The True Meaning of Motherhood

What is a mother anyway?

What does it truly mean to be a mother?

In its simplest form, I suppose a woman becomes one through the act of birthing – but even that isn’t completely accurate. There are other roads and other roles women play to become mother.

The act of caring. The act of doing. Laundering. Ferrying. Carrying. Remembering. Reminding. Feeding. Bathing. Nursing.

Yes, but littles don’t even notice when we do these things. Maybe if we don’t.

Is it the arts and crafts, then? The activities? The culturally enriching experiences?

Our tremendous aplomb at managing the tightrope of work and home life? Or the cutting-edge at-home preschool curriculum we’ve essentially created to validate our exit from the working world?

Motherhood, at its core, is this.

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

The gentle, yet firm embrace of a mother’s arms around her child. The child, no matter the age, wrapped in a ball to crawl into that embrace. Precious little head tucked in the hollow between mother’s chin and shoulder. The child inhaling the indescribable comfort of laundry detergent mixed with bath oil and mom’s own musk; Mother inhaling the memory of sweet baby down. A kiss planted on top of that now full head of hair.

When we think of motherhood in its purest form, we can all do this. We can all excel and revel in this most revered of roles.

If we remember what is at its core:

Love

The Center

 

How self-centered we are

to be governed by our emotions

and not the looks of pain on the faces of those around us.

To expect the world to orbit around our center.

 

The way we act shows it a thoughtless given in our minds.

 

To miss the fragile little being in front of us,

the industrious, frenzied flap of hummingbird wings –

the little things that should be front and center

so as not to be crowded out by the hulking beasts oh so eager to rule.

 

It’s a $%#@ vacation

“There were constant battles . . . between those who had chosen to have children and those who had chosen not to – all ostensibly for the sake of our publication, but more accurately as a way to work out personal differences under the cloak of business discussions.  Our boss was happily childless (“When I see children, I just want to put them in cement,” she once admitted), and she was unimpressed with the fact that mothers needed to return to their families earlier rather than later each evening.  Her right-hand woman also had no children.  They didn’t like to do extra work to make up for the women who went on maternity leave, and they didn’t appreciate having sacrificed portions of their personal lives to the office when others hadn’t.

“Well, what does the woman who chooses not to have kids do?  asked the boss.  “She should take a maternity leave to fulfill herself.”

A new mother grunted from her position at the table, her breasts sore from pumping milk into bottles, her eyes swollen from nights awake.  “Right,” she said, “it’s a fucking vacation.”

— from Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love by Justine van der Leun

 

Things That Need to Be Said

I have a relative who says things she shouldn’t.

She says the things you don’t want to hear.

The things that make you uncomfortable, that turn the mirror back on yourself in a most unappealing manner.

In a discussion of summer vacations and friends’ doings, I mentioned that some friends had taken their families to Disney.  We lamented the hot weather in Florida this time of year and how trying it must be.  I said it would be trying at any time of year with my youngest being only three.  If I experienced sensory overload and exhaustion at the dawn to dusk days of Disney, I would have to wait until my children were older before I subjected them to its amusing assaults.  I jokingly shared my observation I’d shared with my husband and kids: that I was fourteen years old before I had my first visit to Disney so I was in no rush to get my own much younger kids there anytime soon.  If I had to wait, they could wait.

And that’s when my grandmother dropped her bomb.

There are children in the world who don’t have enough to eat and here we are worrying about what’s the right age to take our children to Disney.

Nothing like the perspective of an eighty-four year old woman to smack you back in your place.

I hadn’t been lamenting my fate.  I hadn’t been saying my children desperately deserved a trip to Disney, but the poor dears weren’t old enough.  Hell, if anything, I was glad they weren’t the ‘right’ age so I didn’t have to go through the whole ordeal.  I don’t see Disney as an obligatory childhood right of passage.  In America, it’s just something a lot of people do and it’s part of our societal subconscious (again, thank you to the ever-pervasive Disney marketing).

But my grandmother was right.

I’d like to think her comment was not directed solely at me.  That it was just an astute observation of the irony of what many call ‘first world problems’.

But it cut to the quick.

In one concise sentence, she cut the wheat from the chaff and crystallized what should be our priorities.  In a world where families can spend thousands of dollars for over-the-top entertainment, others’ can’t afford food for one day.  In a world where I worry about the stress of an over packed summer schedule, there are mothers who worry if they’ll make it through the week.

I didn’t like what she had to say because it made me feel guilty.  But guilt is usually born of some seed of truth deep within our gut.

My grandmother wasn’t trying to nurture that seed.  She was simply speaking her mind in the privileged way that a long life has earned for her.  In her eight decades, spanning two centuries, she’s seen a multitude of changes, not all of them good.  In her evening ruminations, she discovers a perspective the rest of us can’t necessarily see – or don’t because of the frenetic pace of our lives.

I have a relative who says the things that need to be said, things she’s been waiting her whole life to say.

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