I adored my mother, but we did not have an easy relationship. She needed a lot from me from the get-go, and I was barely prepared to create my own self, much less take care of her at the same time. We slogged through it, though, and we each did as much truth telling as we could muster. When she died nearly 30 years ago, part of me felt a kind of freedom. The rest of me could not imagine a world without her in it. Sometimes, when I think about the fact that she never met Jodi (or Kim or Doug or Dianne), nor even saw the last three houses I’ve lived in, I can barely breathe.
In a weird twist of fate, though, I have been blessed with a life filled with mothers. This weekend, we celebrated the birthday of Jodi’s mom, Arline, who has embraced me with an abundance of grace and generosity and love. I don’t imagine she ever pictured that one day she would sit in the front row when her daughter celebrated a commitment ceremony with another woman, but there she was 10 years ago, as if it were everything she always dreamed of for Jodi. Today, we are family.
It is an imperfect art, this motherhood thing, filled with the blinding intensity we feel when we try and look at the sun.
This week, we will also toast Kim’s mom Carole on her birthday. I’ve known Carole for years and, from the start, she opened her home and her heart to me, as if I were one of her own children. She and I talk on the phone many times a week and text each other about life and politics and what we’re planning for dinner. It turns out that many, many of the women I adore in the world are also mothers. Jodi, Mary, Dianne, Gia, Susan, Terry, Betty, Lisa, Claudia, Suzie, Memsy, Diana, Beth, Rae, Rachel, Janine, Maddy, Kris, Mathilde, Ginny, Leigh, and so many more.
Even in the midst of the sentimentality that hangs over Thanksgiving weekend, I don't think that mothers are perfect. What I do know is that it is a huge job to be a mother. You are entrusted with humans you adore, and then you have to prepare them to live away from you, on their own. Lots of times, when you have put this much energy into their survival, it is difficult to let them head out into an independent life. But you know it’s what they have to do, and so you get them ready. You teach them stuff, and you make sure they have a sweater, and you try to stand in just the right place so that you can still be there if they need you, but you’re not in their way if they don’t. You have to constantly juggle a messy combination of selflessness, discipline, objectivity, passion, occasional annoyance and frustration, and understanding beyond measure. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t, but you are still their mom, no matter what. There is simply no other relationship like this.
I felt this most profoundly when my mother died. Within that deep, chest-heaving sense of loss, I knew I was never going to be connected to another person in that same way. Still, I am the recipient of so much unselfish affection from these amazing women who are mothers no matter what else is going in their lives. Whether they slept poorly, are worried about their health, want to travel the world, or are grappling with their own reinvention and self-discovery, they seem to know something that many of us who aren’t mothers might not: We are in this together, yet we must each discover our own best path. We can’t make other people do things and we can’t change them to be like us. I learn about the loveliness of patience and generosity from the mothers I know, and I discover so much that I wish my own mother and I could have been, if only we’d known how.
It is an imperfect art, this motherhood thing, filled with the blinding intensity we feel when we try and look at the sun. So I’m toasting Arline and Carole today, so grateful to them for each being a mother to me. And to all of my friends who are mothers, thanks for always demonstrating love in its richest, purest form.