Photo: Grandy in high school. I’d never seen this photo before. I don’t have a lot of photos of her when she was younger. My uncle showed this to me when I was in Baltimore last week.
I’m pretty sure that Grandy, Nanny (my great-grandmother) and a bunch of other ancestors conspired for me to stay home today so I could clean my house. Both Nanny and Grandy were famous for having impeccably clean homes. I’m sure it’s just the rose-colored classes of childhood memory, but I can’t remember a speck of dust in either abodes, not a spot of grease in those heralded kitchens. Surely I’m not the only one who has legendary grandma memories… I suppose that’s part of the beauty of grandma status: you get to be mythical, your domestic skills worthy of bard-written tales.
My house was neglected this week. I’m kinda working three jobs right now. Maybe more. I don’t even know anymore. I took a part-time job at my local independent bookstore, a job that doesn’t quite replace the income I lost from my freelancing gig, but certainly helps. Besides, I get a sweet discount on books, access to advance copies of new stuff coming out, and the opportunity to correspond with local writers. What more can a girl ask for? There is the Rector Search, which pays me zero in Earthly currency, would maybe pay me in Indulgences if I were Catholic, but ultimately pays me in admiration from others in my parish because I’m Episcopalian. I’m also teaching a short story class on Thursday evenings here in town, which will give me a little something… probably enough to cover my trip to Maryland last weekend. Combine those three things with the regular duties of motherhood, and something inevitably has to go by the wayside. I woke up this morning to a stinky bathroom (didn’t I clean that before I left for Maryland?), two tons of laundry (didn’t I do this before I left for Maryland?), and two bedrooms in desperate need of a deep clean (that… I didn’t get done before I left for Maryland.).
The women in my family have a saying: “God don’t give you everything. He may give you a lot, but He don’t give you everything.” It’s the truest true statement if ever there was one. I know all sorts of people, all in different seasons and echelons of life… each of them is missing something or desires something, whether they know it or not. I’m always astounded when I meet people around here who seemingly have “everything”: money, beauty, establishment… but who are still missing something key: wisdom, connection, drive, happiness, family, etc. God can give you so, so much, and still not give you everything. For the women in my life, the saying is a reminder: be thankful for what you have, use it to the fullest, realize that others who have “more” actually have “less” in some other sort of way.
Motherhood is all about that. You get so much, but you cannot get everything. Maybe you’ve got the well-behaved kids, but none of the appreciation. Maybe you’ve got the manicured lawn, but the unbalanced marriage. Maybe you’ve got the fulfilling job, but the messy house. You’ve got and you’ve got and you’ve got, but the universe is always in balance, so there is always something that could be better or something achingly absent. If you’re wise, you take it for what it is. You give thanks for what you have, accept the things you cannot, work on the things that you want and can conceivably achieve. God don’t give you everything, but nobody says you can’t go get it yourself.
Mother’s Day is on Sunday and it’s not my favorite holiday. Mostly because mythological Mother’s Day is all about that “having it all” kind of life: all the love, all the adoration, all the snuggles, all the “Super Mom,” all the “perfect woman.” All of it, all of it. In the early years of motherhood, when it’s sinking in that none of this is “beautiful” like the commercials, a bitterness can settle in. Now, 8 years on and hanging out with women who know better, it’s nice to sit around a table and roll our eyes, sighing about what we “really” want for Mother’s Day. The general consensus is that, for a couple of hours anyway, we’d like to not be doing it all. Give us nothing at all! Give us room to sleep, room to breathe, room to think, room to shower. Someone else do it all for a few hours. And yes, leave the wine right here next to me as you exit the room.
I will say, though, that I appreciate that Mother’s Day is about being seen… if you’re lucky. if you’re real lucky, someone who loves you and understands will stop, look at you, nod and say, “you’re doing a great job” and mean it. If you’re lucky, someone who loves you will look at their present and think of their past, then look at you, nod, and say, “I’ll never quite know everything that you gave to make my life happen, but I’m grateful nonetheless.” May you be so lucky, Dear Reader. May you be seen this weekend.
I scrubbed the bathroom, cleaned both bedrooms, had them both vacuumed, made the dinner, did all the laundry. Only Major noticed anything and that was the laundry. “Thank you for doing all the laundry today,” he said to me after dinner. That is better than a frilly card for sure. Later, at bed time, as he came into my room to give me a kiss, Major looked around and then said, “I notice you’ve cleaned your room for once.” He then nodded approvingly. “That’s nice.” Then he gave me a kiss and scampered off to bed.
One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was telling me in all seriousness that women can’t really have it all. “They told my generation that we could have it all,” she said. “But it’s not true. The world has never, ever worked that way.” I watched (still watch) my Mom have her career and balance everything else in the world. I watched her command rooms, make pots of soup, deal with crises, handle an asshole, raise us two girls… I watched her do a whole lot. I watched her have a lot and sacrifice a lot and get a lot and lose a lot… she never had it all. It wasn’t her aim. I’m grateful for her example and not having to have the pressure of seeking “all” of it. What I have, I am grateful for. What I want, I will work for. What was never meant to be mine, I accept as beyond me. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, if God is good to me (and He is good all the time), I’ll look back and say I didn’t have it all all at once, but over the course of my time, I got all that I needed, to the betterment of myself and my little family. That, I think, would be quite satisfying.
It’s a clear night, with a waxing moon, and the sound of life still just emerging. New things are crawling and flying and stalking and singing. Tomorrow, something new will show up for us to notice. I hope you are finding as much joy in the noticing as I am.
There are so many kinds of Mamas in the world. It’s a category of women that is more inclusive than you think. If you are a woman who has opened your heart and home and life to another human being, dedicating time and care and talent and treasure for the betterment of their life, then I celebrate you this weekend. If you are a woman who has set down bowl after bowl of food for an animal who can only thank you with licks or snuggles, I celebrate you. If you are a woman who stepped into another adult’s life and chose to love and cherish kids as part of the new relationship, I celebrate you this weekend. If you were handed a child born of another woman, gave that child your name and your life and your home as if you created them yourself, I celebrate you this weekend. (I have three friends who have chosen adoption for 3 different reasons and I am in awe of them. Their generosity moves me to tears.). If you are a woman who has provided sanctuary and stability to children passing from one home to the next, a safe waypoint between unstable past and adoptive future, I celebrate you. If you’re a grandma taking on a new generation of babies, starting all over again because sometimes that’s what family needs to do, I celebrate you. It takes all types to be a Mama. It takes a whole kind of heart to love someone unconditionally and irrationally. You deserve more than a rushed brunch and a silly card. I wish you a moment to be seen and celebrated this weekend.
You are loved, Dear Reader. If not by your Mama (look, I know it’s complicated), then by some other woman or set of women. The light that you shine was nurtured, sheltered, prayed upon. It shines because it was sparked by the love of another, it’s now sustained by your own passion and drive, and admired by more than you know. Shine your brightest in honor of those who lit the spark and nurtured it. Shine to inspire others to do the same. Shine because you are loved, Dear Reader. Your infinite beauty is someone’s perfect gift this Mother’s Day.
Until Monday, take good care and Happy Mother’s Day.