Note: While Mothering Sunday was a couple months ago in the UK, my biological mother is on the other side of a very large ocean, and on that side of the ocean, Mother’s Day is today.
Some years ago, I spent Mother’s Day with the wonderful Priscilla, of This Lively Earth–who was, at the time, my MA supervisor, and has since become a very dear friend and mentor. I remember sitting in the café at St. Mike’s, watching the waitresses go around with baskets of flowers, asking each woman whether she was a mother.
I was young enough then–still in my early 20’s–that I probably didn’t feel the full weight of the awkwardness that surrounded our small table as we both silently shook our heads. And then Priscilla said, very quietly, so the waitress couldn’t hear: ‘But I miss my mother. Could I have a flower for missing my mother?’
I’m turning 30 this year, just edging into the age where childlessness is likely to mark me as outside society’s norms. Our next door neighbours (an older couple, with three grown children of their own, who took Mark under their wing when he first came to Scotland) are just starting to drop less than subtle hints about when I (yes, ‘I’, not ‘we’) might ‘take time to start a family’. Our biological parents are more restrained, for whatever reason. An occasionally frightening number of our classmates are happily engaged in their own reproductive endeavours;1 a fair number of the search committees and church offices that Mark has had interviews with have taken pains to discuss issues such as schooling (though not, to the best of my knowledge, useful things like paternity leave) ‘just so you know’, or ‘just in case’, or ‘for when you decide to think about that’. And every time someone says something, no matter how well-meaning, I become a little more conscious that I as an individual and we as a couple are not ready to think about that, and may never be ready to think about that. And while, on the one hand, that’s the best place I think we could be right now, for a number of reasons, on the other hand… On the other hand, I keep remembering that breakfast, and how quickly we were both dismissed. Two childless women.
I have a biological mother. She is still alive. I value her, and I e-mailed her today to tell her that. (Normally, I phone, but I’ve been nursing a horrible cold all weekend, and my voice is pretty much gone.) But much as I respect her, we’ve made very different choices about how to live our lives.
My mother is not my role model. She is not the first person I think of when looking for an example of how to live my life. That doesn’t mean I don’t like her, it means that by the time she was my age, I was nearly eight years old and my little sister was in preschool, and the older I get, the farther apart our experiences grow.
When I need an example of how to be in the world, of what options I might have for my life and of how to navigate the challenges that go with those options; when I think, to put it quite bluntly, about who I want to be when I grow up, most of the women that spring to mind are… well, like Priscilla. Like my dearly departed high school ceramics teacher. Like the two women who served as examiners on my doctoral thesis.
So, here’s to you. To all of you, who shaped me and sustained me and got me to where I am. I’d send flowers, but I’m kinda broke.
Priscilla, next time you see that waitress, tell her I said to give you a damn flower. Tell her I said to give you a dozen.
1 I count three classmates, and at least half a dozen college friends and family members who will be celebrating their first Mother’s Day as mothers this year–and I have a terrible feeling I’m forgetting a few!