May 8, 2011

Motherhood is Cultivating a Life

Every year Mothers' Day comes around, and like every other holiday, the stores rush to capitalize on our our well-placed intents to celebrate our mothers—all the female-friendly merchandise gets put on sale: jewelry, clothes, the like. I half-laugh, half-scowl when I see the stores here that put their entire line of appliances on deep discount. As if what Mama really desires is a mixer—I'm guessing a year's worth of her husband's help in the kitchen might be even more welcome—or maybe not, some ladies here are fierce about protecting their domestic territory—but I digress—some Dads deserve that dishwasher themselves!

Commercial ploys aside, although our attempts to fully express our appreciation for our mothers in a single day out of the year are bound to fall short, Mothers' Day does serve as a focal point for us to reflect on what motherhood really means to us—our regard for our moms, our feelings as mothers ourselves, or how "mothering" extends to more than just the biological maternal.

As a young adult, I spent ten solid years cultivating garden spaces, at some times growing more than 70,000 plants a year in a nursery, at other times raising fewer plants per year but guiding dozens of students, young and old, through their own process of discovery of birth, growth, and death. I observed the beauty of nurturing a being from seed to fruit, and how inspiring that nurturing role can be for everyone.

I owe my love for gardening to my own Mom—who in turn got it from her mom, my grandma. My mom nurtured me in nature's direction, although less didactic than I, regularly through her example—taking us to natural areas for walks. She could tell you I was a precocious child. A somewhat rebellious teenager. Something of an incorrigible daughter. My own husband's mother has a heart attack when a child of hers strays more than a few hours away in distance, and look what I've done to my own—I went and moved 3,000 miles away at the age of 20, then south to Mexico at 28.  These flights from the nest were driven by love, something by which we siblings were abundantly influenced, given my own parents' devoted partnership, as well as some underlying longing for warmer lands that they two would be hard pressed to deny they had a part in inspiring. Even so, the long distances have never ceased to challenge us in our adult relationship. But as she knows and I will remind her today, her influence has never left my side, no matter how far I have traveled!

In fact, it's come home to roost stronger than ever this year, as the family's biggest blessing in a long time was bestowed upon us this past year—the arrival of our baby daughter, and my parents' first grandchild. Although at some points during our relationship we doubted we'd ever have kids, when we did finally decide to, I knew the next happiest people of all would be my parents. Far from being a fulfillment of a "just wait 'til you have kids of your own" type prophecy uttered out of exasperation, motherhood has been everything I hoped for, and nothing of what I dreaded (well, maybe small bladders, labor, and lack of sleep is the pits). Not only has it given me a renewed appreciation for the sacrifices my own mom made for me—not just to birth me but to raise me—but it's taught me more about myself and life than I thought I still had yet to learn. Our daughter has brought out the best in us as parents—this account would be lacking if I didn't thank the Dads in my life (both my own and my husband) for their support in helping me to be the kind of woman and mother I want to be—and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be her life's guide.

Finally, motherhood is simply one greater step in a network of care for each other—a deeply personal, perpetual, unconditional commitment to the life of another. The very ground we walk on, the Earth we depend on, comes to mind—our global mother. In this light, I feel called to thank all the people who've supported us in our journey to new parenthood for their generosity, kindness, and good model. Even those who don't have children can play a role in our making a better world for our kids. I recently found out that a good friend, former supervisor/mentor, has made the intentional decision with her partner to not have biological children, but to dedicate themselves entirely as creative professionals in sustainability projects. I was humbled and moved by their awareness of the sacrifice it means that they will not experience that joy—but also that they are aware of the importance of their commitment to their lives' work. I felt a twinge of envy for the extent to which they can immerse themselves in projects that have such meaning for them, wondering myself when my energies would extend back out beyond the walls of my own home.

I even went so far as to lament the dilapidated state of my garden to someone, missing the sight of the fruits of my labors. At which point, they remarked that gardening is simply cultivation, and that's exactly what I've been doing for the last 17 months. Honestly, I don't know how that fact could get lost on me—that reminder filled me with optimism and affirmed what's true, that motherhood is cultivating a life. And what a beautiful flower she is, this daughter of mine. Must be how every mom feels about their child. It's a feeling that can't be confined to a single day—as everyone who cultivates lives on a regular basis knows—it's an honor and a privilege of devotion that never ceases.

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