I used to hate Mother’s Day. I have written about this before, so I won’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say, I used to believe that Mother’s Day was the one of the biggest lies of all. It was a day of demonstrated appreciation that seemed to say to me something like, “This card and dinner at Red Lobster is our way of not having to carry our part for the other 364 days each year. You don’t have to clean up (pause) today, sucka!” I know I’m getting better and better in my own skin, though, because this year I am not dreading Mother’s Day. I’m not calling it Mule’s Day. I’m actually sort of excited about it.
I haven’t swallowed a magic elixir that makes things easier or tidier. I’m not taking anything for my mood. My house is messier than ever as I prepare to move homes, and I am working harder than I ever have before. My kids’ needs are greater than they were when they were babies, and I am doing things I have never done before, such as pleading for financial aid from the school and seeking county assistance for the medical needs of one of my children. I’m exhausted, but I’m making decisions and signing deeds and taking out loans all by myself. I get calls from people seeking payment on stuff I never thought possible, such as the daily phone call from the finance department at the cemetery. My one hundred/month apparently isn’t sufficient. But, I buried my dad with dignity, and I’m keeping my kids fed, clothed, and educated. I pass kidney stones almost monthly, and my teaching is laborious, but I feel on fire with the zeal of God. Truly, I’m starting to feel happy again, and my happiness is rooted in my gratitude. I think the shittiness of recent years has finely tuned in me an appreciation of decency, and my eyes are opening once more to the radical joy of mere being when being is experienced as gratitude.
I have an exemplar of gratitude for whom (and this is actually the point of this post), I am grateful beyond measure. That person is my mom, Patricia Jeanelle. Now, my mom comes up in my teaching and writing fairly regularly, and I always speak of her with sweetness and thanksgiving. However, it is only recently that I have come to see her in some other light, perhaps since my dad died. I am aware that she has stood beside me in the years of my life, ready to pick up what I can’t carry, to help buy what I cannot afford, to laugh at the ridiculousness of things, and to cry at the woes of life. She’s a solidly good friend to all who know her, and she maintains a glowing attitude even in the worst passes. She’s not a saint by any means. She’s deeply human; she has her flaws. She never tried to be perfect, though her husbands accused her of as much. Perhaps they did so because people are drawn to her in ways that one would have to witness in order to believe. Strangers follow her in Cosco to tell her they like her purse; TSA agents forget their protocol to chatter with her about her hairdos. She very seriously contends that her attitude is gratitude, and she lives in a space of intentional beauty and class. She’s great, but I say all this merely by way of introduction.
For, what has caused in me this depth of gratitude for mom, which exceeds gratitude and approaches something like an interior peace with dharma, is that I have finally seen my mom as a battle angel, a warrior for me, a guardian who refuses to let her baby girl suffer alone. My mom, friends and readers, loves me with an active love of self-gift, a kenotic love of spirit. Her love is the love of God that loves another as she has been divinely loved. She really has modeled self-gift each step of the way, and for each of her steps, she has been grateful. She gives to everyone, and she especially gives to me and my kids, because we are her intimates, and she is looking out for us. Her wings spread over us like a bullet proof shield, and they always will because the shelter she has offered is existential. She has shown me love in my soul.
As we come up here again on Mother’s Day, I felt it was appropriate to say this in this context. Thank you, Mom. Thank you, all moms. Thank you deeply and preciously and with purest love. I know not everyone has this kind of maternal love that I enjoy. Maybe not everyone needs it. I wouldn’t presume to say what’s better, what’s privileged, what should be in the way of mothers, not-mothers, mothers in a different way, and so on. I know my own forays into mothering are pure instinct and riotously exploratory. I think, I hope, we all try to do our best. I am simply grateful and especially grateful to have an opportunity to say thank you to my mom, “Patsy” or “Patty-Cake” as she is affectionately called, for being my fucking hero.
I wrote this poem for her twenty years ago, imagining what it would be like to one day live in the world without her. I shared it with her then so that she would know how much I loved her, how much I needed her, how strong she was teaching me to be, how I feared to lose her, and that I would try to be a giant of hope and courage and gratitude even when or if, in this mortal flesh, I would one day have to walk alone. I plan on keeping her by me alive and well for many years to come, but I share it now here in the spirit of a very grateful, welcome, happy Mother’s Day to all.
sometimes I hear your voice
so softened by wear
a well-worn cloth
cotton to my ear
and the things you say
sometimes twice or not at all
leave me hanging, judging, gauging
the length of your fall
you are much older
than my mother should be
and then I realize
I am older too
a brief blown kiss in the wind
this is the best life can be
hurts, triumphs, tears, laughter
and all our meaning
contained in the sound of your voice
so soft against my ear
an autumn breeze
my four o’clock daydream
what words can ever capture
my child eyes
that see you tremble from time to time
and add a fine line
here or there
beside your sterling hair
that look back and see my own wisdom
creeping into the corners of my mouth
when each new success comes
friended by your peaceful stare
that I am safe now
that I am grown now
How will I ever live without you?
that is all we are
beautiful, sterling, impotent, but
You are beautiful.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.