Mother’s Day is still almost a week away, but there are buds on the ancient wandering rose my mother pulled for me from her grandmother’s rose, and it will be in full bloom on Sunday, like this is still the case for Mother’s Day. My husband will be doing brunch. Our grown children will come and we will also take my husband’s 92 year old father as he lives for family reunions and has felt the loss of them more keenly than any of us. We are all vaccinated now, but we will not soon forget what it feels like to be separated.
Mother’s Day has always cast a shadow of sadness for me, even before the pandemic turned into a memento mori every day. My paternal grandmother died before I was born, when dad was only 24 years old. He’s always made it his goal to make Mother’s Day brunch special for mom – and for mom and grandmother – but he never stopped crying for his own mother, the one for whom I am appointed.
So I learned early on what a busy vacation could be. It is terrible for those who mourn a mother who is now gone, and also for those whose mothers simply were not equipped to raise a child. This is terrible for women who desperately wanted to be mothers but couldn’t be, and also for women who didn’t want to be mothers but who are too often vilified for this perfectly reasonable choice. It is more than terrible for women who have lost a child.
I have family and friends who struggle on Mother’s Day for all of these reasons. I think of them when I think, as I inevitably do on this May Day, how much I miss my mother. The world has enough pain without inventing a party that causes so much pain, and I would gladly take it off the calendar if I could.
But as painful as it can be, Mother’s Day also reminds me of how motherhood unites me with so many things in the animal kingdom. My youngest child turned into a hip baby 20 years ago, but I have to stop looking for a crying baby at the crate, and I swear I feel the need to protect the newborns in my nesting box so deeply than their mother. Is. We are partners in this endeavor of bringing baby bluebirds into the world, her and me, even though she doesn’t know it.
The need to protect and nurture young people is a biological imperative shared by a surprising array of creatures. Despite the ambivalence about the holidays, I will be happy to play all the cute animal videos and click on all the cute animal slideshows that appear on the internet this time of year. Who could resist the lioness purring as she licks her cub’s belly, or a fox carrying her kit safe by the skin of its neck, or a giant-clawed hawk carefully pushing its curious eyes back under the safety? of his chest?
I particularly like the foster animals that we don’t associate with education at all: the wolf spider carrying his tiny spiders on his back, the alligator tenderly carrying its baby in its mouth, the timber rattlesnake protectively encircling its hatchlings, the broad-headed skink silently guarding its eggs in the dark.
And as difficult as it is to witness the grief of others, it comforts me to remember the universality of grief, to remember that we are not alone in our suffering, or where we seek comfort. I think of Rosamund Young’s delightful memoir, “The Secret Life of the Cows,” and her story of the grieving young mother who sought her own mother for comfort, three fields away, after her baby was stillbirth. I think of the killer whale carrying her dead calf for 17 days, across a thousand miles of ocean, because she couldn’t bear to let the baby go. (Last fall she gave birth again, this time to an apparently healthy calf.)
This week, I will be writing notes to a friend who lost her only child to the pandemic and to two others who lost their mothers. These vacations will be terrible for them all, and I have no illusions that my grades will bring them even the slightest comfort. My only hope is to remind them that I hold them close to miles.
Mother’s Day is a saccharine invention, a national fairy tale in a nation that does next to nothing to support mothers. But it is also a day to contemplate the ways in which we are connected to each other, through moments of joy and sorrow, through time and species. So my children will come for brunch and I will prepare mealworms for the bluebirds to feed their babies.
I’m going to cut a bouquet of old roses and think of my mother and my grandmothers, the one I had known since my forties and the one I have never met. I will think of my great-grandmother, the unwavering center of my childhood, of the mother and grandmothers who formed her gentle spirit, and of the mothers and grandmothers who formed them too, who go back more long time I’ll never know.
Margaret Renkl is an opinion writer covering flora, fauna, politics, and culture in the Southern United States. She is the author of the books “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss” and the upcoming “Graceland, Finally: Notes on Hope and Sorrow in the Southern United States”.
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