They are beautiful. They hold the impossible potential of a child in their arms, and rest under the incredible burden of loving their children. I am old enough now that I have lots of friends who are mothers, and some of them invite me in to their homes and lives and let me learn and observe and play and pick up from school and twirl in circles and make cookies and paint pictures, and generally bounce back and forth between my mother friend and my new child-friends with the energy of a temporary installation. I have conversations with these little ones, who are fed, clothed, diapered, and rested almost entirely in spite of themselves by their mothers. These little ones who could do nothing by or for themselves, and prove it daily with their runny noses and eating habits. I watch them move in confidence of each provision for their welfare, utterly faith-filled in their unconscious expectation of the good from their Mothers.
I see them grow older and awkward, quiet, morose, angry, confused, rebellious, a little ridiculous, as we all were. And I see my mother friends hold the impossible potential still, a little more bent by the storms of becoming A So-Called Person that seem intentionally aimed to hurt the mothers, to resist and estrange them, to separate from their families—this second labor that seems to hurt as much as the first. I see my mother-friends who have suffered unutterable losses, multiple deaths— not only of life, but of hope, of joy, of health, of promise or expectation, of friendship of Son or Daughter (or in-law), of unborn-stillborn-miscarried. I hear the conversations of wondering, worrying, of dread and fear and sorrow and stillness and unanswered prayers that continue into infinity because Mothers. Never. Quit. No matter how much they want to.
You are beautiful, my mother-friends. I see in you the stories of Mary, Elizabeth, Hannah, and Sarah. You are consistently exhausted and exhilarated and filled with a passion that defies understanding. You are hiding in your bedroom for one more minute of peace before facing the enthusiastic barrage of questions, contradictions, commands, and cuddles, and yet the instant something threatens the noise-makers you can move with lightning-speed. Know this; it is a privilege to watch you love your children—even when you (or they) are irritated, frustrated, or disappointed and (obviously) unable to hide those honest emotions.
Even when they call you out on your shit in front of strangers, family, or friends. Even when they melt down while we are shopping for their Halloween costumes. Even when they give me sticky food-faced kisses or pick their nose for twenty minutes solid or loudly act up when I’m visiting. Especially when they make very honest and usually hilarious observations about my age, marital status, relative maturity (“are you big or little? Cause you look little. But I think you’re big.” “Are you in college?! No?! BUT YOU SHOULD HAVE KIDS BY NOW!” and, recently, “How old are you again? You’re THEWTY-EIGHT?! One-two-thwee-fou-five-twelve-eleven-thewteen-sixteen-seventeen…”). It is an honor to hear you speak about the joys and sorrows and fears and inadequacies you feel as you parent, to hear you dream about their futures, and to talk about the talents and troubles you see taking root in them as they grow up.
Your love is extraordinary, and it is transforming you into the woman you were meant to become. Your love changes the world. One diaper at a time. One recital, one soccer game, one swimming lesson at a time. One meltdown, one rebellious, scathing comment, one prayer at a time.
*the photograph above was taken by my friend Laura, on a short weekend trip with the girls, which for the first time included a second generation, my niece Lucy.