Mothers Day is complicated for me, because my son is non verbal, and has severe autism, and so a special occasion without presents for him, or cake, or a party, would have no meaning in his world. I’m very happy to make these things happen on days like Christmas, or his birthday, but not for myself. That would heighten the sense of the absurd that already hangs about ‘mothers day’ for me like the faint whiff of a chemical air freshener that I can’t quite separate from the perfume of fresh flowers. It’s manufactured to a certain extent, and then, on the other hand it’s a non-religious day devoted to worship of the mother, which in the olden days, in Christian societies would have been Festivals of Mary.
There’s a lot of confusion, inside me as much as anywhere, as to whether motherhood is a job, or a calling, or a relationship, or a state of existence, a great blessing or a great burden, or all of the above. I know it should be a choice – and I’ve always been very clear about that. My husband and I chose to get pregnant with my son. Luckily we did, because the experience of raising him is so different to what we thought we were signing up for. That said, while extremely challenging, it’s also been joyous, extraordinary and special. But here’s me talking about it like it’s some kind of lifestyle choice, or trip you can take. As though I’m trying to spruik it to you – don’t go to Germany, come to France! And as any parent knows, it’s nothing like that. The last choice I made in this regard was to become a mother. After that, I’ve been on a ride I’ve had very little control over, except to surrender to it, to give myself as wholly as I can and do my best and try to forgive myself for my shortcomings.
I remember when Leo was born I felt there was a fundamental shift in my DNA – and I think there was a whole body change in my being, hormonally. Suddenly I was the prisoner of this being who, when he cried, I began to shake and sweat. I could literally think of nothing else until he was happy again. My happiness and comfort was dependent on his happiness and comfort, and still is. It may always be. Although I know with other children, there are the teenage and then later years where a mother has to learn to let go, and it’s an exercise in learning how to step away. Still connecting, of course, still loving and holding, but from a greater distance. That’s a part of my blessing and burden as the mother of a special needs child – that that will need to happen in a different way, and at a much, much later date.
I think mother love like Mary’s should be elevated and adored. She makes a lot of sense to me, and I’m glad she’s been worshipped in our culture. I just wish she didn’t have to be a virgin, and that Lilith was there also. Where’s the self-fulfilling vibrant woman? The creative woman? Who might or might not be mothers. They should be worshipped also. But Mary is wonderful, and I relate to her a lot. Her suffering and her love. Her joy – I love the paintings where her face is golden and she’s holding a golden child – I often, often feel that way, and I have many many photos of me with my son attesting to that. But also the ones where she’s at Jesus’ feet broken and fallen in a heap at his suffering. Mary was wracked with suffering that day also, and perhaps worse than her son’s even, because she didn’t die. She had to go on living, despite what had happened to her child.
The last time I felt almost beside myself with anguish was when Leo was in great discomfort. He expressed this by screaming and roaring, which is a horrible sound, and my discomfort was heightened by consideration of the neighbours. He was unhappy – the look in his eyes stressed and distressed and he couldn’t tell me what was wrong. I exhausted myself and my family looking for answers. Possible physical, psychological, emotional issues were interrogated, going through his bedding, combing his body for injuries or bites. Cross examining our doctor, and his carers. Finally I worked it out: he had worms. Think about it: How uncomfortable you feel, how itchy and nasty, and Leo has heightened sensory sensitivities, so it would have affected him even more. The sigh of relief that went up in our house after I’d given him treatment was existential.
What’s weird to think about is that mothers are going through both Mary’s experience, and mine – the tragic and the trivial, all the time, down through the ages to this day. Right now mothers are worrying and suffering over their children who are refugees and prisoners and soldiers and sick people. Of children undergoing a test, a fight, or just a daily ordeal. We have to somehow learn how to stand beside our children, and not feel too much, and not feel too little. Which is to say – thumbs up to Mary and our worship of her. Now let’s have a day celebrating Lilith, who exists in all women, whether or not they’re mothers.