Here we are at Mother's Day, that huge festival where we celebrate Mom--with flowers, brunch, and a gift. But what about the rest of the year?
I am not the first person to note that we can tell a lot about a society, or an organization or a person, by looking at where it spends its money. In the U.S., we are not a culture that celebrates mothers much at all.
But I don't really want to talk about paid parental leave policies. I don't want to explore pop culture looking for mothers good and bad.
This morning, I find myself thinking about nurturing of all kinds: how we learn to nurture and how we fail to learn. Who teaches us to care for ourselves and for others?
If we're lucky, we have a whole slew of family members who teach us the art of nurturing as they care for us. If we're lucky, when we go out into the world, we meet another band of people who nurture us. If we're supremely lucky, we can nurture ourselves, even when comfort from others is far away.
I think about how hard it must be to raise children. On the one hand, you want them to feel loved and cherished. Unconditional love is the gold standard of parental love.
On the other hand, you don't want them to be too soft. The world will deliver many a blow. It's good to have children that can be tough when necessary.
But we don't want them to be too tough. Who wants to raise a thug?
But too much empathy can be debilitating too. There's so much suffering in the world. If we let ourselves feel too much empathy, we'll never be able to raise our heads for all the crying we must do.
And of course, we're never really done trying to balance all these demands of nurture, both the nurture of ourselves, our children, and all the people who cross our paths.
On Mother's Day, I'm thinking about some of the mothers I've known best, my own mother and my sister. Let me post a poem that came out of some advice that my sister got early on.
But the woman in this poem is not necessarily my sister. In some ways, the woman in this poem is Alternate Life Kristin. In some ways, I was trying for an iconic depiction of a mother. In some ways, she's all of us.
The pediatrician tells her to change
her bedtime practices with her baby.
All her friends agree: "Just leave
the baby in the crib. Let the baby cry."
In this way, the baby will learn self-comfort.
The evening compresses with the wails
of a baby not skilled at self-comfort.
The mother sleepwalks through the day,
but even her bleary eyes can see a failed
domestic policy. For several generations,
parents have left screaming children to self-comfort.
Now a nation careens from bottle to bodies to fudge,
looking for love.
Never before have so many members of a country gulped
anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants.
The unmedicated drink wine or scotch
or eat whole cakes for dinner.
With a shudder, the mother looks at the angry
offerings of a popular culture raised
on this belief that they need to comfort themselves.
She returns to the rocking
chair, the nightly ritual craved
by herself, her baby, and several billion citizens
of a scary world that's short on comfort.
She sings nonsense songs and smells
her mint tea seeping on the windowsill
keeping the horrors at bay.
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