Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mothers and Others

Last Sunday was Mother's Day, a holiday that brings out my cynical side because it's always been so heavily promoted by card companies and florists. I'm embarrassed by the idea of Mother's Day. It feels as though the second Sunday in May has been set aside as the day when all the mothers of America line up, united like organized union members, and present our bills for services rendered. No matter how many pretty flowers you stick in it, it feels like extortion.

And yet . . . and yet I love those cards, obviously chosen so carefully, and even more than that I love the words my daughters have written in the cards, cherished messages I keep and reread again and again, reminding me that our bond is as important to them as it is to me. I don't need the cards to know that, but I love the reminders nevertheless.

We spent Sunday afternoon the same way we've traditionally spent Mother's Day in the past few years, with a crawfish boil at my younger daughter's house. I loved being with my two warm, beautiful daughters, my delightful grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and those of their significant others who weren't somewhere else working or spending the day with their own moms. We sat at long tables spread with newspapers, chatting and laughing as we feasted on crawfish, spicy boiled potatoes and corn on the cob, followed later by shamefully full bowls of chilled banana pudding. My son-in-law's music played in the background, music that always surprises me because most of his songs are my songs, too, and I like the fact that we share a cross-generational, mutual fondness for soulful sounds.

We all became lazier after we ate, leaning back in our chairs under the shade, hiding our laughter as 21-month-old Olivia pitched a fit when the limits of her dexterity frustrated her independent spirit. She tried and failed a few times to put a bubble wand into its narrow-mouthed plastic jar of soapy fluid, then threw the wand as far as she could throw it (not very far). She didn't cry, but her anger was apparent in the scowl on her face. She cast a quick, spiteful glare at those who sat near her, then, in case no one had noticed she was angry, marched over to the sudsy wand, picked it up, and threw it again for good measure. All of us thought it was funny, but we were careful not to let her see us laugh. She's a baby and she acted like a baby. In that moment every adult there loved Olivia enough to let her express her feelings. Most of us, I believe, silently cheered her on. Yes, she'll need to learn a better way to handle her disappointments someday, but there's plenty of time for that later on.

The little ones, Olivia and three-year-old Owen, wanted to get in the swimming pool. Though the day was warm, the water was chilly, but there were still a few adults willing to get in to let the floaty-armed babies have some fun. My younger daughter, Kelli, their grandmother, stayed longest in the water, frequently having both babies in tow at once. I watched her holding on to them, keeping them safe, playing with them, instructing them, calm, unruffled, smiling. Owen will remember her that way long after he forgets that the pool got colder as the sun moved and cast it into shadow, that he cried and protested vigorously, repeatedly saying, "I'm not cold!" through blue lips and chattering teeth as his mother and grandmother pulled him flailing out of the pool. He and Olivia will remember the happy times with their grandmother when they're grown, and they'll always think of her as a safe port in a storm, the way I, as old as I am, still think of my mother's mother. Kelli is showing them in every way possible that she loves them unconditionally, and they'll feel that--they'll know that--for the rest of their lives.

The strength of my passion for genealogy and family history sometimes makes me wonder if I'm living too much in the past. On Mother's Day I felt that I was on the opposite end of the spectrum, as if I were living in the future, seeing the three generations after mine coming into their own, glimpsing the kind of good people who will carry on after I'm gone, also watching them fulfill their present roles as if they were born to them, and understanding that, yes, they were. This is exactly who they are and where they're supposed to be at this time in their lives. There really is no past, present or future when it comes to families, only a continuous cycle of life that ties all of us together with those who came before us and those who have yet to arrive. All of us--mothers and others--are eternally linked to the rest of us.

Mother's Day is a good day to remember that. Any day is a good day to remember that. There doesn't need to be a special card for it.

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