Life has its quirks. Just when you think you’ve got some things figured out, the mystery reinforces itself. Staying open to the surprise of not knowing as much as you think you do is one of the consistent charms of being awake and curious. If I ever get it all figured out, it’ll probably be over.
One of these topics for me is motherhood. Now there’s a word that evokes response that is completely subjective and strongly felt, no matter what side of the word you live on. None of us would be here without one and everybody has an opinion they feel deeply about.
I grew up in a large family. I watched my mother selflessly hand herself over to the day-to-day and wondered if that was what was waiting for me. It didn’t occur to me to get married and have kids. I didn’t think any more about doing that than going to the moon. It looked like a lot of work and there were other things I wanted to do. From the eleven year-old perspective, life in the world was worth exploring and the freedom to discover what lay ahead, under rocks and over bridges as a free agent seemed a lot more appealing than wiping snotty faces of small people who need naps and feeding a husband you hadn’t seen all day.
That was eleven. At this side of sixty; three husbands, two daughters and two stepsons later, I ask myself if the reason I didn’t hear from any of my children on Mother’s Day is rooted in that eleven year-old resistance to motherhood and a life outside the box as a traveling musician. Or maybe we were just too far out of cell range…
I didn’t know what made it all work in the family I grew up in, but “love” was the reason I was given when asked. “God’s will” was another answer to some of the scarier, deeper youngster questions, like “Why was I born?” “Why do I have so many brothers and sisters?” “Why do we have to go to church?” “Why are we moving?” and “Why do we die?” “God’s will” covered a lot of territory. It wasn’t the answer to why I had to eat my peas at the dinner table but it was a holding place for many of the deeper questions. In retrospect, “God’s will” may have stimulated my sense of urgency to work for civil rights and social justice. Bucking the system for a better world seemed like my best defense to a blanket holding tank I felt a strong need to avoid. “God’s will” changed lives, justified wars, broke people and made them sad and powerless. Working for civil rights, against The Vietnam War, pro-Women’s Equality, gay rights, all became platforms for change that made more elbow room on the playing field for the disadvantaged. I was naive and irrepressibly optimistic. Motherhood looked submissive and didn’t appeal to me. I decided to become a folksinging songwriter instead.
Then I got pregnant. I was eighteen years old and it was two weeks after Rowe & Wade went through. I got the word that new life had started its motor inside my body and I had two weeks to decide what I was going to do about it. The doctor handed me a script with the phone number of a certified abortionist. If I did nothing, my condition was going to turn into a person with all the quirks and needs built into its DNA. If I had an abortion, I could put off motherhood until another time.
I was young and had dropped out of college after an unsuccessful freshman start. Since I didn’t know what I was doing next and “God will” wasn’t clear, I opted to take the next six-plus months and have the baby, give it up for adoption to a nice family who wanted a child to take care of, and then get on with whatever life had in store for me. These were dues and I was paying.
That’s what I did. It was in the olden days of homes-for-unwed-mothers, alias pseudonyms for birth certificates and a months-long disappearance act from the local scene to pull it all off. Eight years later I had another baby. She filled the void and began to heal a hollow sadness created by my relinquishment. Everything about her made me happy. Then her father wanted more children and I left.
Years later, in reunion with my first daughter and reunited with my second daughter, my life steered toward a man I loved and married with two stepsons, 11 and 5 years old. The boys were young, beautiful and traumatized by divorce fallout. I was an outsider but had a sense of humor and could cook. They liked my youngest daughter and wanted her around to scamp with. The kids chose each other. They invited us over. Perhaps they sensed my mother-apprehensive nature and unconsciously thought I might be safe. They could ignore me without offense and I would be part of the background of home with legs that walked around and talked to their father. I could be motherly at times and put good meals on the table. They had their own mother for the rest and she ruled the mother ground in their lives with a regal hand.
Sixteen years later, the four children are grown and gone happily into their adult lives. The girls are beautiful and mothers themselves. The eldest has two gorgeous sons we love without bounds. The youngest has the first grandchild, a young girl who won us all over at birth and will always be the first. There was no question from the start that she possessed my heart in no small way.
The boys are men now, handsome with beautiful hearts and single. The two brothers are close and they treat their youngest sister like blood. The oldest boy was present at both births of my oldest daughter’s sons. They are proud of their roles as uncles to our grandchildren.
We are a family. Hallmark holidays do not define our family. The children in our family have other parents in their pool to consider. Ex-spouses and primary caregivers. We have blossomed into a small tribe of diverse, compassionate, bright and loving people. Life is complex. Proximity is sometimes out of range and we forge ahead to what is in front of us. We give what we can to help them, whatever we have. We hope they feel the love we feel for them. A great deal of the time, I wonder if they even know how much love is here inside for them, how much each of them spends on my mind every day.
I want the eleven year-old in me to go away and get busy making a better world so I can concentrate on making a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and find the place for my family to gather around the table. I want to cook all day and lay their dinner down in front of each one. A prayer slips off my tongue and whispers a hope that God’s will brings my children home and fills them with questions that I can only answer with love.
To read Cathleen’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.