Thoughts after the holiday

Congratulations, everybody. We made it through another Mother’s Day.

All you dads thought of something heart-warming and appropriate to give your wives, or survived the humiliation if you did not.

All you church leaders and Sunday school teachers avoided the fraught topics, or not, but at least it’s behind you.

You women who wonder if you really qualify as a mother, because your mothering is non-traditional, smiled and wore something pretty and made it through. I honor you.

You who are grieving the loss of your mother cried the tears and braved the ubiquitous shopping displays (BUY THIS NOW!! FOR HER!! – while you thought if only I could). You who are grieving the loss of a child you loved – I know it hurt. I honor you too.

You who are still waiting for that special someone who will rock your world – you who sat quietly with no one squirming on your lap and putting sweet arms around your neck – you made it. We saw you, and the tears you could not cry. Our community would be so much less without you.

You kids who pulled off the breakfast in bed, the handmade cards, the first attempts at cooking – Good job, honey. You did a good job, even if it didn’t look like you imagined.

You moms, whom this day is supposed to be all about – I thought of you especially. Some of you ate it up and loved it. Some of you found it didn’t look like you imagined either.

The before-church messiness and bickering, normal on most Sundays, can be unbearable on a day like this because can’t they for once let it go, just once this special day?? All the usual, reasonable sacrifices of motherhood – being last at the food, washing those dishes, sweeping up the glass shards – seem more burdensome. There are babies screaming to be fed. There are adolescents giving you that face. There are grown children who do not reach back to say thank you. Mother’s Day can be a reminder that not all is as it should be.

But we made it.

If there is one thing I have learned in the last months about motherhood, it’s that it is a GIFT, surprisingly unpredictable, impossible, and delicious. You who felt swamped with work and worry yesterday, remember – some in your congregation would give several years off their life for that honor. Okay, maybe several hours, I don’t know.

I read two books lately that changed my views on mothering and homemaking. One was The Bookseller of Kabul, a difficult read I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. Besides painful glimpses into the oppression of women in Afghanistan, including sexual exploitation, the punch-point that impacted me most was that the author could not imagine a fulfilling life for her main characters, women who lived out their lives in service to the men they loved, sweeping daily dust that never went away and cooking for daily crowds that never went away too, and falling into bed at night exhausted. I thought Abuses granted, yes. But women have lived this way for thousands of years, and some of them have been very happy.

I’ll be honest with you though: it rattled me. For several weeks I was choked by my own femininity and cultural setting, and I even printed out Maya Angelou’s beautiful poem Caged Bird and hung it by my kitchen sink. That worked, and made me feel noble and queenly and misunderstood, until my sons who were emptying the dish drainer began reading it aloud in an outrageous mixture of British, Swahili, and Pennsylvania Dutch accent. They don’t even speak Swahili. But they had it down, and it nearly ruined the poem for me forever. “A CAAAHGED bird stahnds on the GREEAAAVE of dreams, his SHAAAYHdow shouts on a NEIGHTHTHMAHRE scream…” When I stopped laughing, and crying, I took down the paper and threw it in the trash can.

We are not in a cage.

We are not in a cage just because our lives revolve around other people and we serve a lot and wash mounds of grass-stained laundry without thanks. We are honored. Jesus said those who serve are blessed, and I can’t help noticing that his servants eventually grow into pretty incredible people.

The other book was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and in it the author, who is a self-professed liberated woman, mourned the losses of a generation of stay-at-home moms. She spoke of the food losses, particularly, in healthy eating and homey happiness, but she spoke also of the deception of a System that promised us freedom and then harnessed us with long-hour jobs as well as childcare and housekeeping and cooking (someone still has to do it!) with less time than ever. She considers it “the great hoodwink” of her generation. (Read a larger quote here.) So I am happy not to have entirely fallen for women’s lib, just yet.

Mothering is hard. We women have always struggled with comparison and jealousy, but in this modern age of invasive technology and picture-perfect online worlds, I am convinced we have a harder time of it.

I’m not sure – forgive me for being cynical, I don’t try – I’m not sure that a day to honor us is the best idea. Besides all the people on whom it puts pressure (those I spoke to above: men and children, and women with pain), it puts some pressure on all moms – to get our smiles on and make this look good, and bask in rather dreamy praise while simultaneously juggling a baby in one arm and a stack of Bibles in the other (which the kids forgot under the pews), and thinking whether that casserole we put in the oven for dinner will really feed fifteen. And showing delight in everything we are given, no matter how clumsily and preciously.

