A couple weeks ago my friend sent me an article by Courtney Martin called “The art of care mostly disappears
(except it is also eternal).“
And as I read it, sitting in the car after a particularly difficult motherhood morning, my eyes welled up with tears.
This author spilled out the words that so perfectly narrated my current motherhood quandaries. “my labor, my witness, which is to say, my very life force, is poured into these children and then, ostensibly, vanishes.“
It spoke to my efforts especially with Lucy as of late, who is getting more and more willful and beautiful and determined and conflicted by the day. I sat there and thought, after a tumultuous morning, of “my labor and my witness…my very life force” poured into her. Does she feel it? Will it remain? Or does that care just gradually evaporate, mixed in with the wind of change?
I thought of all the books we have read together, snuggled in her bed bathed in the light from her lamp. The Chronicles of Narnia again and again but also a myriad of other gems…The Tale of Despereaux, Anne of Green Gables just to name a few, as well as the Babysitter Club books my mom gave her for Christmas a few years ago, the first time she realized the words were just too small for her to read any more. Have those moments imprinted into her heart?
I thought of the late night heart-to-hearts, the thousands of “back braids” I have made in her long, thick hair at her request, all the hours of sitting at the piano bench together trying to explain the enlarged notes her teacher has carefully drawn out. “This hand goes up,” I tell her, which is apparently her “down,” “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” I still have to say to myself as we try, together, literally working up a sweat, to plunk out the correct tune. The things we have baked together, the way she has learned to scoop the flour just so. The lunches made, the hugs given.
My care poured wholly and fully into her soul.
Oh, I haven’t done it all right, that’s for sure.
“Mean mom” has made her appearance over and over through the years. My patience has run thin, my heart is sometimes heavy with the love and also the concern. My heart has broken and I’m sure I’ve broken hers.
But oh! I have cherished this job: the one C.S. Lewis claims is “the one for which all others exist.”
The job of “Mother.”
And as I sat in my car that morning I wondered about that care I have spilled out over the years.
Is some of that care already gone? Will she remember, five years from now, our tandem bike rides, our hair whipping in the wind to and from school, past Mr. Wonk the tree that we have to duck under since it has grown sideways over the sidewalk. Will she remember the job lists, the boundaries, the read-a-thons, the school projects, the things that made her look like this?:
This is not just Lucy, of course.
I think of each of my children.
The paths we have traversed together, intertwined, sometimes clinging desperately.
The first words read together, learning to tie a shoe, their faces lighting up when I showed up in each of their classes every year to teach “art masterpiece,” the birthday parties, the bedtime stories, the sunset basking, the teaching, the bleacher cheering, the worrying, the loving.
The stuff that motherhood is made of.
As I thought about this, I thought of my own mother.
Do I remember her care?
Oh, it was there in full force.
But no, I can’t remember that care, at least not the details.
It has grown fuzzy with the passage of time.
So how do I know that care was there?
Because I feel her love running through me daily, even when there are weeks that go by when we don’t get to talk.
Her love is thick in my heart.
Because here’s the thing about love and “care:”
It doesn’t evaporate.
I love what Courtney Martin said about her own mother in that article:
“I think people who have never met my mom, who know nothing about my upbringing, can probably feel it in me—that I am a woman who was a girl who was unconditionally loved and seen. That I am a woman who was a girl who was cared for with a sort of sacred attention that was not hovering, but honoring. It has nothing to do with a perfect childhood. I don’t even know what that is. It has everything to do with the absorption of care, of a certain quality of attention, that makes a person sturdy and supple later in life.
Care disappears and it is also somehow eternal.“
No, Lucy and the rest of my kids won’t be able to remember the details. Even now I cannot remember what was happening in this picture:
But I hope that because I looked at her like that, my care and love pouring out, over and over and over again.
That somehow that care is becoming part of the fabric of who she is.
And that some day down the road, even though life is messy, people will look at her and see a “woman who was a girl who was unconditionally loved and seen….a woman who was a girl who was cared for with a sort of sacred attention that was not hovering, but honoring.”
And most of all that she will see herself that way.
Courtney Martin says “Most of what is wildly worthwhile is achingly impermanent.“
But I believe that expanding love, that beautiful brand of “mother care” poured into the very fabric of who her children become, lasts forever and ever.