"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mothering



Patty and I sat by the window of our hotel, visiting. It was a perfect Oregon beach morning: calm, mild, sun splashes along the ebbing tide line. Our conversation wandered from teacher talk to girl talk to book talk to speculation about the stories of the people making the trek down the stairs just below us heading toward the beach.

One particular redhead caught our interest, both for her amazing russet hair, and for the trench coat that was not standard beach wear. As we watched her move up the beach with her two small children, we noticed a small gathering at the very edge of our line of sight. At first it looked like they were watching the two surfers braving the cold Pacific waves. But when I stuck my head out our window and looked harder, I could see people taking pictures of something in the sand, which I could not see. At one point I thought I saw some bit of gray move slightly, but it was hard to tell.

Curiosity drove me from the room with camera in hand. I didn't quite run, but I moved quickly, afraid I'd miss whatever was so interesting. I could see stakes in the sand from quite a distance away, so I knew what I'd find before I got to the clump of people.

This is the time of year that seals give birth to their pups. There are signs everywhere at the beach warning  tourists to leave the babies alone if they see them on the sand. Moms will leave them there, safe, while they hunt for food just beyond the incoming waves.

The stakes were placed by volunteers as a sort of corral meant not to keep the pup contained, but to keep us away.

When I got close enough to really see the pup, I was surprised at my own reaction. He seemed so vulnerable and I could see ribs and some very strong part of me insisted he needed my help. I distracted myself by taking pictures, and watching the people who were watching the pup. A volunteer said he was just a couple of days old. She also pointed out the mom, swimming and hunting in the shallows. She said the mom might not come in to claim her baby until late at night after the beach was completely clear of people. I wondered if the mom knew how much danger she was leaving her baby in, if there was a thought process involved, or just embedded survival behaviors.

Mothering has been on my mind a lot lately.

In the weeks before Mothers' Day I was aware this would be my first without my own mother, and my second without my daughter. However, it seemed like my grief was at low tide, and I was going to get through the holiday without incident. That changed several days before when my favorite barista asked me what I was doing on Sunday. I have no idea why that question at that time created a new tsunami of sadness, but it did. Not so much for my mom, but for Kathleen.

When I woke up on Mothers' Day the worst of the sadness had abated. I sat in the quiet predawn, journaling, missing both Mom and Kathleen, but grateful for the love I felt for them both. Emma was on my lap, Toby and Walt both sleeping, and Grace was in her corner. She hadn't come out for breakfast, but when I checked on her, she responded to my pets and went back to sleep. In the preceding weeks, I'd watched her go completely blind, grow thin and lose much of her spunk. But still she had demanded food, purred under my hand, and curled into my lap.

I became aware of odd sounds coming from the corner that had become Grace's safe place months before. When I went to see what was happening, already knowing it wouldn't be good, I found her unable to move her hind legs. So at 6:30 on Mothers' Day morning, I woke Walt, told him we needed to take Grace in, and began my final goodbye to her. As with Cooper in January, I held her through her last breath, and brought her home, saturated in an awareness that true mother's love is a willingness to sacrifice personal needs for the greater good of the beings in our charge.

Because my experiences with mother and motherhood were unconventional, I've always thought there was some magic to motherhood I missed out on. That if my life had followed a different course, I might have known some secret maternal power involving safety and a love that serves as a shield against loss and pain.

But watching that seal pup last weekend, I realized that mothering is a danger-filled endeavor, no matter what. Dangerous for both mother and child. Requiring trust and sacrifice. And never ever free from pain and fear. But it's only through a willingness to bear the pain and sacrifice that  any of us get to the incredible joy found in that one very particular and unique bond.

The first year anniversary of my mom's death is Wednesday this week. I'm not feeling sad, which surprises me quite a bit. What I feel more than anything is gratitude for the bond my brothers and I formed, the true family we became, when we said goodbye to the mother my oldest brother describes as "far from perfect, clearly human, but most importantly, all ours."

Mom left me on a beach very early on, and didn't ever quite find her way back to me, always swimming in the shallows, perhaps waiting for the safest time to come in. A time that never arrived.  But I understand, finally, that she believed she was keeping me safe. Just as I believed I kept Kathleen safe by giving her to other people to raise, and swimming away.

The only love we have to offer comes from hearts broken on rocks we have no power to avoid. Hearts that seek to save others from those very rocks. Imperfect love, yet strong enough to be a healing power long after the physical relationship ends.




24 comments:

Wanda said...

I love your writing...and your heart...and you. So sorry for your losses. Glad I got to meet your kitty. May you be held in peace and love.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Deb, I love the way you've pulled these things together and come up with a very insightful, forgiving, life-affirming take on motherhood. I, too, am sorry for your losses and I wish you all the best as you make sense of them and make your life whole.

Heidrun Khokhar said...

Oh there is much sadness when we must let go. But we know we have no choice but to deal with it. So take longer than others.
My favourite part is your opening. By sharing with others the whole act of mothering comes together.
Every aspect has been touched.

Mark Lyons said...