They love us, and they want to show it. That breaks my heart. The way I made peace with the day is that I said to myself, Shari – it’s a great day to be a mother. Be glad, and do your job.

I was given a lovely hammock yesterday from my favorite people, and the columbine they gave to me last year bloomed again in my flowerbed this year, just in time for Mother’s Day. That was awesome.

Maybe it is primarily a day to honor the women who are done. When I went to town on Saturday, the store was full of women in their forties and fifties, prancing around with carts full of flowers. How many mothers do they have? Do they buy their own presents? Instagram post: #mythoughtfulson #amazinggift   Anyway, I honor my mom, and mom-in-law. They are at the stage to rest; I am at the stage to rise up and call them blessed.

And then I need to wake up Monday morning and draw sudsy water for those dishes. And Tuesday morning. And Wednesday morning. I’m a lucky kid, and I get to be a mother, and although this job is not classy or romantic it is liberating, and worth doing.

Hang in there, everybody. We made it for another year.

xoxo

Shari


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What did you take for granted about your mother?

The book in question

Well, the book that quote came from was actually the Holy Bible… howbeit, from the slightly renovated version known as The Message (however large a disclaimer you feel that to be).

Here is the quote again:

Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors.

And here is the King James:

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. (Romans 2:1)

Please don’t freak out. You didn’t say anything disrespectful of the Bible, though I admit I enjoyed grinning over your source suggestions, and your corrections of the text. Perhaps that was not quite fair of me. Some of them were quite astute though.

Anyway, you are right on this – that a Bible passage has a context, and when it is pulled out of that context and embraced to the exclusion of all other Bible passages, it can be extremely misleading. This particular verse was a piece I badly needed to hear; it’s not the whole picture. There are balancing Bible passages on speaking out in defense of the oppressed, making judgements that are right and just and impartial, and the urgent appropriateness of the church judging its own people who sin.

So now what? Are you annoyed with me? Your comments, as always, were entirely delightful. Thank you for speaking up.

The quote in question

Months ago I found this quote in a book, and ever since it has hung above my kitchen sink, the place where I find it easiest to brood and stew. It’s been a reminder I need.

Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors.

What do you think? Is it true?

If you were taking a guess at the kind of book it comes from, what would you say?


(No fair Googling!)

On a modern day dilemma

It is impossible not to finish something

If you keep plugging away at it.

This is what I tell myself

When my projects look overwhelming.

 

On the other hand,

I suppose it is impossible

To finish something

If you keep plugging away at it.

 

So it would appear

That the better part of success

Is knowing when to keep plugging and

When to quit.

Giving gifts

Confession: I once wrote a blog post called The Great Bird-Dog Mystery, about some puzzling wooden objects that kept popping up around my town, nailed to fences and signs. The post was a little bit sassy and a little bit tongue-in-cheek, and I had it all typed up and ready to publish (Where do they come from? Who makes these things? What are they exactly?) when my husband glanced over my shoulder (a thing he is strictly forbidden to do, but – you know how that goes) and said, “Oh, don’t you know?” and pulled up a news article in the Meadville Tribune explaining the phenomenon.

Which is, simply, that an elderly Italian man who lives very near to me likes to make dogs out of wood. He hand-cuts them and hand-paints them (each is unique) and leaves his gifts in prominent places around the neighborhood, for people to enjoy.

In disgust with myself (and the non-mystery of my mystery, and the sacrilege of having almost made fun of the work of a respectable man old enough to be my grandfather), I deleted the blog post at once, unpublished.

But I still think of that man from time to time – especially when I see his creations, but other times too – and somehow it gets me, the way he labors quietly in his shop over a bit of fallen tree, and sands it smooth and paints it, and leaves it around town so that the people will have joy. Probably sometimes he goes back to check on one and finds that somebody has removed it, and he doesn’t know where it went. Maybe into the TriCounty waste bin.

I imagine that in between his unpretentious dog-planting he is quite a regular old Joe, and pays his taxes and stops at stop signs and helps his daughter around the house.

He is a wise old man.

As I grow old, I too learn that when you must give something surprising and non-status-quo, because it felt good to paint it and there it is in your hand, it is best you should do it anonymously and without asking. Because sometimes people don’t know what to do with it or can’t be troubled to get back with you or have no room, or it’s against the institute’s policy or it’s at a bad time of year, and then you are standing there with a wooden dog in your hand, his painted spots a little lopsided, and no one wants him.

That must hurt. If you are a quiet old man.

Sometimes we give gifts to convince ourselves we have something to give.