by Brenda Ann Eckels, aMGC (c) 7/5/2015
This essay arose after reading “The Radical Side Of Mother’s Day” by David Concepcion, BS,MA
You can read it here:
and “Occasions of Sin” by Sandra Scofield (ISBN 0-393-05735-6) a Memoir of Sandra’s relationship with her mother, and the other “mothers” of her life.
OK, so Mother’s Day is long past…but in this essay by David and this book by Sandra I found to be relevant to the everyday way that Mothers struggle to do the right thing, even when the right things is not clear at all.
Along with the inherent battle to make the best possible choice in so many hundreds of situations, Mothers also have the responsibility to be willing to admit when they are wrong, and to apologize and seek to make amends to those they unwittingly hurt when they make a human mistake. After all, being willing to say “I am sorry about how that decision turned out. I understand I hurt you. I am open to making things right between us.” is as crucial to being a good mother as any home cooked meal or favorite family tradition. And yet, in Scofield’s book, one can see so many times the mothers of her life simply could not or would not say those words. The nature of parenting and social mores in the 1950’s certainly had a fair influence on this, which made the times Sandra’s mother did make the attempt to say “I am sorry.” so much more powerful.
It also, I think, highlights the important role mothers have in this world – far beyond the role they may play in an individual child’s life. How many of us have “mothered” a lost soul, incorporating them into our family and most importantly our hearts? How many of us have become “mothers” to community and church organizations, bringing them up to the best they can be in our own fallible human ways?
I also find that my definition of “mother” has grown over the years, as has the people who are “mothered”. Far more than a son or a daughter, more than a child, Mothers can, and often are, the linchpin of entire extended families, of groups of people working toward a common cause, or churches, and of communities. That role of mother to such groups is important, and is often the catalyst to just the kind of peace that the founder so sought to celebrate.
At the same time I thought of mentors in my various careers who went the extra step into the deep caring that marks “mothering”, David’s essay also reminded me of all the “mothers” in my life who, for whatever reason, have essentially vanished from my life, and how much that vanishing damaged and hurt the “child” I was to them. It reminded me of how much it still hurts, eating at the inner 6 year old in me who simply wants a hug and an “I love you” from Mommy.
It brought back that in some respects we never completely finish grieving for the mothers we lose – be they biological, unofficial, grandmas, or those older wiser friends who step in to the mothering role. Be it death, distance, willful abandonment, or illnesses like dementia, the loss of a mother is a profound loss not only for the “child” – whatever age they are -, but the entire extended family, and quite often for the communities they were active in – the fields they worked in, the churches they helped grow, and the civic organizations they ran.
While the intent was to create a holiday celebrating those mothers who worked unceasingly for peace and against war overseas, and the author is correct that it has been in some sense bastardized by commercialization, the original kernel is still there.
There is still so much need for mothers who will work for peace, and still so much that can seem like a war right in a family or community, that only true mothering love can really mitigate.
When a mother, however defined, leaves a family, a child, or a community, there is a loss far exceeding the simple semi-orphaning of one or two individuals. In that respect, I see everyday as Mother’s Day, and as a celebration of those “mothers” (including the author) who stay, who keep the ties that bind a family or a community together even when it would be easier to run away.
While I recognize that some mothers do abandon the God given role they have because they are simply too mentally ill themselves to manage even the smallest effort, I know too that there are a good many mothers who run away, who leave, out of lesser reasons that have more to do with no longer wanting to live up to the calling laid before them. I know that there are mothers who leave for the very selfish, often commercialized, pursuit of “me, mine, money”. In those situations, all one can do is grieve, put one foot in front of another, and attempt to forgive them.
While in many respects, her biological mother, like me, was unable to be a heroic constant saint because of the serious health issues she battled all her life, in the end the author made peace with the fact that her mother did, in fact, have some golden nurturing peace-making moments, and did the best she could before dying at a much too early age. She also moving wrote of the other “mothers” in her life – the Sisters at her convent based school, the Grandmother, the Aunts, even the peer friends who stepped in and provided the adolescent Sandra with a “mothering” care.
Reading the book, then David’s essay, I found myself questioning my deep seated fear that I was not a good mother because of the disabilities inflicted on me by years of violent physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. I realized that, much like Scofield’s mother, I had quite simply done the best I could do with the abilities I had. I was able to appreciate that there were a good many times I was more than just a mother. I was an exceedingly good mother. Not just to the kids who I had custody of, or gained as I married or partnered with people who had children already, but I “mothered” well to a Girl Scout Troop, to a gang of kids who were friends with my kids, to a small group of young adults in a small town who were homeless, hungry, and often lacking in any hope of things getting better. I “mothered” young welfare to work participants, and guided them at least a few steps towards independence. I “mothered” community organizations and 3 different Catholic denominations.
