When last my sister Beth and her husband Brandon were here, I expressed my extreme skepticism to something Brandon said by furrowing my brown and giving him a hard, sidelong glance. His immediate and surprised response: “O my gosh! That was such a Debbe face. You look exactly like your mom” (something like that—I haven’t been around Brandon enough to get his parlance down just right). I know that face he’s talking about. I can feel it in the muscle and stretch of my skin, as though it was part of my genetic makeup. Maybe it is.
My reflexive response: No I don’t.
Brandon and Beth both sprang to her defense: “Well why not? Being like Debbe is a good thing.” They’re right, and I am not proud of my almost involuntary push back against the lovely woman who birthed and raised me, who continues to love me like no one else can or will. Who prays for me and would do anything to help me and my children and my husband in any way she can (and she and my father do, quite regularly, come to our aid as they are able from so far away).
Shall I go on?
My mom—her name is Deborah Doreen (but goes by Debbe—no, that’s not a typo)—is a lot like Ruthie Leming. She hates to burden anyone. She has an ebullient spirit, a heart for the poor and the downtrodden. She is a loyal and empathetic friend; she would do anything for anybody if she believed she could be of some help. As a speech therapist, I know she has turned a lot of kids’ lives around, not to mention encouraged their parents. She is creative and flexible. She knits a mean washcloth (not to mention scarf and baby blanket). She is dramatic. She loves life. She loves food. She delights in her grandchildren. She is my dad’s best friend, the yang to his yin.
And I am like her. How could it be otherwise? Why the need to deny my birthright? As I told John yesterday (when my telling him how I felt turned into a self-absorbed pity party—is there any other kind?), I can be a brat. Selfish and proud, I delude myself into thinking I am in some way self-made.
Wednesday was the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and the reality of motherlove has been abiding. It was a fitting week for a spot at a different, larger Montessori school (where Gabriel will be attending preschool) to open up for Jonah. He’s been on the list for three years. After meeting with the team that will be working with him (teacher, school director, intervention specialist), we felt good, even confident that this could work. But speaking from experience, I am nervous as heck. When I was ten, a school change derailed me, and I can still feel the anxiety I lived that year.
But back to Jonah. Days before we received the call, Jonah dreamed that he met a new group of friends. Granted, his dreams since then have involved a perpetual fall from attic eaves and losing his mother; he’s also been extremely touchy and dramatically emotional.
I know something of what he feels, and I feel it with him and for him. But this is the sort of transition that will make him larger. He’s seven, and his world is understandably small, but he’s ready for a little expansion. A farther stretch. So the excitement and the anxiety, the uncertainty and the possibility, the known entity and the mysterious must co-exist. I keep telling myself that anyway.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, lived a whole life oriented to this sort of expansion. Again, how could it be otherwise? Being the Mother of God is, by definition, an enlarging vocation, as is motherhood in general. I see it in my mother. I see it in myself.
Maria Skobtsova, who is known as Mother Maria and was canonized a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, writes about Mary and motherhood in terms of acceptance, of accompaniment, and of responsiveness:
In motherhood part of oneself becomes another life and yet there remains an inseparable bond with the original life. It incarnates an existence in oneself and in an other, but in an other separate from oneself.
The Mother, cleaving to Her Son, surrenders Him to the world. The Mother already is not freed in Her Son and together with this is inseparably bound up in all His paths and with Him. In general, the choice, the decision, belongs to the sonship and not to the motherhood.
Motherhood is drawn along the Son’s path and as it were co-lives the Son’s path. In regard to sonship, motherhood is passive and cannot make the decisions. It only shares in the sonship’s decisions. The freely chosen suffering of the Son becomes for the Mother a suffering not freely chosen, but rather inevitably accepted.
Motherhood is not active, but always responsive to the activity of sonship. Though, even in Her responsiveness, She cannot choose for Herself the decision.
In essence, motherhood can neither lead, nor conclude, but only accompany.
I have been blessed to become a mother. Maybe it is not so much that women become their mothers but that, in a sense, all women become mothers (whether or not they have children—my godmother being a fine example of this), and in doing so, are able to fully inhabit themselves and the world.