For the past twelve-ish months, I have spent more time than ever before in my life meditating on my mother. Who she is, what role she plays in the world, what she means to me, how she does it ("it" being a whole heck of a lot of things). It's a bit selfish, I realize, to wait until you are becoming a mother yourself to really get around to fully appreciating who your mother is. Sorry for that.
Being in my last month of pregnancy in December, feeling like I had no way of imagining what the rest of my life was about to be like, I wracked my brain for images of my mom, mothering. As I held Sofia in my arms for the first time, my mother was right there, watching over me, preparing me for that moment, holding me in that moment (both in the immediate and most fullest senses). Taking Sofia home from the hospital and spending all hours of the day and night holding her, gazing at her in complete wonderment and awe, I almost ached with the desire to know what this had looked like when it was me and my mom - with the simultaneous desire that I would never lose the memory of those moments, and that there would be some way that Sofia might have the memories to hold onto, too. How many times this year have I asked myself, "how did my mom handle this situation? cross this bridge? prepare for this event? make this moment special? clean up this mess?" so. many. times.
Maybe it is both a blessing and a curse that we can't remember those first few years. Maybe it is grace for new parents that their kids don't hold onto all the "oops!" moments of children learning to be parents. Maybe it is part of this unique bubble of intense intimacy that parents, and especially mothers, share with their infants. There is no language, there is no formula, there is only one heart feeling another heart, meeting its needs, and through that, having her heart so fully filled. There is simply no relationship comparable. Part of the depth of the intimacy is that trying to put words to it already dilutes its power. And there is something about words and memory that is inextricable. So when I say that no one who is not a mother can quite know the bond I experience with Sofia in her first year, no one includes even Sofia herself, or me in the case of my own mother. But I've wondered. I've wondered this year what my mother felt, thought, looked like as she was holding little zero year old me.
Over Thanksgiving, my mom brought home videos. Years of footage converted to DVD. Most of our watching consisted of wading through my father's over-long video shots of leaves or chimneys or zooming in too tightly on people's faces or just nothing. (Oh the novelty of new toys in a boy's hands!) But for brief seconds, important moments were actually captured. People no longer living, relationships no longer in tact, youth no longer in bloom, laughter long forgotten. We teased my dad, we analyzed, we laughed hysterically.
But the part that left me speechless while watching was that I finally got what I'd been longing for all year. There I was. First born. Spending my initial days in a house that no longer exists, in the arms of my beardless father and my gorgeous young mother. I got to see my mother soaking in that newborn intimacy, showing me off to her own mother, putting me to sleep, dressing me up in silly outfits, whispering sweet words. It is one thing to be the beneficiary of such love, it is another thing to come into the knowledge of that love. To know just how powerful, just how tender it truly is. To hear just what her voice sounded like as she comforted me in my complete vulnerability. To see her body language, her physical affection toward me in my most powerless state. To know just how central I once was to one person. To see how she enveloped herself around me, both protecting, nourishing, and introducing me to the world and its people around me for the very first time. My centrality to her in those early days, weeks, months, years, can only translate to her core position in my own identity today.
All my life I thought the command to "honor thy father and mother" was about obedience. If they tell you you have to do something, well then you have to do that thing, end of discussion. My parents and I have certainly had our conflicts, but for the majority, I feel like I've been a rather obedient kid. (parents insert cynical objections here) But recently I've started to rethink what it really means to honor someone. I think it might mean something more like making them proud through who you become. Naturally, obeying them would be a subset of that process, but honoring them goes beyond that, doesn't it?
The list of commands they can give me is necessarily finite. And maybe I can check those things off, more or less. But to give credit to all they did to invest in me? When you see videos like I saw, when you get a glimpse, when you get to witness a taste of the way she poured out her self, her soul, her heart, her body, her time, her life into bringing me into and up in the world, you realize there is something of infinity in that.
I believe that is a love, whether the mother believes in God or not, that flows from and is powered by God, the ultimate infinite, the ultimate source, the ultimate power. She just allowed that love to flow through her. And if there is an infinity to that love she invested into me, how on earth do I give credit to that with my finite time on earth. How do I honor infinity with a finite life?
How do I make all that blood, sweat, and tears worth her while? Has it started to pay off yet? I sort of feel like bringing her Sofia must be at least a start. Those two sure delight one another! But I'm realizing how great the weight is, to live a life that reveals to others all that she toiled for me to be able to be. Because it is an intimate toil. It is hidden. Only she ever truly knew, and probably wasn't even fully aware of, all that she gave into me. It is up to me to reveal that, to bear the fruit of her labor. I will never be able to repay that debt.
This is a great task, and I am glad that I have many more years to work towards the attempt. But in the mean time, today, on the day of her own birth, I want to say a happiest of birthdays to my mother, Dana, "Big Mama" and let her know from the bottom of my heart that I hope to begin - to attempt - to try to honor her and her love with my own life.
I love you, Mom.
Thank you for loving me.