I am known for leaving the doors open, forever, to any of the 15 “kids” God has graced my life with, and I take great comfort, now in a sort of medically induced exile with MS complications, when I get the Facebook messages photos and chats from ex-foster kids and ex-stepkids who for many years were closer to me than my “forever’s”.
Does it lessen my pain and guilt that I let down one daughter so badly that for now she will not talk to me? No, it does not. It is a cross I carry everyday that the answers she sought from me, waited over a year for me to find, were discovered in a file box two months after she left my life. It is a suffering that I doubt will ever go away, and which would have overwhelmed me had it not been for that tiny silver thread…that down deep she knows I love her and she know that I will never close the door to her. Even if she never comes back, I know that once I am healthy enough a copy of what I did find, along with whatever my multiple sclerosis damaged brain can recall, will get put together, and I will reach out to anyone who might know where I can send it that she will eventually receive it. I know that she may never contact me again, that she may decide that the failures I had as a mother do not measure up to the good things I did. I cannot control anything she or any of the other kids feel or think, especially those who spent a lifetime being brainwashed by my abuser.
I know that her leaving me, and my having to come to grips with that fact means that I must someday at least consider if my repeated attempts over the years to reestablish even some minimum relationship with some of the mothers I have had to walk away from to save my sanity is worth it.
By my daughter’s actions, the possibility arose in my conscience that yes, I too could leave my “mother” or even leave more than one of the women who have been “mothers” to me. While in the past my then fiance and I had to put some boundaries up because the communications with some of the mothers in my life had become simply to damaging to my fragile hurt inner child, it wasn’t until the morning we were to be wed that I had to face the reality that in marrying, I was going to be putting Brian and his son first in everything, and that while it was hoped that those “mothers” and others who either passively or actively engaged in actions to damage our relationship would change, I had to make a stand before god to “forsake all others” for Brian. I did, and even though the marriage ceremony had to be called off due to both of us having health crises, I never wavered in that vow except for the when we separated. In large part, even then I did not waver. It was almost impossible for me to consider doing anything that would hurt Brian or his son. It was as if every part of being “the mother” in our family was still there. The commitment was quite simply the same as each time I held a newborn of mine, signed a foster agreement, or walked out of a courtroom of family court.
David’s essay brought home to me that there are vows that one takes as a mother or a wife that are so deeply spiritual, so integral to one’s soul, that to simply break them is just impossible to comprehend. In reading the book, I was able to find some measure of peace in the grief that bubbles up to the surface when I am most in need of the closest Mothers I had who are now, for all intensive purposes gone.
One is long dead from a battle with Alzheimer’s, another radically changed in personality by the cruel damage of depression and loneliness. One is separated by religious ideologies that simply can’t be set aside to keep the peace and the relationship, even if we could manage the distance between us. One of the dearest to me these past 4-5 years was forcibly pushed away from being the confidant I could talk to about anything by other family members deep in the throes of Female Relational Abuse, mental illness, and domestic violence, who actively worked to try and destroy me body and soul. One mother very simply became worn out, burned out, from decades of care-giving both at home and in careers, and no longer capable of maintaining a relationship with a crippled “daughter” who keeps refusing to die.
It is still an uncomfortable concept, that perhaps I am being called by God to leave, to stop the frequent attempts to build even the most simple lines of communications with these mothers of mine. I often feel as if I am contemplating turning the midday sky orange instead of blue, of going profoundly against “the way things should be”. Scofield had the leaving of her mother be a permanent thing because of her death, but over time she had to settle within herself if the other “mothers” were people that she could continue to relate to, talk to, visit with, even if they were people who had hurt her, or left her and gone so far she literally had to hunt them down. In David’s essay, he in the role of “mother” to his child, continues to work and sacrifice to make the trips to her Grandmother not just because of the overblown commercial holiday, not just because he is this woman’s son, not just because it’s “the right thing to do”. He travels and sacrifices to bring Grandmother and granddaughter together so that the relationship can thrive, grow, and be a comfort to both of them. He is doing the work of mothering, of peace bringing, or maintaining the family ties.
In the end, it is the Mothers like David, like the one I met who is battling two state agencies to reunite her family, the one who along with her family has “adopted” the whole me – the writer and the cripple, the one who helps out and the one who can only lie in a bed wracked in pain – the ones who go to court against police brutality for the sake of the neighborhood they love, that are the heroes of Mother’s Day. Those mothers” are the ones who deserve our highest praise, admiration, and support.
But we should never forget that even the mother’s like me and Scofield’s – limited by disability, or overwork, or by today’s crushing American poverty – even we have our moments of greatness as Mother’s, and even we can keep the doors open, be willing to say “I’m sorry”, and be willing to do our best each day. And for us, everyday is Mother’s Day.
Some Image(s) courtesy