned inside out and raw as can be? Can you you’re your children just the same when they show the raw sides?
Motherhood is not being given to us so that we can excel at being gracious. It’s a ‘come as you are but be willing to grow after you pick yourself up (again)’ kind of deal. You get a fair shot at learning balance and finding your way in the dark, stubbed toes and all. What’s left to do? Dust your heart regularly and show up every day, vulnerabilities and all. Come as you are but willing to grow.
As for rules, it’s up to each of us. We write them when we lay reading under warm blankets with our wee ones, snuggled closely, so our hearts touch theirs. When we finally understand that humbleness, love and fierceness can live together in harmony, much like those art projects your little one kept adding to because ‘look, Mom, there are so many colours and shapes.’ So it is, motherhood bestows colours and shapes and they are all thrown on thick cardboard, glue oozing from under bits of paper until everything is sticky and memorable and ready to occupy space on your fridge door.
And one day, many years later, your wee ones will be grownups and realizing it was all true. All that magic, all that fuzzy warm stickiness. All that rawness and love squeezed into the most fragile yet most resilient package of all. You, as a mother, wearing a coat you adjust daily until it fits. And it will.
It’s only fitting that the robin comes flying by the side of the car as I drive slowly after dropping off little boy for Forest School. It is March 8, and growing up meant Mother’s Day. No bells and whistles, no marketing campaigns or Hallmark cards, just carefully hand drawn cards, mostly with snowdrops because I loved to draw them and they matched the small bouquet in my hand.
The connection between the robin and my Mom was made shortly after her sudden passing almost ten years ago and it will never change. You could say I have a comfort bird. Well, I needed one.
So, the robin. I stop the car and step outside. I sit by the side of the dirt road close to the tree where the robin is. I listen a while, catch a burst of song that gets mixed in with the symphony pouring down from all the trees and realize that it’s the swiftness of it before it mixes with the others that makes it more precious and it’s all the sounds engulfing it that make it complete.
It’s March 8 and sunny.
Some years ago someone abruptly asked why I am attached to a relic of the communist regime. Ah, nothing like the political smears spreading over a day that politics should stay out of. The answer is in the renewal celebration surrounding me.
Where I sit by the side of the road there’s fresh bold new blades of grass, so green they look surreal, each carrying gifts of morning dew. That’s what the day is about to me. Life.
Earlier in the car little boy made my heart dance and my eyes tear up. ‘Mom, you know mushrooms look fragile but they are not. They can break through concrete if they have to. Plants too…’ It is so, isn’t it?
You’re only as fragile as you believe yourself to be. If you let your instincts guide you, then you can break through barriers that you never thought you could break through.
And it’s not about whether you are fragile or not. We all are in some ways. Yet trading it completely for what’s perceived as strength alone is not an option either. True strength is tender-hearted and comes from packing both strength and fragility for the road ahead. That’s how you grow to see the human, not the deeds, celebrate their presence in your life and learn about courage.
That’s how you learn about worthiness. When you can see past the obvious, past of what is easy to see. You learn to appreciate those moments of solitude when you look in the mirror asking ‘where to from here?’ only to realize that by asking the question you have stood your ground and you did not hide the fragile bits. Yes, it takes courage to ask. And it takes courage to follow the road that comes without directions except for one: Trust yourself.
That’s why I celebrate motherhood today.
Today is when I think of the journey so far. The sea of memories lapping at the window of my motherhood hut, where inadequacies and victories lay together, amassed during a time that happens too fast.
Today I sit here by the side of the road and allow no hurry. I think of the boys, their boisterous presence at times and then again, their revealing of softer sides so often when they whisper their own inadequacies, their discoveries of things that tug at their hearts, the questions that often come with tears. Together we learn to see that we’re the same, bound by love. Sometimes, stepping on each other’s toes reveals that no dance is perfect and pain spares no one. clenching your teeth in resentment is the wrong path. Smile through tears. Be grateful.
