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A Mother’s Work

I’m over six years into Motherless Mother’s Day and I still can’t seem to confront the approach of May with any measure of grace. My Facebook feed, email inbox, and in-person conversations are overflowing with photo documentation of “girls’ makeover weekends,” tender anecdotal tributes, and intergenerational inside jokes. While part of me genuinely celebrates these stories of mother-daughter bonding, a large waxen ball of envy simultaneously churns in the pit of my stomach and drags me even deeper into a gnawing and unbecoming nausea. My mother would not be proud.
In an effort to rise above my melancholy, I ask myself the pithy wristband question: WWC(indy)D? And man, she’d get to work. My mom didn’t earn a paycheck from the moment I was born until the day Emily spread her high school wings, but there wasn’t a day she didn’t create and sweat and problem-solve and sacrifice. (Okay, minus Massage Day. And those Mom’s Week Out trips to India and Germany. Note to self: also file under “WWCD?”)
My dad always tells me that the best way to get in shape post-pregnancy is to do yard work, preferably involving the solitary shoveling of 80 large bags of camel dung in the Arabian Gulf summer heat. While she was still nursing, Mom transformed our 1/4-acre lot of backyard desert into an oasis teeming with emerald Bermuda grass, cascades of fiery bougainvillea, and a modest vegetable garden. She also looked like a mermaid in a bikini at 36. (Note to self: file under “Cookie Recipes.”) After Katrina, Mom emptied my grandparents’ flooded Venus Street bungalow. She hauled mud and scraped mold and painted. She refinished floors and incessantly badgered insurance companies. As my demure Mawmaw put it, “Your Mama worked like a man.” Mom also made impossible wishes come true: at my great-Aunt Blue’s toothless request, Mom waded into her condemned bedroom and found a splintered dresser swimming in rotting debris. From deep in a soggy drawer, she rescued a cracker tin stuffed with $100 bills and two synthetic breasts. (When an 80-year-old cancer survivor tells you to go rescue her bosom, you do it.)
So, I’m getting to work–the emotional kind. I’m mentally cataloging the inspirationally long list of women who have loved me, nurtured me, remembered me, humbled me, chest-to-chest hugged me over the years, and I’m slowly setting about thanking them. Collectively, they have kept me afloat these six-plus years. They tell me stories about my mother and their mothers. They remind me why bipartisanship is important. They show me that strength is beauty, and that there is beauty in acknowledging limits. They send me baby animal text messages. They grandmother and auntie my child and they sister me with tough love and carefully titrated pathos. They call me, they ask good questions, they recommend books, and they model fearlessness. They do the work, and I forever treasure both their gifts and the memory of the woman who labored in love. Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy–and to my team of tenacious, mothering women.
* * * * *
Mary–she moves behind me 
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Everytime the snow drifts, everytime the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she’s always there
Jesus said, “Mother, I couldn’t stay another day longer,”
Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place.
-from “Mary,” by Patty Griffin
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