Last night, I watched a television show where the characters were discussing their gender neutral, genderfluid, nonbinary self-identification and the pronouns with which they associate.
My head was swimming just watching the scene, and I was comforted by the fact that the lead actor’s lines were reflective of how I was feeling…attempting to be respectful but utterly confused.
When I turned off the tv, my thoughts went much the same way of that scene; totally focused on self. Except for my attempt at self-definition didn’t dig deep enough into the grammatical categories to even hit pronoun. I’m stuck on noun. And I’m reminded of that every year on the second Sunday of May.
When I entered the world, a doctor presumably announced my noun as girl to a woman, or maybe a teenager, who made the selfless decision to place me up for adoption. For the next six months, my noun was foster child until I was welcomed into my parents’ home and my noun became daughter and sister.
Two and a half decades later, my noun also became wife. And four months before I was to give my Mom the opportunity to claim the noun grandmother, she died. Suddenly and unexpectedly, so much of how I defined myself was gone as well.
As my girls grew up, I always noted that when they would ask about my childhood, they would refer to “Grandpa and your Mom” as my Mom never took on the proper noun of Grandma. And if there were anyone in this world who would have savored that proper noun and all that comes with it, it would have been Mary Anne Barthel.
In the years that followed my mom’s death, the second weekend in May was heartbreaking for me. I would stand in the Mother’s Day section of the Hallmark store holding back tears with varying degrees of success. I would mourn not only the loss of her words of wisdom, her contagious giggle or the safety of her warm, healing, empowering hugs, but also, and even perhaps more painful, I mourned all the joy on which she was missing out; what she would have done with that proper noun and the impact it would have had on my world.
I was daughter first. I was daughter for such a long time. It was so much of how I defined myself. And it took my husband to point out to me that my overwhelming grief, while real and understandable, was not fair to my children who, much like I did, savor their definition as daughters.
And, thus became the tradition of the Mother’s Day nap. It was my fifth Mother’s Day that Pat put me to bed after brunch and said, “It’s ok to be sad, but don’t let it take away from their joy of celebrating you.” So I would wallow for about an hour, and invariably, during that time, I would end up counting my blessings.
The blessing of having a great mom, albeit for far too short a time. The blessing of having a great dad who tried admirably to fill the gap and provide love enough for both of them. The blessing of a great husband who also happened to be my best friend. The blessing of his family who welcomed me as one of their own. And the blessing of two healthy, happy, exceptional daughters who have given my life joy and meaning through the most wonderful noun, mother.
On Sunday, I will pray for the women who also struggle with grief…the grief of losing a mother or the unimaginable grief of losing a child.
I will pray for the women who are desperate to accept the noun of mother yet life’s circumstances hold that at bay.
I will pray for the courageous, selfless women who know in their hearts that they are not equipped to accept the noun of mother, and so they show their love by embracing the noun birth mother and charting another path for the life they brought into this world.
I will pray for women estranged from their mother or daughter or sister or friend to find the courage to take the first step if repair to the relationship is possible.
And I will pray with tremendous thanksgiving for the mothers and daughters who, through their love and kindness, embrace all the nouns I identify as today. I will focus on gratitude, counting my blessings and letting joy soothe my grief.
A few years after the nap tradition began, I was visiting Syracuse and went to the cemetery with my Dad and my daughters to plant flowers at my Mom’s gravesite. As my Dad walked away to fill up the watering can, I turned to see my older daughter, Maddie, with her head bowed and hands folded in prayer. I was moved to tears, and could only imagine what my Mom was thinking looking down from heaven on this blessed scene. Certainly, she was sharing in the great pride I was feeling over my obvious exceptional parenting skills.
And then I turned to see my youngest, Clare, probably five at the time, perched atop the headstone and tracing the letters carved into the stone. She looked up at me, her face somehow covered in potting soil and said, “Hey, what’s the dead girl’s name again?” I could hear heavenly peals of laughter as I lifted her down and said, “Ummm, you mean Grandma?”
What can a noun radiate?
Laughter. Wisdom. Patience. Kindness. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Encouragement. Love.
xoxo Happy Mother’s Day xoxo