It creates mindfulness.
Motherhood invites to that. I said yes a long time ago when my boys were born, and then more so after my Mom left. Waking up with less became determination to see more.
That’s why celebrating the day quietly by the side of the road makes all the sense. It’s not about giving the day a name because it’s not the day itself but the people who make it worthwhile. Hence the futility of pulling the politics curtain over it and burying it in righteousness.
Today is not about politics but about finding the space and time to see. Today is about saying ‘Thank you’ to my Mom, remembering what vulnerability and strength look like, put them back in my satchel as I carry on with the journey and telling my boys:
‘Yes, I’m showing up every day for the most difficult job in the world.
Yes, there is always room for better but that’s why tomorrow was invented and that’s why we have hugs.
Yes, I go to the bottom many times and each time I push myself to the surface again, I take another deep breath and say ‘again!’ as if I am having the ride of my life. Because I am, and every moment of it is worthy it.
If I say that time seems to slow down just so that we can realize how fast it goes would make your head spin. I’ll say it anyway. It is when I stop for a few moments that truth dawns on me: time stops and runs fast at the same time. What side do we choose to see? Why?
I took shelter this morning from the running seconds in the glow of a hill peeking from behind layers of red-leafed trees. Crisp fall air and morning golden glow married for a few blinks. I did not get my camera because I would’ve missed it all. The irony…
I need to remember to stop myself from taking photos because then I succumb to the muteness of just staring at it, forgetting that words can paint the wonder if I want to keep it with me forever. This morning I will look and remember.
I want to remember today and the short-lived glow on the hill because of how rushed and rumbling yesterday was. I want to remember how dark blue the clouds were this morning, every bit of their darkness making the glow stronger… Darkness allows for the glow to exist. That is what I want to remember today by.
Clouds behind the glowing hill. The darkness that we run away from, not realizing that it is the contrast that make the colours dance with our eyes.
The boys will wake up soon, they’ll ask for breakfast and a walk, we will step outside like we did two days ago and the trees will snow leaves yellow and red as we walk to the hobbit paths where there are still dry berries on naked branches.
‘Who wants to try one?’ The boys conjure the same faces they do when I eat seaweed out of the ocean. An amused, cutely and only seemingly appalled ‘Mom!’ pinches the morning air. One boy declines with a scrunched up nose, the other with a head shake. The loving scold of children who love silliness and love seeing us paint our faces with it. Be silly. Glow with it…
I want to remember this time with them. The slow mornings, the hurried ones, the ones too loud and the ones so quiet even whispers are forgotten…
I want to remember that it is in the togetherness that limitations are revealed, that we are to learn about ruffled feelings and how we can write words on them like they are pieces of paper that hold our very soul bits. I see growing boys crumple them up every now and then and throw them to the other side of life. I see them pout in sorrow shortly after and say ever so gently ‘I wish that didn’t happen…’
But life does happen, and we happen with it, growing and glowing and we do so. We can choose to see it or skip over. It’s only when we choose the first that we learn how our hearts grow roots in each other’s through forgiveness.
It is in togetherness that vulnerability shows up not to shame us but to remind us of being human. Of minding too much, of not minding enough, of trying hard and not succeeding but not giving up regardless.
We cannot wish for anything to not have happened.
The glowing golden hill, the dark clouds behind it…
I want to remember and tell myself on days that seem to lose their glow that it is all worth it. When the eyes cannot see it, then I’ll remember to close them for a bit, find the light inside and use that to see the path ahead.
On days when clouds abound, I will remember that brightness exists regardless; our eyes are limited in seeing it, while our souls aren’t. Which one are we to trust fully?
I want the boys to know the answer. I want them to know that time can be made into brightness we take with us from one day to the next. That we are often tempted to forgo the glow of today and trade it for the darkness of tomorrow. Ungrateful it may seem, it is but human. Learning takes time. Repeat enough times until you learn…
It’s what we make of it… I remind the boys when the going gets tough. They trust and try and sometimes trying asks too much of them. I know that feeling too. I come to learn of it when my own feet get tired and my will frustrated… All purposeful, all necessary.
