Family

For Mothers

I was posting flyers through my local neighborhood when I found a couple of Mother’s Day cards in a local store. It was a small shop, hipster-run, and the cards were locally made, and I realized that this fit most of my qualifications for a good purchase, so I bought a card and sent it in the mail a few days ago, so my mom would receive it by this Sunday.

Cards are funny things– a folded piece of paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good card.

Only, how does one properly convey senitiment over something like that?

My mother is the kind of woman who I can look at and say, “How did she do it?”

And how did she? Five children under the age of five, a mediocre support system, demanding family members…and she homeschooled? Plus she did all the laundry. And all the cooking. And literally all of the cleaning. Laundry for seven people, friends. Food, three times a day, for at least five children…and often more, when we lugged friends home.

How did she do it?

Upon reflection, I come from a long line of women with this same impossible knack for achieving more than what is humanly possible.

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This baby is…my mother. My mother and my grandmother. Look at how young my grandmother was! Younger than I am today–isn’t that odd to think about?

My grandmother, widowed young with three small girls, functioning as main caretaker for her father soon thereafter…how did she do it? How did she care for them and tell them stories and make them their Easter baskets? How did she manage to keep them safe and well-fed and make all of their Halloween costumes and tell them stories about Poland and teach them their prayers, all by herself? I don’t know. But she did.

My great aunt Stephanie, herself a mother of three children, waking up early every morning to cook at the restaurant she owned and operated for years…but not excluding the holiday celebrations my mother and her sisters still rave about. Tables full of handmade cakes! People crammed wall to wall! Every window steamed! Santa Claus! Stephanie did more than make parties…she deeply imprinted a narrative of love and celebration into the memories of three fatherless girls.

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I found this tucked in the corner of a photo album. This is my great Aunt Stephanie, herself a young woman, probably at a party by the looks of it, probably hosting, too.

And the stories stretch beyond them, up the family tree. My great-grandfather was married and widowed and he had small children and needed help raising them; so he found a woman from Poland (like him) and married her and, from most accounts I have heard, left her to raise his previous children and the child they conceived together pretty much alone. How did she do it? How did she manage to care for four children in a new, mysterious land, without the support of the man who fathered all of these children, without her native language? I don’t know. But, they never forgot her. Her stories were told to their children…and now to me, their children. Maybe one day, if I have children, too, I will go once more to the cemetery, like my mother goes every year with her sisters, to clean the graves and share the stories of these women, brave, strong, compassionate women, who changed the world because they changed their circumstances from bleak to beautiful time and time and time again.

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The child in the center is my mother, on her First Communion. The two other children are her sisters, my aunts. The younger one, today, is my godmother. The woman in the dark coat is my mother’s Aunt Bernie. Behind my mother is her mother, and the woman in the corner is my mom’s paternal grandmother.

There is a saying, from Jesus, recorded in the Bible, that we remember at every mass.

Jesus, talking to his disciples, says, “This is my body,” and he hands them bread, “given up for you.”

Are these not also the words of the mother?

I think it is so. A bishop reverently once pointed it out to me.

My mother, a small woman, blonde like me, gave up all for us. I remember tracing her veins when I sat in her lap as a child, twisting her engagement ring’s singular diamond around and around her finger. Her hands are more worn now, and the veins are more pronounced; a life of service will do that to you. She has to stop at the bathroom in every store we visit when we shop. Often this exasperates me. I wish I was quicker to remember my beautiful, treasured siblings and remember that we are the reason behind her sensitive bladder. Her back is weak, from lifting us when we were children. This is her body, given up for us.

She gave us everything she had. And still she makes the holidays at our house, inviting friends and family for new memories. And still she comes home from sewing club and fills me in on all the latest gossip so that I can get the latest stories without doing all the heavy lifting. And just today she told me I had better not forget to grab a curtain from a friend’s house, because she meant to hem it for him, and didn’t want to forget.

She used to pull my brother’s socks off, every night, just the way he liked, as a bedtime ritual. Once, for my aunt’s wedding, she made me a flower girl dress. Literally how?? She would have had 4 babies at the time–two of them baby twins. The dress had layers and layers of pink ruffles and lace. I was almost afraid to wear it, because it was too fancy, I thought. She always buys chocolate milk so that, in case one of our particular friends visits, it will be in the refrigerator (chocolate milk is his favorite).

These stories and a hundred more. Hundreds of stories that are made up of moments and hours and days and on to moths and years and decades.

And my card says something like, “Happy Mother’s Day,” which is just about the weakest thing I can think to write for the women who pour themselves out for their communities.

But, I did it anyway.

The card has a cat on it.

Happy Mother’s Day, to the women who have made me and the women who have made the women who have made me. You are my heroes, my unsung, unpaid, up-at-all-hours-of-the-night heroes. God love you all. On earth and those in heaven. Amen.

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A final picture, Aunt Stephanie, in a green skirt, “helping” Santa Claus. Today I can look at this and realize that “Santa” probably didn’t buy or wrap anything…it was probably Aunt Stephanie all along. Still, the magic of childhood, right? 🙂 It is magic. On the shoulders of these fine, giving women.

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2 thoughts on “For Mothers

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