mother hands

I stood rinsing the dish soap off of the strawberry dinner plates and setting them in the drainer this morning, letting water run over my hands, I pondered whether I would write a mother’s day post. The strawberry plates in my hands were a mix of those that actually belonged to my mother’s mother, and those that I bought from a vintage etsy shop for my birthday this year, to replenish the stack that had dwindled to only three. An eight-by-ten-inch swatch of Nana’s strawberry wallpaper hangs to my left above my sink. Dish washing is not my favorite chore, but it is mine to do, and I try to keep my sink area cheerful with reminders of the reason behind the love labors. Part of mothering is washing these dishes, and I am thankful to have the chance to mother, and grateful for the long line of mothers who washed the dishes before me, and all of the other mothering they did to bring me here.

I chose this photo for my mom’s card this Mother’s Day, originally because heart-shaped flowers seemed right for the tenderness of mothers, and the way these hearts lined up, with the long line of our grandmothers in mind, stretching into the past. My own heart has bled during this season of separation from my son, another layer to the flower’s symbolism, one that is common to the hearts of all mothers, I imagine. I know there have been seasons when my own mom’s heart bled for me.

Mom has taught me so many things throughout life, and most of them I have not rejected, although her habit of reading the last chapter of a book first to determine if it is worth reading the rest is one I never adopted. Mom does not like to sit with uncertainty, not even in a work of fiction. Even though I start stories from chapter one, right now I am finding it a daily challenge to live with so much uncertainty of how this story of world chaos ends. How the story of my separation from my son will resolve itself finally. Here I sit on Mother’s Day, without my child, and knowing so many who sit without their child or without their mother, and wonder if the holiday is worth the trouble of the grief it cannot help but bring along in the celebration of mothers? The older I get, the more I realize what a tough holiday it is, and that for so many good humans, today’s status is, at best: it’s complicated.

I busy my hands in the garden, working to achieve my 2020 garden goal of more flowers for butterflies. I add compost to the front garden bed, seeding scarlet sage, seashells cosmos, and black hollyhocks in a freshly weeded area, and spend a while weeding around the bleeding hearts on the edge of the yard today as I ponder, and try to keep from pondering, all the hard topics of Mother’s Day. My mom is having a lackluster Mother’s Day herself, and she makes me feel better in the solidarity when we talk on the phone.

I lean heavily on the butterfly metaphor lately, at the risk of cliché, but I find it coming to mind again, when it comes to not writing the ending of the story before it can be lived. I am holding out hope that we will emerge in a more beautiful form than we went into this darkness, transformed into beings capable of things we could only have imagined in our wildest dreams, Before.

In one November gratitude post I wrote about how I am grateful for overlapping generations, unlike the monarch butterflies who never know their parents at all. Still, I can’t help noticing that our nature is not that different from theirs; I know my own mother, and I knew her mother briefly, but the long line of mothers that stretches back in time before her, I never knew. A few have names to me, Patricia Ann, Anna Hilda, Hilda Louise, Anna Louise, but beyond my great great grandmother even names fade out of memory. I repeat their names today, as I began to do on my first mother’s day as a mama, another string of rosary beads I work through my hands, these hands that wash the strawberry plates, till the soil, make the lasagna according to Mom’s recipe, these hands that resemble the hands of the women whose names I utter. Despite not knowing them all, I am tied to them by that soul heartstring which is much too elusive to describe but irresistible to try to capture in words. Tied by apron strings longer than centuries and as impossible to pin down on the page as a butterfly’s fluttering flight.

These names are in my blood even if I can’t know the women who bore them. Their meanings include noble, grace, and warrior. A quadruple helping of warrior, in fact, with two of Hilda and two of Louise among my recent maternal lineage. I can only hope that the triple helping of grace (Anna/Ann) will help me through the times I grow weary in my warrior capacity. I believe that grace and gratitude are related in their roots, and default back to this trusty tool of gratitude that I carry in a prominent place, like a sword that I wear as part of my warrior armor. I look down at my hands, the hands of my mother, my Nana, of each noble warrior mother walking ahead of me, as I pull it from its sheath once again.

Today I am grateful for the hearts and hands of mother warriors.

2 comments to mother hands

  • Holly

    Oh MB! This made my heart bleed…in a good way. Thank you for the beautiful words. And yes, sometimes Mother’s Day can be complicated.

    I can’t help but think, as you trace back your lineage, that we are all connected to that first mother, Eve. She kinda messed up (but we still love her), but then we have another mother that we all share given to all, the one we give roses to, the New Eve. In this story we see hope and new beginnings. Hail Mary….

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