You did a great job of bringing tears to my eyes with words of love for our mom and you insight into life in general. Thank you for your words and the heart that you share with all of us.

I love you

Mark

Deb Colarossi said...

oh , Deb...

my heart wrapped around yours....

Amber said...

" saturated in an awareness that true mother's love is a willingness to sacrifice personal needs for the greater good of the beings in our charge."


"The only love we have to offer comes from hearts broken on rocks we have no power to avoid. Hearts that seek to save others from those very rocks. Imperfect love, yet strong enough to be a healing power long after the physical relationship ends."

Ahh, you move me with your thoughts, your heart, and words.

:)

Retired English Teacher said...

Deb, you have said so much here about being a mother, that I barely know how to respond. Perhaps, one of the most difficult thing about being a mother is idea that we must do it perfectly when we know deep down inside that we cannot no matter how hard we try. It is easy to judge what perfect mothering should look like, but in reality, there are so many variables how can any of us know how to really make that vision work?

Barb said...

What a wonderful photo of you and your Mom, Deb. Being imperfect, we all must just do the best we can. No excuses, but no judgement either. It really is impossible to walk in someone else's shoes. Hope you are "free" now for the summer. Enjoy! PS So sorry you lost your kitty.

#1Nana said...

Beautifully written. I entered into motherhood without much pre-planning or thought. I think I heard the clock ticking and responded. My relationship with my mother was challenging and much of my mothering was modeled after what I always wished my mother would be...well, that and all the TV mothers of the 50's and 60's.

I am sorry about your cat. We are currently petless and I find myself longing for a new pet but not wanting to be tied down to one. Maybe I'm over-thinking?

Linda Myers said...

Both my sons were adopted as infants. I think of their birthmothers often, hoping both of them are at peace.

yaya said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of your pet and also for the sadness that Mother's Day brought. Your words are so moving. Your write directly from your soul. My sister was always so protective of her children. She had them almost plastic wrapped! But when her son died in an accident she said she realized she really had no control..no control over life and the many things that can happen in a blink of an eye. As a parent we always look back and think "could I have done something different? or better?"...I think we all do the best we can with what we know at the moment. I hope you can have some peace this week and some comfort. Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts with us.

Sandi said...

Ah, Deb, Such beautiful, honest, love filled words. I've just spent a considerable amount of time responding to your earlier email, but need to respond here as well.

While your mother experience may have been a little "unconventional" your mother's heart is anything but. You have always struck me as a "mothering soul"; you mothered the girls, and I've known you to mother me!

This piece struck me, and brought the tears, "But it's only through a willingness to bear the pain and sacrifice that any of us get to the incredible joy found in that one very particular and unique bond."
Oh, the mother load is a heavy one, so true. But there is deep satisfaction in a burden gladly carried.
Sending you loving hugs.

DJan said...

I am also sending you hugs and gratitude for writing this beautiful piece. Mothering is tough, but it is also very satisfying in ways that cannot be easily communicated. The fact that you did so here, with such grace and insight, deserves accolades. So I am sending you some well-deserved appreciation! Thank you for this...

Journaling Woman said...

I thought of you during the Mother's Day week. It is so true, "mothering is a danger-filled endeavor". To save the heart, one should never become a mom. BUT, to not be a mom to someone leaves a hole. Mothering is dangereous (and worth it) indeed.

T

Jerri said...

I am so sorry for your loss, Deb.

Your writing is heart-stoppingly beautiful -- so real and true.

Mothering is a danger-filled endeavor. For all mothers. For all corners of the adoption triangle. For all who love and protect the beings in their charge.

Mothering DOES hold magic, but you did not miss out on it. You, as much as any mother I know or have ever known, understand that magic -- "Imperfect love, yet strong enough to be a healing power long after the physical relationship ends."

My love to you.

Dee said...

Dear Deb, your posting left me heartsore for all the mothers who grieve because they believe they have failed their children in some real way. I wish all of them could read and absorb your words to the marrow of their bones and the far reaches of their minds.

Peace.

Stacy Crawford said...

I really needed to read these words today. Thank you!

Wander to the Wayside said...

This is so touching and so powerful in so many ways...

Lilith said...

"The only love we have to offer comes from hearts broken on rocks we have no power to avoid. Hearts that seek to save others from those very rocks. Imperfect love, yet strong enough to be a healing power long after the physical relationship ends."

Beautiful and sad and so true. Thank you for this.

kathrynmagendie said...

*hugging you, my dear Deb*

kario said...

I am so sorry for the loss of Miss Grace.

I am humbled to watch the evolution of your understanding of your place in the world of mothers. You hold a very esteemed position there, whether you know it or not.

Love.

colbymarshall said...

Love to you, Deb. These can be difficult days. This mother'sday, I celebrated my first mother's day as a mother--I'm currently 20 weeks pregnant with my first child, a girl. It is a magical experience. Hugs toyou on these tough days.

justsoyouknow said...

So true. One of the most amazing trait is our heart's capability of accepting life's struggle no matter how unfit we are to cope at it. Same as wealth management or budgeting, we tend to distribute the funds we have until all of our needs are covered till the last coin was well spent.

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