In honour of tomorrow’s ‘Mother’s Day,’ let’s think about what mothering is. Because it isn’t as simple as biology. It isn’t who you share genes with, or who birthed whom. No, it’s who’s there for you, who believes in you, who has your back. Who has mentored you and fussed over you while you grow.
This is a picture of me, age 1 or so, with my youngest aunt. The aunt who — like many of my aunts whom I don’t have pictures of — mothered me. Who taught me about boys, taught me about makeup. Gave me a wonderful role model of marriage and motherhood, when I was too critical of my own mother to appreciate her many gifts.
I have been blessed with many ‘mothers’ throughout my life. From my early childhood to now, there are women both my elders and my youngers who have nurtured me, mentored me, and been there for me time after time.
Tomorrow, I will miss my mother desperately. Not a day goes by that I don’t. But I also will miss my adored friend Ione, gone these many years, who served as a mother to me when I was far from home, and needed a maternal shoulder badly. I will think of newer friends: my dear friend Shelley’s mother Joy, who listened (with Shelley, who also has mentored me and been a bright light in my life) while I answered a question they hadn’t asked. At length. Such patience! I will smile thinking about former teachers, and old friends from far away, and women I haven’t seen in decades.
And then there are my girlfriends — my BFF, my writing & teaching colleagues. My beloved sisters & cousins & my dear old ladies. All of whom have modelled kindness, compassion, brilliance, wit & humour. Who have been faithful to our friendship over many years. And for whom I am more grateful than I can tell.
I will think of friends who believe they are childless — they have no biological children, after all. And yet? One comes to mind especially: she was there for me without stint, during a very dark period of my life. She probably doesn’t think anything of it, but it was all I had some days. Five years younger than I, she mothered me as lovingly as an elder.
Men too can ‘mother.’ I am gifted w/ a dear friend who sends me music and books almost as if he knows before I do what I need. He’s not only deucedly clever, but also funny, brilliant, and just the nicest man. He has mothered me through crises at work, as well as taught me how to read & listen. Isn’t that what so many of our mothers do?
Mothering isn’t only biological or gender-based. That’s not to in any way diminish the biological act of mothering. It’s hard (I remember!). But there are so many ways to ‘mother,’ from the small gifts we offer each other (the beautiful card my BFF sent me today, for no reason other than it made her think of me) to the great (my sister sitting with me as I watched my husband in the hospital, terrified he might not come home; she sat with me for two days…). Men & women have ‘mothered’ me all my life.
I think, too, of the animals I have loved. How they have given me selfless love, curling up next to me when I’m desolate, placing a soft paw on my hand or face. Letting me know they care, that they’re here for me. My cat does it. So does my dog. And how one species — with no ties at all, sometimes even a prey/predator relationship — can mother another. Tigers mothering little piglets, for instance. It’s about selflessness, and love.
Perhaps you’ll disagree, feeling that I term all loving interaction a version of mothering. Not true. Mothering has a lack of self-focus that much love — even the most generous love — still possesses. My aunts, my friends, my sisters, certainly my animals, think of me first when they ‘mother’ me.
The Dalai Lama often uses motherhood as a metaphor for unselfless love, and the kind of love we should emulate as Buddhists. What a hard task! And yet…when I think of my sons, my nieces, my grandson & the other children of my life, I realise: I receive far more from any one of them than I give to all of them. Perhaps that’s what he means? That love is far from simple. And ‘mothering,’ perhaps, not simple at all. A miracle? Yes. But not a simple one.