Mothers, I see you

Happy Mothers Day.

It’s mothers day. If you’re one of those who feels squirmy and uncomfortable because this isn’t your day or because it’s a hard day, keep in mind that this day, like many of our “holidays,” is a devised day, not intended to lift anyone above you or leave you out, certainly not intended to bring you down. We are all worthy of celebration.

As every year, I see those of you standing on the edge of this day.

Maybe you’re:

  • a mom who is estranged from her children
  • not a mom but you mother others
  • not a mom even though you tried
  • not a mom because you never wanted to be

Or maybe your mom is:

  • living with dementia
  • no longer with you
  • estranged
  • difficult or mean, perhaps even a monster

I see you.

Which gets me past the greeting and to the point: I also saw the post “Mothers around the world,” images of mostly “exotic” mothers from around the world with babies, sometimes more than one, strapped to their backs and chests. I saw the mom that labors in a muddy field, carries a basket of wet laundry on her head, or, oh my goodness!, balances bricks on her head as the baby sleeps on her back.

Yes…

  • the photos are stunning and hint at a story.
  • those women are amazing.
  • we should know about these women, mostly women of color, and see their motherhood.

But do we? And by “we” I mean those of us in the US and western European countries. Do we really see the women in these photos?

Do we know their story?

What are we celebrating when we circulate this collection of images for mother’s day? I’m not studied in the socio-economics of motherhood around the world, but something makes me uneasy as I click through these images.

Firstly, if the point is to be cultural, do you know what country all of these women are from? I don’t. I see the Guatemalan skirt, the Bolivian bowler hat, the Indian bindi. But I mostly can only guess at the continents and countries, much less have any inkling of the community or tribe. Not to mention that many of these women don’t even represent the majority of their own country.

What are we trying to convey?

First World and Other

The photos do tell the story of women who work in fields and brick yards, as they nurse babies and provide daycare for their brood. But what are we modeling? Some of these women probably go home to dirt floors and rooms lit by candles and lanterns. They cook meals over an open fire in the corner of a smoke-smudged room inside their home. But even so, they’re not representative of the “norm” of their countries, so what are we saying about these places?

These women deserve to be celebrated, but what are we celebrating with their images on mother’s day?

I’m humbled. Maybe that’s the point. I feel my privilege to the bone. But that’s not what makes me uneasy.

I’m uneasy because I’m an uninformed trespasser looking at a photo. Did she give the photographer consent to snap the photo?  I don’t know, and now the photo of that mother circulates on social media in a culture very foreign to her experience as a way to what? Exalt motherhood?

What do we take from this? Motherhood goals? Or is it a reprimand? “How can you complain about car pool and soccer laundry? You don’t have to carry the basket of wet jerseys and socks four miles from the river to your hut.”

Celebrate all mothers

All of our experiences are valid and unique. I’d also like to celebrate the experiences of these women, but it doesn’t feel like we’re celebrating them.

In this collection of thirty five images of women, thirty three are women of color. The women of color wear their everyday clothing, mostly different from our own, sarongs, woven skirts, brightly dyed fabrics. They walk through fields and along dirt roads with children on their backs and bags on their heads wearing their “real” clothes, some of which are skirts that would tangle between my legs and trip me on my way to a plumbed toilet.

These are indeed “Mothers around the world,” but I’m uneasy because I’m not sure what I’m celebrating. My privilege or their perseverance? My dependence on western comforts or their determination and peace in the lack of them?

Also, these don’t come close to representing all the women.

All the colors

There are two exceptions in this montage, two white women standing in a street, not a field or a work yard.

One does have two children strapped on, a baby on her chest in a tie dyed baby wrap and a toddler strapped to her back in a backpack. The toddler is wearing crocks. The mom has fun rainbow hair. They’re not in a field or on a dirt road, but rather on a street, behind them, tidy apartment buildings on plumbing and electrical grids.

It’s a lovely image, but I’m not surprised to read some indignant remarks and reactions under her photo.

—She doesn’t belong!