If I remember the glow of today and how short-lived it was, not by looking at a photo but by reading the words it summoned, I will shape time and its finicky nature into hope that will help me find the way. Tomorrow, the day after and every day after that. Repeat until learned.
You may think me crazy but I really did not mind this morning’s quarrel so much, you know. I did not want the day to be perfect, so the loudness and messy bits made it just right.
You’ll ask in amazement, two pairs of brown loving eyes, puzzled yet again by what I say. ‘Mom, that’s crazy, how could that be?’
It is. Well, think about it. You set the table, as you did other days, with plates and cutlery and cups that are mismatched. If some days they all match it is by chance alone, not by design. No one should aim for that and I am hoping you’ll know that as you go and you’ll see the usefulness and the freedom of letting go of perfection. It really does not exist. Worse yet, people keep chasing it, though we are shown time and time again that perfection is but a myth…
That plates and cups and glasses and cutlery don’t match is only fitting, you see. Cups and plates and glasses break (my Mom used to say that is good luck) and cutlery migrates in the back yard for digging, playing games of getting lost on islands (glad the cutlery comes in handy) so dwindling numbers of each, that’s a great thing.
Really. I will explain. They remind us of the temporary. Breaking, losing, getting lost, fixing, letting go, regret, it’s all there. Nothing lasts forever. Time alone does, and we do not own it. Rather, it owns us. So we need to remember, because if we do, we will never take each other for granted, nor will we forget about what’s important.
The quarrel made us all sit down a wee bit longer, and we talked about love, trust, the uniqueness of each of you and the imperfections brought out by togetherness if you dare to step in it the way we used to at our secret place in Vancouver where muck was up to our knees and we loved it so.
Remember when we got lost and the tide was coming in and we cut through tall reeds and they were rough and dry but at the same time they sand a song I will never forget… Time is now, they whispered, be here… Now. It hurts at times, you may be scared and overwhelmed, but most of all you will learn to trust and hope that you will find the strength to take your loved ones to safe grounds… I did that time. I took you both to safe grounds, and we hugged, and for days I nursed the scratches on my legs and was grateful for each and every one of them. And the work is never done. It better not be…
It’s not the perfect days at the beach that I will remember but that one… the day I knew I’ll never be anything but grateful for the gift of time with you and the honour to guide you.
The peas in the garden have pushed their green heads through dirt and the sun kisses them again and again. I celebrate that not because of the peas, but because weeks from now you will each pluck green crunchy pods and eat them and the sun will kiss your heads again and again and that will remind me of the fullness of life with you. It’s about beginnings, again and again, about hoping that I will learn to give you what you need most so you can grow to feed others from what you will become.
Gratefulness. You taught me that. I will remind you of that.
For lunch you asked for miso soup. I had all ingredients but mushrooms. We sat down to eat and neither of you remarked they were missing. Mouthfuls of seaweed and noodles and laughing over silly things and there was nothing missing, really. Nothing at all.
It was then that I knew I had something else I will have to remind you of. That you’ll never have everything, no one does, so instead of mulling over what’s missing, taste what you have, share it with those you love and steep yourself in the moment that you have and will never come back, but know that the moment will become, I know that it will, the magic dust from which new growth will push out and become life…
Happy Mother’s Day my sons. It is because of you, all of this. That is why. You are the answer, and for that I am forever grateful.
‘I find them sometimes, Mama, aren’t they so nice?’
Little boy holds a pink helicopter in his hand as we walk hand in hand to school. ‘You can have it.’ So I will, my little one. It is morning, crisp and sunny, and his hand is warm and nestled in mine. I love the simple moment of just being here with him, I love it to no end, and the pink helicopter that comes with it.
