The Breathing

I thought I might do a little pre-emptive strike on Mother’s Day and write about it now, four days early.

Full disclosure: this time of year is a happy time for me because my birthday is one week after Mother’s Day. I find that it’s nice that it’s all smooshed together into one fine spring week: having been born and having borne a few kids. I didn’t come here to bemoan all the commercial hubris of the day; I’m into it.

Also, if anyone asks, this year I want an oyster knife.

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In previous years I have taken Mother’s Day off from church, but this year Nate and his lovely Gretta will be home from Montana just this weekend and I want them to have the churchy experience, so we’ll all be there. Plus we have a new musician joining us with his guitar and he’s singing some Johnny Cash and other favorites of mine, plus we have a visitor from Namibia speaking. Also, our beloved Patty is home from Singapore and Joy is giving the sermon so I can sit with my kids and just listen. There is a lot going on on Sunday morning that I wouldn’t want to miss. Come to church and celebrate with us if you can: 9:30 in Pawlet.

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Truth be told I don’t really know where to begin when I think about writing about mothering. Do I talk about my mom, tender and loving, kind and caring, present and accounted for? Do I talk about what it felt like to become a mother? What it felt like in my 30s, my 40s and now my 50s? How it’s changed over the years as I’ve watched my kids stretch out in every way imaginable?

It’s hard for me to talk about Mother’s Day without thinking about the women I know who have lost children, and there have been a bunch. I think this is because of the tenacity and the depth of love I have for my three kids and that to imagine losing one is unthinkable. If Sam or Nate or Coco were to die before me I think it would feel like I had lost a vital organ, a patch of gravity, the will to live. I think of those women every year when this weekend approaches and my heart aches for them even while it’s filled with gratitude for all that motherhood has given me.

Nothing and no one prepared me for mothering — not all the years I spent as a babysitter, not having a good role model, not thinking I was ready. I wasn’t. Mothering babies was far harder than I imagined it would be. Being the mother of two young men (23 and 21) is far more satisfying than anything I have ever done previously. Being the mother of a daughter (14) is where words begin to fall short as purveyors of sentiment. I truly have no idea how to convey how awesome it is, how maddening, how rich with all of the deepest emotions of life.

Everything about motherhood has been a complete surprise for me, every part of the journey.

Who are these people and how did they find their way to me? Watching them grow is like watching my favorite movie over and over: there is the cringey part, there is the nice setting, the good soundtrack, the surprising turn of events. There are the strong characters making me sad, causing me delight, the narrative that strips everything down to the bare truth.

What, who am I without them? A daughter, sister, partner, friend, pastor, writer, teacher, chaplain, photographer … all these things pale in comparison, with all due respect to all the awesome people who endow me with those roles. In the end, when the grave is dug, the ashes scattered, the last prayer lifted over the memory of me, all that will have mattered is that I was a mother.

So, yes, Mother’s Day. Sure, yes, fine, there are the greeting cards, the restaurant dinners, the cheesy floral arrangements. The schlock. It’s fine. It’s fine because mothers rock the world, literally. To use one’s body as a portal for new life, for the propagation of the species is badass and we all know it. We most certainly should take one day out of 365 and raise a glass to mothers, mothering, motherhood, the mayhem, the miracle.

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In searching my memory for a story to tell of the three and me I am lost in a jumble of days: I recall us taking surfing lessons in Half Moon Bay, parkour in the streets of Stockholm, scrambling up a mountain in the Adirondacks, skiing in Colorado, driving through the desert, playing football at Thanksgiving, so many birthday cakes, trips to the emergency room, swimming in the sea, leaving the boys out west to start college, walking Daisy after dinner, lacrosse games, campfires, hockey games, pancakes, learning to walk, learning to drive, girlfriends, boyfriends, Teletubbies, high fevers, Halloween. The list is twenty-three years long!

The thing that I have loved above all the rest, more than the many meals, more than the many trips, sporting events, summer vacations … the very best thing of all is when I have had all three of them sleeping in the same room with me and they’ve all fallen asleep and I get to lay there and listen to them breathing.

That’s it; the three of them sleeping and breathing, all in the same room.

It doesn’t happen much anymore, the boys live so far away and are really men now, but it stays thick in my consciousness as very, very important. I remember when we bunked in a room together for my 50th birthday, in the Adirondacks. I remember when we were in California visiting Steve and Erika and we all stayed in one hotel room. I remember when Tommy and Stacey got married and we stayed with friends high on a Vermont hill, all in one big room. I remember the breathing.

It is the sound of everything to me, it’s the music of a thousand angels, the most comforting feeling I can have as the mother of three beautiful humans. It is peace, grace, security, love, the past and the future and whatever we’re doing then, in that place and moment. We’re harmonizing and vibrating together there under the cover of darkness and in the spellbinding quiet of the night. My kids remain life’s most delicious mystery to me and watching them reveal themselves is pure joy. But it’s those times in the dark when the only sound is the sound of them breathing, sleeping, dreaming, close by — for me this is the whole world.