I have three kids. Most of you know this by now. None of them are with me today: Small is in L.A. this weekend; Medium in Montana and Large, Lake Tahoe.
If a mother trips and stumbles in the forest and none of her kids are there to snicker, is she still a mother?
This is the worst, the worst part of motherhood. You use every cell of your being, you max out all of your superpowers, you sublimate almost every dream you may have ever had for yourself in the service of raising decent humans. You have coddled them, wiped their snot a thousand million times, fed them enough mac & cheese to send every child of every employee of the Annie's Mac & Cheese empire to college, watched them play so many games that your eyeballs need early retirement. You have spent enough hours in the ER waiting room to knit an afgan large enough to cover Indiana. Tucked them in, sang them songs and read them stories. And read them stories. And read them stories. You've watched them sleep, 'cause, let's face it, they're extra super cute when they're sleeping.
All in the name of ... watching and waiting for them to leave you in the dust.
One time I was at the bedside of a dying woman. I'm a hospice chaplain; I know you know that, too. She was really beautiful, not hooked to any machines as the dying so often are. Regal in her perch, propped up, hair coiffed, dying quite elegantly. I told her about my boys, men, now, and how they had left for college. "They went as far away as you could go!" I told her, "one is in Montana and the other Nevada!"
"They'll be back," she said in her husky, almost-gone-from-this-world knowing voice.
She would know. She had five boys of her own.
Yea, probably they'll come back, but for now they're gone. This is the first Mother's Day in 22 years that I don't have one of my kids with me and there's no band-aid big enough for that ouch.
Yes, I know, a whole lot of mothering goes on outside the realm of actual mother-to-kid mothering. There are many people in this world who nurture our kids in the ways we associate with motherhood: with patience and tenderness, with tears and hugs and food. Physically. My kids have gotten a lot of love over the years from my posse of women, from my mom and their other grandmothers and grandmotherly figures. They have been influenced in their growing up by a lot of female role models; it's most certainly true that this isn't all about me.
Except that today it kind of is. I've always been a little greedy about Mother's Day, as full of schlock as it is, as contrived and made-for-corporate-greed. I have always liked being in the spotlight, if only for a few hours of sticky pancakes and hastily-prepared notes.
I've seen women who aren't sure who they are once their kids fly the coop. That's not me. I have to get ready for church this morning: there are flowers to arrange and bulletins to print; coffee to make and a final look at the sermon. Later today I have to finish charting my notes from hospice visits I made on Thursday and I have to check in with all the writers who said they'd write something for this week's issue of the paper.
No, I'm not one of those women who pushed all of it aside to raise kids. I held on to pieces of all of the parts of my life, which has been mostly a mind-bending trip down Exhaustion Lane for two decades, but worth it.
Because look! There they are ... Coco is waking up in Los Angeles, excited about a day of exploration. Sam watched his friends graduate yesterday, in Lake Tahoe, and tomorrow he starts his summer job. I'm not sure what Nate's doing because he's always so busy doing: hiking and mountain biking and getting his work done. Soon he'll start his summer job, too. Look at them! So fancy in their independence! So out-and-about-in-the-world, no-need-for-Mom-to-do-my-laundry, these children of mine.
They don't need me. It's a hard pill to swallow and the sweetest of desserts at the same time. I think it means a job well done, right? The great irony of it all ... that the indicator of having done a good job being a mom is that your employees no longer need you for guidance, direction, lunch or dinner, sheets or towels, socks or underwear. It happened, of course, bit by bit, with each integrated lesson: they no longer needed me to change their diapers, tie their shoes, scramble their eggs, wake them up in the morning, choose their clothing. Before long Coco will be the last of the Musketeers to drive, and then, well, welcome to that sweet slice of life called the retirement community, Mumsy. Sheesh.
I won't worry about any of it because somehow, against all odds, and believe me when I tell you, there were odds: two divorces, lots of moving around, a destabilizing mother in a world already plenty unstable. Nope, I'm not going to worry today and I'm not going to give them guff because they're in different time zones; I'm going to try to be what I should: happy, relieved, proud. My three can send me their love from afar and I can be happy for them, and happy for the world that gets their grace and charms and curiosity today. They're never really ours, you know, these kids. Into the oven at Do The Best You Can degrees for 18 years, let cool and serve with a glass of cold milk. Enjoy you big old world, they're delicious!
A beautiful and blessed Mother's Day, all you moms. Thank you and amen.