‘It’s all natural colour, you know?’ I know, little one, and I celebrate that you can see the colours in the tapestry of rushed mornings. I do too. Let’s keep it that way.
Hug. I kiss the his forehead, he wraps his arms around me and I melt. He runs one way, I run another. Life unfolds.
I sit in the sun and write this down. Like putting extra wings on the pink helicopter, I build wings out of words. This day, like so many others, will be the kite I’ll fly under skies of blue and grey… Life with boys is miraculous. Tearing me apart at times with moods and sharp wills, strong as they can be as they grow, they won my heart a long time ago when I invited them to be part of my life. That makes the everyday dance worthwhile.
Every day adds more questions as we go. Do I know enough to help them understand the world? Do I know enough to guide them towards solid rather than illusory? Do I do it with fear or joy? I fly by the seat of my pants so often, wondering if that’ll wear them too thin and render them see-trough… and if yes, what will you see, should you look through? Inadequacies. Life is like that.
Inadequacies, imperfections, truth. They go together. Children know, and they braid it all, ever so elegantly, thoughtless in their innocence and trustful that we know the way better than they do. Truth is, we do not.
How then, do we find our way?
We feel it, as you feel your next step in the dark. Safe, solid ground, go. Shaky, unsafe, try again. Do we heed our own instincts enough to know when to stop? Hardly. How then, do we teach our children?… We jump in with both feet, splash, apologize too much, feeling too guilty for splashes we have no control over, remember to smile as we lose frowns and dry our tears, remember to breathe… Tying all of that with ribbons of fresh beginnings, learning that if you don’t show up, you’ll live with the regret of not daring to be present…
My morning is gifted a sliver of laughter as I sit by the river with a friend. We talk about motherhood, the rushness that makes it all go fast, too fast… Do our children know enough before they show up for real life, by themselves? Do we? Do we give them enough to trust that they do? I am the lucky one, she says, my boys are still little, sheltered, and I am still saying good night with hugs and see their sleepy faces in the morning. There’s still time…
We sit by the river, watching its fast pace and listening to the morning. A duck is carried by the current, though it tries to swim against it. Don’t… Swim with it. Ha! As if I know how to. I know why we should swim with the current. Trust. Trust that it will all work out right. Don’t miss the sunshine, the breeze, the birds that glean beads of water as they brush over the surface with grace. Trust. Life is about trust and gratefulness.
Motherhood is what helps me see it as such. There’s beauty and wonder in every day of growing together. Little boy and big boy, struggling at times to be seen and heard and understood, refusing at the same time to see, hear and understand anyone else but themselves and me thinking how selfish… but truth is, if they don’t make enough room to hear their own voices and understand the heart echoes that sprout from them, how will they ever distinguish other people’s voices…
I am heading home. I know nothing more than I did this morning, but I know enough to make it through another day. A big little boy awaits so we can delve into another day of learning together. We do. Togetherness. Learning. School and more. And the pink helicopter will stay in the journal that has a red leather cover and a long leather tie that wraps around it to keep it all in, all together.
By now the struggling duck would’ve reached the shore, or would’ve understood the joy that comes from letting the river do its thing… It’s all about trust. And gratefulness. For the day, for the moment we are given and for knowing that it is never about right or wrong but about giving it all you’ve got; inadequacies, imperfections, and most of all, truth…
Feet are ready to walk but school is far nowadays so driving it is. For now… But driving has its charm when you drive children. A wee bit of music, sleepy words snaking their way through the foggy morning air, buckle up and go…
‘Do you see the hills?’ you ask as you drive down the hill and little boy says yeah with a sleepy voice and you think he just says it to be polite but then, just like a small bird taking sudden flight, his words come out chirpy-jolly… ‘Mama, look at the light on that hill…Is that the sun? Is it rising now? We can see the sunrise?’
