Calling All Mothers
Are you one of those mothers like me who is often disappointed by Mother’s Day—a ruse to get our families to feel guilty about and acknowledge all the things we do behind the scenes to make our children’s lives and family life thrive? Do you sometimes sit quietly at the end of a wonderful Mother’s Day thinking about the beautiful cards and the dinner or lunch out or the breakfast served in bed and in a brief moment of resignation think, “And tomorrow the lacrosse sticks will once again be thrown across the entry hall, the Legos will be lying on the playroom or family room floor, the last-minute request to bake cupcakes or to provide a pick-up from a friend’s house will be made at 10:00 that night, and the question will be asked, “Mom, do you know where you (not I) put my backpack (with the half-done English essay due tomorrow first period)?, and you say to yourself, “And a boatload of laundry will be waiting for me to do tomorrow, too.”
The role of mother—so primal and elemental (Is that a redundancy?)—no matter what else we do in our lives makes us, more than anything, fierce warriors on our children’s behalf, elevates our protective instincts to a height we did not know was possible, and rends us vulnerable in ways we had not imagined. These children of ours who test our mettle, who open up a level of astonishment and sadness, anger and joy, animal love and spiritual connection we had not previously experienced are the central figures of our lives for as long as we live.
So today I simply share “mother” memories and images deeply ingrained in my consciousness—never to go away:
- The last image of my oldest son John as I walked away from him at the kindergarten door on the first day of school. He turned away from me facing the teacher in a line of squirmy five-year-olds, and I caught a glimpse of the back of his legs in his little red shorts shaking from fear. I knew I could not go back to him, that I had to let go of my desire to run up to him and hold and comfort him until his legs stopped shaking. I got into my car and wept all the way to work, and it felt seismic to me that I could not always protect him from fear and pain.
- Sitting with my then 14-year-old, second son James in his room in our home on Fenn’s campus, just after he and Nat Carr lost a close, run-off election for President and Vice-President of the School. As he sobbed on his bed, I hugged him and said, “These defeats are part of life. You need to get up and go to lacrosse practice. Your team needs you.” He pulled himself together and left, and I remained at the living room window watching him run across the fields and I wept for him.
- Coming to the end of reading aloud “Charlotte’s Web” at bedtime with my youngest son Mattie, then a first grader, in our old house in Natick. He was lying down and I was sitting on the edge of the bed, and when Charlotte died to save Wilbur, we both started sobbing, he understanding fully the primal sacrifices mothers make for their children’s survival. And he said through his tears as I held him, “Why did she have to die, Mommy?” And I had no comforting answers as I held him.
So, today, I honor every woman who has given herself over to motherhood fully, as many of you in this community have. I see it in the generous ways you help your sons and their school, in the tireless and imaginative ways you give your boys a sense of belonging and home, a sense of purpose in life, a belief in the future and their own destiny.
There are Fenn mothers particularly on my mind as Mother’s Day approaches:
- Cande Achtmeyer, undaunted and forward-moving even in your last days with breast cancer, providing tailgate food and showing up for the girls’ game at Lawrence a few days before you died. Your four children embody your zest, your belief in life’s goodness, your industriousness, your absolute love and commitment to family, and home as hearth.
- Marty Ryan, tested beyond the boundaries of what a mother can withstand, you carry on in Tyler’s memory, working to assure that other mothers’ children will be protected and held in their desolate moments so that they may live long lives. Tyler was a gem of boy and a young man whose very being was defined by generosity and care for others.
- Margaret Skelly, brave warrior-poet in the cancer wars, mother of the Lego King of Invention. You are strong, deeply loving, and staunchly present in your family’s life and here at Fenn.
For all mothers in this community, and especially for you, Margaret, this one’s for you:
William by Mary Oliver
Now there’s William. He comes pecking like a bird, at my
His eyebrows are like the feathers of a wren.
His ears are little seashells.
I would keep him always in my mind’s eye.
Soon enough he’ll be tall, walking and conversing;
he’ll have ideas, and a capricious will;
the passions will unfold in him, like greased wheels, and he will leap
forward upon them.
Who knows, maybe he’ll be an athlete, quick and luminous;
or a musician,
bent like a long-legged pin over the piano’s open wing;
or maybe he will stand day after day over a drafts-man’s desk,
making something exquisite and useful—a tower or a bridge.
Whatever he does, he’ll want the world to do it in.
Maybe, who knows, he’ll want this very room which, only for convenience
I realize, I’ve been calling mine.
I feel myself begin to wilt, like an old flower, weak in the stem.
But he is irresistible!
Whatever he wants of mine—my room,
my ideas, my glass of milk, my socks and shirts, my place in
line, my portion, my world—he may have it.
Happy Mother’s Day
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