—What do you mean? Who are you to judge? The title is Mothers around the WORLD!

The other white mom —a woman with her daughter, both wearing traditional Romanian outfits— also draws social media drama and name calling. But for me, it’s not about whether or not the Romanian mother belongs in a montage titled “Mothers around the world.” With that title, what mom doesn’t belong? But why are more moms not represented? I don’t mean more white moms. I mean moms from those same countries who live in lit houses with toilets. I mean moms from a few miles away who have access to daycare for toddlers.

This collection suggests that the moms of most countries of color live like this when in its simply not true.

I don’t think the objectors to the post are wrong. Unlike most of the images, the two white women have bright eyes and an unlabored easiness, a jolt that the title of the collection cannot assuage. I also think those who are incensed by the objectors aren’t wrong. They are absolutely correct, not because the title is “Mothers around the world,” but rather because who are we to know what labor and tribulations the two white mothers endure?

There are several tears to take if we take into account the thread on the white ease of living versus the “colorful” burdens to endure that this collection suggests.

Which takes me back to this: these photos don’t tell the story.

Who are we?

What does it say about us when we take images that don’t belong to us, that don’t belong to our experiences, that don’t tell the whole story of their subjects, that don’t even represent the experiences of the countries the images represent… what does it say about us when we use these images to say: “This is motherhood!”

I, for one, never pulled crops from a muddy field with my skirts tucked under my waist and a baby on my back. I never trudged up a hill under crippling bags of laundry or firewood while carrying a child. Is that the goal? And if not, if motherhood should never be that hard, what are we doing for these women?

Are there initiatives “around the world” that allow me to help? These women don’t need white saviors, but they may need food, new shoes for themselves and their children, shelter. I’m not sure. I don’t know. But I’ll explore the question I would want to ask each one who carries a load that would collapse me: “What can I do to make raising your family easier?”

Motherhood comes with challenges and blessings. Sometimes just being seen makes the uphill climbs easier and the good parts sweeter. Sometimes being included gives you the strength to get through the day. Some of these images are stunning. But I don’t think the images made the mothers in them feel more seen.

I see you. I see all of you who are mothers, who mother, and who celebrate or grieve mothers, mothering, and motherhood. And I celebrate the light you bring.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021

 

 

No perfect mom

Healing work centers around recovery and often the recovery is from damage inflicted by a parent. Yeah! Your mom and/or your dad!

So this is a different kind of mother’s day message. If you wanted sappy sweet, this isn’t the one.

What parents do

Some of you were truly battered by a parent, emotionally, some of you physically, but I felt nurtured and supported, even spoiled, by my parents. I have trouble embracing the notion that my mom or dad damaged me. Yet any healing work, any counseling turns the loop to the family dynamic.

I get it. There are moments when a parent, deliberately or unwittingly, stifles something she should have nurtured. Moments where you were swept through his journey of choice when it wasn’t ideal for you. You may live your life without ever examining it. Maybe you harbor subterranean anger that poisons every garden you plant, every effort you make. Or you may spend hundreds of dollars diving deep into the childhood wounds.

No one is perfect.

Not a single one of us. If we’re lucky enough to move through parenting years, we’re going to trip up somewhere, drop a ball over there, wreck a moment here, shove a secret into a closet. If I find a moment that needs healing because of mom or dad, I try to see them, human, doing the best they could, dad looking for the user’s manual, mom for the plugs to close up the leaks. I lean in just enough to heal, just enough to acknowledge those moments from my childhood that lift their heads and say: Remember this? when the counselor demands it. I lean in deeper to forgive.

But, yikes. When I lean back, I panic! What damage did I do to my kids!!?? What kind of recovery-from-mom work do they need to do?

There is no perfect mom.

Mine’s not. I’m not. Yours wasn’t. If you’re one, you aren’t a perfect mom either. But let’s be tender with our moms, with ourselves. None of us received that user manual, and even if you read all the parenting books and magazines, you fell off the page from time to time. It’s inevitable. We all need to forgive and be forgiven.