Which one do you answer first? You listen, the chirping continues but now it’s something else. Words and their meanings, things to do when back from school, plans for later, homeschooling, making sense of a world too big, too small, so beautiful and present…
You drive slower just to catch some more time, you love the time with little boy tucked into the back seat, chirping or sitting quietly, listening, thinking, learning…
Hug, kiss, have a good day, you see him walk into the school yard with the big backpack on. You want him to stay, to chirp some more, to ask you of your favourite season, again and again…’I like summer,’ he says when you ask. But he delights in icicles too, you remind him, hanging off drippy awning, time frozen… you tease him, he smiles, he loves that… silly fuzzy morning thoughts you wrap yourself in on the drive home.
You love the time with little sleepy boy, his chirps and tiny laughter clinging to frosty windows, melting the white icy fuzz so the world outside becomes clearer. It always does when children laugh.
Later on, the drive home with so much that happened in the time you weren’t there. ‘Why’ abounds, and you try your best, and you also shrug and say ‘I don’t know’ and little boy still thinks you know everything anyway as if you put the world together from one end to the other… you secretly delight in that, in the love that gives you more than you ever imagined. ‘Are you singing, mama?’ Yes, I am, you say… it’s a song your grandma loved. You make a mental note to learn all words soon enough.
Later on, big boy hops in, you drive in the dark, you listen to music and he does too, you hum and he asks softly ‘Are you singing, mama?’ You smile and say yes, almost adding that you don’t know all the words, but before you get a chance to say it he says with a smile ‘I like that.’ This is not about perfect lyrics anyway.
It is turning dark and the sky is burning with colours so alive you feel grateful for having the chance to see them. ‘Mama, I love the sky…’ The day falls asleep on the horizon, slipping behind it like a child’s arm falls off his mama’s shoulder when asleep…
You’re on your way, again, driving, going places – what a busy day today is – but you get to see it, you get to see the wonder of it all. There’s wonder in ordinary, small things… Big boy sees it too and he talks about things that are not easy to talk about.
You whisper almost in response, your voice is low and all there, and if your heart were the ground he could walk on, your voice was the fence to help keep him safe… until he is ready to open the gate and fly. Free of things that cling hard to his wings; you help him peel them away. Again, and again, one step closer to lightness. Today is good and soft and the sunset is now over with; night settles in and you’re almost there… ‘Let’s park and talk, mama’.
You talk, and he talks, and silly jokes come in uninvited and you laugh silly, and he laughs too and you can see the heaviness falling off his wings… You talk about dreams and fears and growing towards tomorrow, knowing that being human comes with joys and struggles, often times too big to take on by himself; you talk, he talks, stars are plentiful and you feel happy for no particular reason, but because you find peace in knowing you’re right there, to hear the words, to soothe worries and to laugh silly. To have thoughts merge, sighs chased away with hugs. See you later you say and drive home thinking of them boys… ‘Today was good and it’s not over yet.’
You are all alone now, listening to songs your mom loved, you miss her so much, and her voice, but it’s all there, inside, a pocket of bitter sweetness you can reach into anytime, pockets of souls that are made of all that you cannot explain but know it present. Life. You’re grateful and quiet, you listen to songs and then you learn words… later on, you pick up big boy and he chirps away, fears gone and words flying high like kites that nothing can bring down. Nothing? Not today. And that is good enough.
You listen, he talks, you smile, he talks and laughs, you love his presence right next to you; his laughter clings onto the windows like a bug with sticky feet, sweet and fragile… you’ll remember it all in the morning when little boy will take his place, sleepy and slow, in the back seat, ready to see the sun, the hills, to listen and chirp away, to laugh… again, and again, melting the frost. And you’ll be there, and you’ll be reminded that gratefulness is a celebration of life, and no day is ordinary, and no time too short to make it count…
The journey of raising boys has been one of joy, wonder, humbleness and ever-growing curiosity for what comes next. Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed Amy Herbst's book 'Boys will be boys.' Click here to view more details It's got what boys' parents need.