Friday, June 26, 2009

On turning 50.

Tomorrow, I will celebrate fifty years of living consciously on the planet and among people. Fifty years. I remember when twelve years felt like a goal I would never reach. I simply could not imagine what my life could conceivably look like, who would populate my world, what I might look like, whether I would get any taller, any thinner, in the years that stretched ahead of me. Still, I feel that way. My hair has begun to silver some, and if it follows the pattern set by most of my older relatives, it will continue to silver, strand by strand, very slowly, over the next twenty, thirty, or maybe even forty years. Or, will it become a head of soft white cotton, as my dad's mother's did? I simply can't imagine. I simply can't wait!

A few years ago, maybe ten or fifteen, I would have said my life has been uneventful, nothing to write home about. I was at least a decade younger, and a million years less wise about many, many things. [The joke is that today, I am less wise than I will be in another decade or so!] So much has happened; I've had so much to think about, and have so much more experience to stand on now.

In the past five years, I've adopted a girl. She was just thirty-three days old when I stood in a corporate parking lot speechless, spurting tears, staring at my little, bitty Boopsy. Her five pound majesty slept through my total personality freeze, and I tried desperately to pull myself together in the few moments before we all went up to sign the papers and take our first official photos together. That was the day my world changed, my destiny was altered, my stars realigned, and my future truly became unimaginable. Motherhood is that gift that renders everything else a second-tier priority.

Becoming a mother, adoptive or birth mother, is a type of stewardship that is profoundly humbling. As I have watched my daughter grow over the past five years, I have seen myself become, at times, my own mother, and at other times, myself as a mother. What I mean is, I have had a chance to review my own childhood and my understanding of my mother from my childhood perspective. I have had an opportunity to review every scene from an adult, active mothering perspective as well. The picture is not pretty. It is lovely.

My mother was not an ordinary woman to me, but a special woman. Her hands, her voice, her creative mind, were all bent to the work of raising me, my sister, and my brother. My dad's time and energy were similarly directed, but, now, I want to tell you of my mother. As I remember back over the three decades I spent with her, I recognize now that her life was very much about trying to keep her feet on the ground as she lifted us up to reach the treetops and then the sky. She lived long enough to see us all reach the treetops knowing that the sky was promised.

What I think her death snatched from her, though, is a chance to see herself reach a sky she may have wanted to redefine after we left home and truly and earnestly began lives of our own. I was so busy growing up, and, toward the end, watching her die, that I forgot to ask her what her next dreams for her own live might have been. I forgot to ask her what sort of a grandmother imagined she might be, and what she would have wanted her granddaughters to call her when they chatted with her on the telephone.

Though I was forgetful then, I am thoughtful now. I wonder what she would say about motherhood if I asked her to reflect on her own mother. I wonder what she would say as she watched me become a mother. I think I can guess. I think she would say it is hard work, especially if you do it by yourself. I don't think she would have chosen to do it alone. But, since that was my choice, I think she'd say it is hard.

If I asked her what she believes is so hard about being a mother, I think she'd say that the everyday living of it is not the challenge. You simply get that part done. The challenge is in the theory and philosophy of it. You raise your kids, and you simply have to trust the hard work you've put in over the years and hope they use what you've taught them well.

Then, I think she'd say, you have to think about the way you've done what you've done. Have you been true to your own principles? Have you been true to the principles your mother taught you? Have you grown beyond the mother whose home you left to create your own? She would assert strongly that you should have grown, motherhood should have pushed you to become not your own mother all over again, but the mother of your unique children, and the mother of the woman you were destined to become. We mother children for their lives, for the future. We do not mother children for the past, for times they will never know. My mother was a strong believer in progress, as risky as it can be.

So, I believe my mother would conclude if she were with me today, raise your children to grow away from you and into their own lives. Love them enough that they will return with their own children to reminisce about mothering in her day and their parents' youth. After all, the desire to be a grandmother grows directly out of the work of being a mother.

So, I am grateful to be fifty on June 27. I am grateful for the first day of my born life, June 27, 1959. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, God, for letting me see this many days, and for letting me spend so many of them with my mother, Melba. Amen.


  1. Martha,
    I like the way you describe motherhood as a kind of stewardship. I also admire your philosophy of raising children to "grow away." Gibran expressed a similar perspective. It is a challenge and not easily accomplished. I look forward to more blog postings from you!

  2. Martha,

    I know Miss Melba is looking down on you, and smiling at all of your efforts.

    I think of her often, and with love. Whether I'm putting on my "Jesus" sandals (your Mom always had smart, comfortable sandals/shoes) or looking at my Afro after a rainstorm (Miss Melba was the first person I can remember who wore an Afro), she pops into my mind. Or, if I'm watching my godchildren and it's time to eat and they want something "different" (Miss Melba used to make me and Davy Jr. tacos and French toast for lunch), I'll think "OK Mona. Be understanding. Think of all the great meals Miss Melba patiently and lovingly made for you."

    I KNOW she's smiling on/at you and your daughter and your entire family.



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