Can you still tell mom “You’re the best mom ever” or smile when your children tell you the same? Sure! We’re in this together. Learning. And we did the best we could with the tools we were given (that last phrase is loaded). Those of us who can afford it or understand we need it, will spend at least a little time in recovery from mom. But feel free to tell her Thanks for being the best mom ever. And if you’re a mom, don’t let Dr. Doubt smother the emotion when yours tell you the same. It’s code for I love you, and we all need more love.

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

A mother’s heart

My heart catches a little, sometimes a lot, when I see their faces. In person, in jpgs from my pictures folders, on Facebook or Instagram. My heart catches because they’re so cute. My heart catches because I am their mother. What is it about a mother’s heart?

How did I get a mother’s heart?

How did they happen? I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t want it.

These three know by now that I take everything they tell me about their future with a big chunk of salt because this was my line:

I’m going to travel and write. I won’t settle. Not down, not in one place, not for one person. I’m a free spirit. Oh . . . and I’ll never be a teacher.

My life would have been full without them, without my students, without any of the things I didn’t plan for. But my life is full in ways I couldn’t have imagined with my children.

To be clear: My path is not more brilliant than those whose experiences are foreign to APGAR, possible CPD, Pitocin, or a lake of Amniotic Fluid at the nursery window of the labor and delivery unit. You don’t have to be a mom to feel your heart catch for your blessings. You don’t have to be a mom to live a blessed and full life.  While we hold up our children for all the good reasons, the paths of the childless-by-destiny or childless-by-choice are also filled with value and unexpected blessings that catch their hearts.

My path included APGAR, possible CPD, Pitocin, and a lake of Amniotic Fluid at the nursery window of the labor and delivery unit. These three humans are my surprise, my unexpected blessings, and I’m deeply grateful.

mother's heart

Mom on the morning of her 80th birthday reading messages from people in her life. She’s so much more than my mom.

My heart catches when I see their faces because, even as I crested a quarter of a century, I never wanted or imagined motherhood for myself. This could have been dreadful for all of us! But they are my blessing. I’m grateful for these humans who littered my path. For every lego that dug into my heel, every ribbon that caught my toes, every piece of goo that stuck to my shoe, every chunk of love that caught my heart, I’m grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day

This weekend, as we celebrate moms, I lift up my gratitude for these unexpected blessings in my life. I also lift up the others who gathered around me and have been mothers to my children. You are too many to name. Not all of you have children (you don’t have to be a mom to be a mom), but all of you have mothered and blessed my blessings.

I lift up my mom. I’m nothing without her. Growing up, she wasn’t like all the other moms. I didn’t always value the difference, especially in my youth. My mom, my coach, my mentor, my listener: she set the bar higher for depth, endurance, uniqueness, and patience of love. She gave me my grit, and I lift her high.

I am ever the lucky one who had the mom she didn’t always appreciate and the children she never expected. My heart catches.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018

Small Things

It’s the small things.

A walk through mom’s gardens and dew-soaked fields. Day lilies, daisies, wild thyme, and sunshine. This is exactly as I would have chosen to start this day, which happens to be Mother’s Day.

dew-soaked field

My parents’ dew-soaked fields

While my mom was at church, my daughter arranged a bouquet of garden daisies, flowers, and eucalyptus along with wild grasses, flowers, and weed. I plated lunch for my parents. My children and I couldn’t be with mom today due to work schedules. We celebrated early yesterday, and today left celebratory gestures before we headed home.

small things

A table in waiting for mom

Small things. Big feels.

Lifting up all moms and mothering women. Holding close all children. Have a beautiful day.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

 

I didn’t plan to be a mom.

For the first quarter century of my life, I boasted that I’d never marry, that I wouldn’t have children.

I would write, travel the world. I would be a nomadic wordsmith.

Yet here I am, mother of three adult children. Despite an empty nest and a portable work-from-home career, here I sit, on the patio of my home of 23 years.

Where did I go wrong? I didn’t. While I didn’t plan to be nor get here this way, I made the choices that set me on this journey, sometimes to float and let the current take me.

