I love the symmetry of a life like that, love the idea of Sunday dinner, the whole family gathered around one big farmhouse table

I was a child of the small-town South of the early ’60s, and all the women I knew stayed home with their children, whether they cared to or not…I also expected to get married and have children. Of course I would; that’s what little girls did…What I would be was a mother.

It’s not such a retro idea when you grow up in a family like mine…But I asked my Mother once what she felt she had been born to be, and without hesitation she said, “I was born to be a mother.” My father felt the same way about being a father. Everything my parents did, they did to support the family. We children were their role in the world…

But God help the woman who believes this message too wholeheartedly, who feels too acutely that motherhood truly defines her. The very culture that insists that raising a child is the single most important thing a woman can do with her life also maintains that she must be willing to surrender that identity the instant her child leaves home. The notorious “helicopter parent,” the meddling mother, the critical mother-in-law — these are all tropes at least as pervasive and unchallenged as any Madonna and Child image of manifest womanhood. A mother who can’t “let go” is a grasping, desperate creature, entirely to be pitied if not openly reviled…

It wasn’t always this way. When the house my grandparents lived in burned down during the Depression, the whole family moved in with my great-grandparents. When my other great-grandmother became widowed, she joined them in the farmhouse. No one questioned the wisdom of this arrangement or suspected any of them of being emotionally stunted, unable to let go. They simply expected to spend the rest of their lives together, sitting on the porch in the cool of the evening, talking to one another.

I love the symmetry of a life like that, love the idea of Sunday dinner after church, the whole family gathered around one big farmhouse table, but I’m also grateful to live in my own time and place…

But I struggle with the constant reminders that my sons share their lives primarily with people I’ve never met, that they all do work I know only in its broadest outlines. They love me; I know that. They call often to chat, and they don’t hesitate to ask for advice if they’re unsure of something. But exactly as their own culture demands, they have also created lives in which my husband and I are on the margins. Peripheral. Almost obsolete. Even a house fire would not send them back to live with us forever.

I will love having them all home for Mother’s Day, but in one tiny little corner of my mind I will also be missing the days when they were still so small and so needy, when the family circle was still close and closed. I will miss the smell of their sweaty little-boy necks and the feel of their damp fingers clutching my blouse as I bounced them on my hip. And I will remember all the years when Mother’s Day meant crayoned cards and plaster-of-Paris handprints and weedy bouquets made of clover and henbit and creeping Charlie and dandelion. The most beautiful flowers in all the world.

~ Margaret Renkl, excerpts from The Mother’s Day Trap (NY Times, May 7, 2018)

 


Photo: Elena Shumilova (Saint-Petersburg) with  a bit more about golden fish

Easter is calling me back to the church

I went to church on Easter Sunday last year, and never went back. It wasn’t a boycott, exactly. It was an inability, week after week, to face the other believers…At church, all I could think about were the millions of people likely to lose their health insurance thanks to Catholic bishops who opposed the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. I was supposed to be thinking about the infinite love of a merciful God, but all I could hear were thousands of Christians shouting, “Build that wall!” By the time Easter had come and gone, I was gone too…

In the past year, while my husband and his father were at church on Sunday mornings, I was in the woods, where God has always seemed more palpably present to me anyway. (And not just to me: “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church,” Emily Dickinson wrote back in the 19th century. “I keep it, staying at Home.”) For me, a church can’t summon half the awe and gratitude inspired by a full-throated forest in all its indifferent splendor.

The year away from church hasn’t made me miss the place itself. I don’t miss the stained glass. I don’t miss the gleaming chalice or the glowing candles or the sweeping vestments. But I do miss being part of a congregation. I miss standing side by side with other people, our eyes gazing in the same direction, our voices murmuring the same prayers in a fallen world. I miss the wiggling babies grinning at me over their parents’ shoulders. I miss reaching for a stranger to offer the handshake of peace. I miss the singing.

So I will be at Mass again on Easter morning, as I have been on almost every Easter morning of my life. I will wear white and remember the ones I loved who sat beside me in the pew and whose participation in the eternal has found another form, whatever it turns out to be. I will lift my voice in song and give thanks for my life. I will pray for my church and my country, especially the people my church and my country are failing. And then I will walk into the world and do my best to practice resurrection.

~ Margaret Renkl, from Easter Is Calling Me Back to the Church (NY Times, March 25, 2018)

 


Photo: Arnaud Maupetit

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