I’m blue this Mother’s Day. I can barely muster the energy to write a haiku; every time I sit down at the keyboard, words tumble from me, disjointed and angsty. They roll around the page like marbles on a grade, glassily untethered, gaining speed towards a sure, meaningless collision. My tolerance for the uncertainty of the writing process is frayed; my weedlike intuition for finding joy in life’s crevices grown flaccid. I stare at the monitor, switching screens from my Word document to Firefox, wearily loading up the Instacart order with, yet again, bananas, milk, cold cuts for five. I miss my friends. I am sad most of the time, even though I still sing and dance, exercise and cook up a storm for my marvelous children and husband (the latter of whom I too often upbraid for insignificant transgressions at provocations entirely of my own making. I appreciate his patience with this.) Writing, I use too many words, or have none. I am filled with shame at my wussy complaints, lobbed as they are from a leafy suburban home whilst the homeless in New York City sleep on Metro buses, or elderly citizens huddle in fear, isolated from their families, and bone-tired nurses rally for another shift. I thought I was made of sterner stuff than this, that some prairie-bred stiff spine from a past life would take hold. So I bake and garden, I’ve cleaned closets and tightened screws all over the house, I work out and clean up, fold and fetch. But I am just phoning it in. I know I’m not alone in my weariness, although it’s possible the particular stresses of the last few years unique to me are finally taking their toll. Whatever the reason, my usual habits of self-care— dog walks and meditation sessions, strength training, hydration, flossing, aromatherapy, free-dancing, guided imagery or liberal pours of sauvignon blanc—just aren’t cutting it, in much the same way yours, whatever they are, fall short in the present moment.
I feel terrible. What can I say?
So my Mother’s Day weltschmerz coalesces around a sudden feeling that the world I prepared my children for is quite possibly a fiction. The one they may actually spend their adult lives inhabiting seems hostile to the beliefs I tried to model for them: Compassion, reflection, intelligence, respect for the rules, self-discipline, curiosity, playfulness and humor. I taught them that there is inherent value in beauty and creativity (by which I intended: art, music, literature, the incandescent moment that takes your breath away with sudden knowing — yes, this is true); that taking care of others matters, that hard work pays off, that the Great One is real, so you’d better figure out how to stay in relationship with her/him/them. I believed—still believe—in kindness and sacrifice. I wasn’t prepared for these virtues to be as thankless as they turn out to be in our culture. I wasn’t prepared for our leadership and its apparent social ethic to be so breathtakingly self-centered, self-serving, small-minded.
And yet, here I sit, whining at my keyboard, poor me. The irony is not lost on me. It irks me not to rise to the occasion, to lack can-do spirit in the face of this lockdown. My fragility takes me by surprise. I’ve always ploughed ahead through crises, the one who keeps a cool head and makes sure everyone else gets to the lifeboats in orderly fashion. I am discomfited to find myself a babbling matron clinging to the captain, desperate for rescue. Perhaps I am growing.
As I meditated this Mother’s Day in our backyard, the late afternoon sun warming my shoulders, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for the joy we have known in this yard, under these same trees, nourished by the same sun, nearly 30 years of security in this same home. That was my American dream, to provide stability and solid ground after my chaotic early life. I recalled my kids as tykes, running around in the sunshine in their floppy, bold-print sunhats, nature all around us. I could almost feel the exquisite privilege of their sturdy little bodies climbing into my lap for a hug, a squeeze, asking me to fasten a loose shoelace or hair tie, before squirming away again, singing, or yelling, or narrating their own adventures. What a charmed existence that was, and I am lucky to have had it. I was blessed beyond measure to have spent so many years with the job title “love-giver-in-chief,” along with all the crappola, of course, that goes with motherhood. I hope all that loving fortifies them for whatever the future holds, whether we are hurtling towards some mean-spirited, dystopian pand-America, or can miraculously hove to and take on the deep challenges of addressing our brokenness as a society.
It came to me, as the wind swirled my hair, overdue for a cut, in arrhythmic gusts, bird song rising and falling in the woods beyond the fence, that if all I can manage is one snippet of gratitude a day, then that’s something. Hopefully, a pinch of uplift will be enough to inoculate me from the creeping despair and exhaustion I sense sniffing curiously around my edges, looking for a way in. So if it’s all I can manage, I’m gonna show up, with one little scrap. I still believe that if you can create a single thing of beauty in a day, well, that’s something. So I will drag myself here tomorrow, clapping for Tinkerbell, and we’ll see.
If you are up late like me, here’s a quote from a lovely song to send you off to bed this Mother’s Day. It’s by composer Stephen Sondheim, from his revelatory musical “Sunday in the Park with George”:
You would have liked him
Mama, you would
Mama, he makes things
Mama, they’re good
Just as you said from the start:
Children and art
Children and art
Mama said, “Honey, mustn’t be blue
It’s not so much do what you like
As it is that you like what you do.”
Mama said, “Darling, don’t make such a drama
A little less thinking, a little more feeling”
I’m just quoting Mama!
The child is so sweet
And the girls are so rapturous
Isn’t it lovely how artists can capture us?