Mother’s Day, 2013

At first, when I saw the dark clump in the top of the tree, I thought it was only a squirrel’s nest.  Curious, I slowed down and looking more closely,  realized that it was actually a baby porcupine. He was balled up and wedged between two branches in a scrawny white pine.  It was an unusually windy day.  He looked cold and very small.  A Tree Urchin.

I drove on the rest of the way home thinking about that baby.  I know that porcupines eat forest vegetation throughout the summer and depend upon tree bark and pine needles to supplement their diets at this time of year.  As adults, they are superb climbers.  However,  baby porcupines learn to climb trees the hard way – by falling out of them.  A lot. As miserable as he was, the little dude I spied today with his quills sticking straight out obviously wasn’t keen on learning that lesson just yet.

If there was a Mother of the Year award ceremony in the animal kingdom, mother porcupines wouldn’t even be invited to sit in the audience.  Porcupines are loners and once their babies are weaned, the most a baby porcupine can expect in terms of sympathy from his or her mom is an occasional grunt.  I suppose this makes baby porcupines really independent at an early age.  Maybe the baby I saw today woke up this morning, realized he needed breakfast and started climbing.

I know some human mothers like his.  They raise kids who leave home and turn into responsible adults.  Their kids might fall out of a few trees but they don’t end up breaking their necks.  They learn to feed, and fend, for themselves and soldier on in solitary ways.   However,  what works well for porcupines doesn’t work as well with humans and I always feel somewhat sad when I think of what being that sort of mom would mean for my kids and for me.  If I were a porcupine mother, I’d be the only one in the forest who scavenged for bubble wrap in dumpsters to wrap my porcupine babies in.   I’d be waddling around the base of pine trees yelling, “be CAREFUL!  That’s dangerous! Stop right there!!!”  If I trusted the universe more, maybe I could be more porcupine-like, less neurotic.   Sometimes, I’m sure my own two wish they could trade me in for a more easy-going, “no problem! If something happens to you I’ll just make another one!” model when I start obsessing about things like rock concerts and, well…almost everything.  But they ended up with me.  Sorry, kids.

It is Mother’s Day…. and so….

To the young moms and  the old moms and all the moms in between…the poor moms and privileged…the moms who work both in, and outside their homes….the ones who do it by choice, and chance….the ones who raise the grandchildren and nieces and nephews who call them “mom”…….the ones who grieve for children they’ve already lost…the ones with a child in the military…the ones who sleep on cots in homeless shelters…the ones in refugee camps in other places than their children….and so many, many more….Happy Mother’s Day.

To the moms who go hungry so their children can eat, the serious moms and the goofy ones…the musical ones and the soccer ones….the ones who wake in the night to check insulin levels…and the ones who make the choice NOT to become mothers but teach the children of other mothers, day in, and day out….Happy Mother’s Day.

To the moms who spank when they’d rather hug, and the moms who hug when they’d rather spank…and the ones who spend the bulk of their lives doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning up after other people with very little thanks….and the ones who have other, better paying careers than that…Happy Mother’s Day.

To the moms who lovingly welcome their child’s same-sex partner and the moms who plan weddings for their children that they’d prefer not to have to attend at all….the ones who make their kids go to church every Sunday and ones who don’t…Happy Mother’s Day.

To the foster moms, the birth moms, and all the other adoptive moms out there…Happy Mother’s Day.

To my mom, my husband’s mom and the moms of my friends…Happy Mother’s Day.

And finally, most of all,  to the two young women in South Korea  who trusted, without proof, that the universe would take care of the two sweet babies they’d labored to bring into the world…Happy Mother’s Day.

Oh…and Mama Porcupine?  You have no idea what you’re missing out on.  But Happy Mother’s Day to you, too.  Now go look for that kid of yours.  He looked cold.

The Mother Next to Me

Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone
but still Miraculously my own.

Never forget for a single minute
You grew not under my heart
but in it.

Fleur Conkling Heyliger

Now that she’s older, the moments come less often.  But last week,  in a Gothic style church with lovely stained glass windows, a pipe organ playing, and rows of very dignified looking college professors dressed in regalia it happened again.  My daughter’s  name had just been announced for the first of two academic awards she received that day.  As she strode to the front of the church beaming and proud,  my Mom heart did a familiar little jig.  I heard my girl described as a leader and as someone who is passionate about her studies and is always willing to help others.  Strong words.  Kind words.  Words that make a mother’s heart swell huge and broad and deep.

And then, as I’ve done many times before, I thought of the woman who gave birth to this daughter I’ve been blessed to raise to adulthood.  I thought of all the moments I’ve experienced with my girl and how much joy she has brought to my life.   Moments like the one I was having right then.

I am a mother in most of the ways that matter, most of the time.  It is easy for me to forget that there was someone who saw her, loved her, before I did.  We go through life together the way most mothers and daughters do until another shiny, golden moment happens and I find myself thinking of her birth mother again, wishing she could see her daughter on the especially scrapbook-worthy days when she sparkles and is happiest.    I pay close attention, conscious of the fact that  I am experiencing this for both of us.  I memorize the way our daughter’s face looks, storing the memory in the scrapbook of my soul, hoping there will be a day when I can sit next to her first mother and open it and thank her.

There will be more of these moments, I’m certain.  A college graduation, and someday a wedding to plan, too.  There will be babies who will call me Grandma.  All because a young woman thousands of miles and a childhood away was strong enough, kind enough, and brave enough to utter the most difficult word a mother can say.  Goodbye.

I whisper a prayer for her, wherever she is.  She is my hero.  Because of her courage, a daughter  who came to me, not through me,  is my greatest gift.