Was my life adventure diminished? Absolutely not. My mama journey has included travel, lush paths, white water rivers, mountains, beaches, boat rides, horse back rides, soccer and volleyball games, swim meets, concerts, road trips, and every roller coaster in every theme park we ever visited.

This journey  —which isn’t over— includes good days and bad days, brilliant moments and miserable mistakes, heart split wide open (mostly with love but sometimes with ache), and just about every cheesy greeting-card cliche about being a mom.

How do I celebrate Mother’s Day?mother's-day

Casually at best.

My firstborn arrived on a Mother’s Day. So sure, Mother’s Day has a special place in my heart. But let’s face it Mother’s Day has become like a commercial holiday, with ads that guilt children into sending the card, flowers, a gift, making the phone call, going to visit . . .

  • What if she remembers too late to send a card?
  • What if he’s working on that day or studying for a final exam or writing a final report?
  • What if they don’t have the money to buy a gift or the time or creativity to make one?

This “special” day also brings heartache to some celebrants.

  • For children who have lost their mom, the day can be bittersweet and sometimes sad.
  • For moms who have lost a child, the day brings a new wave of grieving.
  • For the childless woman . . .

Let’s talk about her for a minute.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 20% of women between 40 and 44 are childless, and over half of those not by choice.

  • For the childless who long for a child, surely Mother´s Day brings a bitter reminder.

What of the childless by choice? Remember? That was my plan.

While Pew RC puts the statistic at around 7-8% of women between 40 and 44, a whopping 45% of my friends (mostly in their 50s and 60s now) are childless by choice. I calculated the same result for both the close-friend and closest-friend pools. Although the stigma of being childless by choice has diminished, it’s there.

  • For the childless by choice woman, Mother´s Day can stir her defensiveness against those empty-life prejudices.

In my little world, those prejudices hold no truth. The lives of my childless friends are full, exciting, and often selfless. Many have mom skills, and some have filled in as second moms. Yet this holiday excludes them.

Two more points that should not be excluded.

  • Some children have crap moms. They could buy her a house and a car for Mother’s Day and still fall short.
  • Some moms have crap children. This day is a poignant reminder of their narcissism.

Am I poo-pooing Mother´s Day?

Yes and no.

When my Mother’s-Day firstborn was still a baby, we went to a one-year old’s  birthday party. My friend joked that the celebration wasn’t about her son, but about her, the day she labored to bring this new person into the world. The first birthday was a Mother’s Day. I liked this idea! I announced the same sentiments for all three of my children’s first birthdays. It’s not your birthday, it’s your mother’s day!

Similarly and conversely, the most important part of Mother’s Day for me is my children. Not the card. Not the flowers. Not a gift. Certainly not guilting them into cooking, cleaning, or taking me out to eat (although I confess I tried that once or twice ). Mother´s Day is about this unexpected path, a journey I never imagined for myself. Motherhood. My children.

I celebrate my mom and her impeccable model of strength and love in action on this day. Most years we have a combined celebration in May: my mom’s birthday (first week of May), my daughter’s birthday, and Mother’s Day. Mother’s Days is never the thing, but one of the things we celebrate in early May.

So, to answer the question:mother's-day

  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the commercialization of Mother’s Day.
  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the negative feelings Mother’s Day generates for those who feel excluded.
  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the typecasting of women and the complex roles they play in the lives of children.
  • No. I’m not poo-pooing having a special day for mom. Maybe it’s the second Sunday of May. But it could be any day of the year. Or many days of the year.

Celebrating motherhood fans out. I reach back with love and gratitude for my mom. I reach forward and love this unplanned journey, my children. I reach more to unfold my gratitude for the friends I have made through my children, and my gratitude unfolds even more tenderly for the friends of my children who are a special part of my life.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of us!

Is all of this to say that I would I hate chocolates in a goblet or a snuggles and a visit from my children? Absolutely not. But if not on the second Sunday of May, any day would do. You’re part of my journey, and that’s what I celebrate.

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.