They did a May Crowning at my daughters’ school today. It was a bit of an emotional experience for me because my oldest was doing her first reading at a Mass and my youngest was strapped to me struggling to breathe with pneumonia and May Crownings just in general bring tears to my eyes.
I stood in the back the whole Mass hoping not to get close to anyone so as not to pass on our germs, and as I stood there, rocking Tessie, the 2nd graders all lined up in their First Communion outfits, and the eighth graders walked two by two up to the statue of Mary and placed flowers in a vase.
Meanwhile Magoo was up there with the choir singing quite a few of the songs I used to sing to her as I was feeding her during those first few precious months of my motherhood.
And I started to think about how much being a mother requires of us. I *had* to be at that Mass. I could not miss her doing her reading. She needed me there. Not because I was going to mouth the words to her or was going to be her courage when she got intimidated. But because we belong to each other. Because I am the face in the crowd that she searches for when things get exciting or scary or new. And because nothing could be a greater honor than to be that person and nothing could be of greater importance than to live up to that honor. To be there. To show up.
And then I looked down at the sick little one strapped to my chest. I thought of the responsibility I have to her. I thought about how my arms are the only ones that will do when she is upset. I thought about how she might not understand a single word I say, but that we communicate seamlessly through affection and familiarity. I thought of how my body produces antibodies to actually fight off her illness for her. She needed me.
And I have four of these little people. Four people that I have such a huge responsibility towards, and then I looked up and saw the kids placing flowers at Mary’s feet, and I realized that she, too, was a mother. That the most celebrated fully human being in human history is celebrated because of the very fact that she was a mother. That she played that role. That she ushered in that grace.
Things are changing in the world these days. Definitions are being changed and expanded and morphed. Roles that were once prized are scoffed at and roles never before imagined are becoming commonplace.
And at the center of all of this is the role of women and of mothers. We are told time and again that women can be more than just mothers. That we don’t have to be limited to it. That we don’t have to be tied to it. That it’s not a responsibility we need to accept if it is given us. That we can be more.
There’s a whole lot there that can cause so much division among so many. And the last thing I am prepared to do right now and right here is to jump right into the middle of that. But what I would like to say, what I feel I need to say, is that motherhood matters.
Being a mom is important.
Being a mom isn’t a “just” thing even if it’s not the only thing.
Being a mom isn’t a lowering of oneself. It isn’t a step back from the world. It isn’t a resignation.
It’s not a rock we are tied to that will sink us down into the deep even as it is a responsibility we are tethered to for the rest of our lives.
It might be our primary responsibility. It might be one responsibility among many competing ones. It may be where we find our greatest joy or where we find our greatest stress. Or it may be both. Or it may be all.
But whatever role motherhood plays in our lives and whatever role it plays in our days, it matters, and it matters deeply.
And so I might be sitting there, laughing at the absurdity of having to be almost everything to so many different people. But the gift of motherhood is in the giving. It’s in the pouring out of ourselves into the lives and the hearts of others. It’s in saying, “yes. This is the most all encompassing and intensive role we could possibly play, but we are up to the challenge, and we will give our whole selves to it.”
We live in a world that wants to make things easy. That believes we are owed the easiest path of least resistance. That believes suffering should always be alleviated and that it never can have a greater good. It believes that we look out for ourselves first and give our own needs precedence.
But then moms come along, and we turn all that on its head. We say that to give to others is our greatest joy. To center our lives around other people’s dreams is what can give our own dreams meaning. And we say that it can be hard, really hard, but the struggle is worth it, and it will forge us, hopefully one day, into human beings who are worthy of the title mom.
I hope this doesn’t come across as saying there is one type of mother because that is not what I am saying. This has nothing to do with whether a mom stays home or works, whether she home schools or boarding schools. It’s not about the individual choices she makes for herself or her family, and it’s not about sacrificing her own sense of self.
Instead it’s just about that gift all moms give. The one thing that unites us regardless of the paths we choose.
This self giving love is our gift to the world. It’s our example to this world. And as we saw in a small village working class woman two thousand years ago, it can be how we live on through eternity.