Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Essence of Mother

[photo source]
A while ago I realized that I'm the first woman in a good number of generations along my maternal line to still have my own mother living when I became a mother.  My grandmother passed away two years before I (my mother's first baby) was born, my great-grandmother died three years before my uncle (my grandmother's first) was born, and my great-great-grandmother passed away when my great-grandmother was still a young girl.  When my great-great-great-grandmother passed away, I do not know, because that is as far back as my mom knows the tree.

I am very blessed to have my loving, wonderful mother here, and our family history only magnifies that blessing.  During both my pregnancy and the nine amazing months that have followed my daughter's birth, I have inundated my mom with questions and sought her advice on every baby-related topic under the sun.  She is always willing to talk, willing to listen, and eager to support and encourage me as I bumble through the daily tasks that make up my vocation.  We don't agree on everything and we don't do everything the same way, but what mother and daughter do?

Since becoming a mother myself, I've had endless opportunities to realize how much my mom sacrificed for me, how many things she did for me that I never even noticed.  And when I bothered to reflect upon it before, I know I was able to name some of them: changing my diapers, preparing my meals, cleaning my laundry, driving me places, making me Jello and chicken soup when I was sick.  But one thing she did that I never could have named is the one thing I find most daunting now, something I barely even know what to call -- she created a sense of security.
Every time I read this book to my baby, I marvel at how cozy this picture looks.

I still feel it when I visit home.  I might sleep in (well...not so much anymore, hehe), but as I rouse I can hear my mom shuffling about downstairs, maybe cooking, maybe cleaning.  When I do join the rest of the family, I don't need to have an itinerary made up of what's happening, because Mom is the architect.  Mom knows if there's a sale we might want to check out, or a special exhibit at a museum we'd like to see.  Mom knows what's for dinner and how we might have to schedule our day around when she needs to prepare it.  Mom knows how much and what laundry is waiting to be cleaned and when that will need to be addressed.  Mom knows what the weather will be like that day.  Mom knows if we had a record high or low or rainfall or snow.  Mom just knows these things, and countless others, so my dad and my brother and I don't have to.

I started missing that element of my home life as soon as my husband and I got married and moved away, but not nearly as strongly as I do now that I'm a mom.  Before I had my daughter, I was in graduate school, and then I worked at a career college, and even though I had to fill the shoes of the dependable wife, I could in turn depend on those institutions to give me the security of routine and structure.  Now, as a stay-at-home-mom, our family is my institution, and I am the one who must give it structure and create a sense of comfort and stability within it.  I am the architect.

As the months go on, I am slowly acclimating to this role.  There are still many missteps -- who did I think was going to (at least attempt to) iron my husband's wrinkly khakis?  Who did I think was going to clean the dried-on oatmeal off my baby's highchair tray?  Who did I think was going to look at the weather forecast and realize that my husband would need an umbrella?  Sometimes, at the end of the day as I straighten up my daughter's toys and load stray glasses into the dishwasher, I feel like something is missing -- some soothing background activity, some awareness of our family's needs and how to address them, some plan for what we'll be doing tomorrow and the next day and beyond.  And then I realize that those things aren't missing; I'm just expecting them to come from somewhere else when now they need to come from me.  Me, the homemaker, the wife, the mother!

Undoubtedly, the love and guidance of my own mom have been of invaluable help to me as I grow into my role as a mother.  Realizing that she had to adjust to motherhood after losing her own mother is very humbling.  How did she do it?  We don't live near our families, and I moan that I'm isolated and I lack support.  But if I need my mom, all I have to do is pick up the phone.  I can visit my family and be reminded of the essence of mother that I am trying to create for my daughter.  When my mom needed to create this essence, she could only rely on her memories for inspiration.  Yet, those memories are so bright and filled with love that after all these years of hearing about my Grandma Louise, I can almost remember her myself.

As I look at my sweet daughter's face smiling back at mine, her hair shining in the sunlight streaming through our back windows,  I find that the glow in my heart is warm with gratitude.  Gratitude for motherhood -- for the blessing of being a mom, for knowing the love of my own mom, and for the love of her mom, and her mom, and her mom, all of which have found their way to my own heart as I mother my child.


  1. Love it. Well said.

    I think of that very same thing, except never as eloquently, all the time. How, ever since becoming a mother, my very favorite place in all the world is my mom's house. It's the only place to find that security. I can't imagine how our mothers continue to do it after all these years without having their own rock on which to touch base.
    And, how, when Cam implores (in voice and sign, that's how badly he wants it) "Milk! Please!" and I run to get it - I don't feel like I'm spoiling him; It doesn't feel like a chore. I know it means that he is able to completely take for granted that I will always be there to take care of him.

  2. This is a beautiful testament to your mother! I suppose it's a phenomenon that you can only realize when you become a mother for yourself, but it's important for those of us who are not mothers yet to read works of appreciation like this!

  3. Lindsy, I agree, I can't imagine how our mothers do it either. I feel like I have so far to go.

    And yes...I figure that if I feel like I'm being taken for granted, that's a good thing. The idea that we ever *wouldn't* be there for them shouldn't even enter our babies' minds! (I know, I know, Cam's not really a baby anymore. But for the purposes of this example, he is.)

    Elizabeth, thank you! I first started to experience this phenomenon when I moved away from home, but having my daughter really intensified it.

  4. I loved this so much. I'm already starting to realize how much my Mom just took care of for me. I find myself cooking dinner thinking stuff like "How does she always just know what to make?" or "How was she always so quick at getting food on the table" or usually "I never have the ingredients I need here, how did she always have everything stocked??"

    When I become a wife/mother I assume that I will feel these things ever more, like you did.

  5. Kendra, I am SO with you on the dinner planning! I've improved somewhat over time -- for instance, I now realize that if we want to eat a dinner that cooks for 2 hours at 5 o'clock, I need to start preparing it before 4:55. But I'm still shocked by how much time I need to invest to really have everything planned out and all the ingredients I need stocked. And when I do pull off a more challenging meal, I find I glow with this exaggerated sense of accomplishment, only to remember that my mom does that pretty much daily and it's no big deal.

  6. Oh man. I love this. I was raised by my grandmother after my mom died, and she did all of these things for me too. I'm finding it so humbling to realize now that it falls to me to make the home a place of peace for my husband and baby. It really is such a humbling task (I can't think of another word for it!). It's like being entrusted with something so great.

    This is a wonderful reflection. :)