He’s 10,000 miles away tonight. When I finally get him on the phone, I’m a blubbering mess. After a week apart and two more to go, I didn’t yet want to wave the white flag of defeat, but it was such a tough day – too little sleep, too many messes, two little boys with cranky tempers and only one of me, all day long.
Eloquence fails when nerves run this raw: I suck at flying solo.
But the truth was, we’d had so many good days this week: such delight at summer adventuring with my boys, discovering new parks and playgrounds, meeting up with lots of friends to fill our time as a trio. Which is why the spiral downward – from a difficult morning to a disastrous afternoon to a don’t-ever-need-to-revisit-this evening – sank even deeper after enjoying such heights.
C’est la vie, of course, these rolling ups and downs, how life with littles whiplashes from one extreme to the next in a matter of minutes. I shouldn’t have been surprised.
And yet what did surprise me was how quickly his voice calmed my anxiety. How the sound of his sympathy made my whole body relax.
In two minutes he’d talked me off the ledge and back onto the solid ground where a bad day does not make a bad mother. In another two minutes he had me laughing so hard I almost dropped the phone and we started swapping stupid stories about our days, as if he were driving home from work and not working four oceans away.
A sub-par Father’s Day? Probably in most people’s estimations. We never managed to get him a gift or a card or even post a proud photo on Facebook to boast that he (along with everyone else’s dad, according to my scrolling feed) is The Best Ever.
But the simple truth is that the man lives the calling. He is father to my boys beyond my younger days’ wildest hopes of what a partner could be. Whenever I see the way other people notice it, too, that’s when I sit back and soak up the sheer grace of what choosing to love him has brought to my life and to the lives of our children.
He’ll often quote me the line from Fr. Hesburgh that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. And tonight in the smallest way, with a simple (ok, admittedly international, assuredly expensive) phone call, he did precisely that all over again.
Love spreads. His gives me more for them, for a better tomorrow.
If you’ve stuck around through the sap, you can treat yourself to theological musings on the subject: I’m blogging here in honor of the holiday – asking whether fatherhood is a relation, an obligation, or a vocation?
(Bet you can’t guess what I think.)
You know those years when you just don’t feel like celebrating your birthday?
Such was my attitude toward Mother’s Day this go-round. I was just not all that into it.
My mothering lately has been grumpy, impatient and frazzled. It’s a stressful season of our family’s life, so I’m trying not to take it too seriously. But I still didn’t feel much like celebrating. Even though I believe firmly that Mother’s Day isn’t something we earn, I decided I’d rather have a normal, quiet, low-key Sunday than a Hallmark holiday.
But as I nursed Grinch-like sentiments this past week, the notion of Alice in Wonderland’s un-birthday wryly popped into my head. What would it mean to celebrate an un-Mother’s Day instead of the normal flowers-chocolate-&-brunch festivities?
First I thought it might mean indulging in a day of activities that had absolutely nothing to do with mothering. For example, uninterrupted sleep! Adult conversation! Spa treatments! Wine! Gourmet meals that someone else cooked! Plenty of geographic distance from one’s progeny!
So then I started from a truly unconventional standpoint. What if I spent the day thinking of un-mothers instead?
Un-mothers could be fathers, the paternal yang to the maternal yin. So yesterday I prayed for fathers – for their work outside the home to provide for their families and for their work at home to nurture their children.
Un-mothers could be children, the necessary and opposite other half of the mothering relationship. So I prayed for children who daily seek the love of a mother to help them grow.
Un-mothers could be women who want desperately to have children, those who suffer through infertility, miscarriage and failed adoptions. So I prayed for the women whose hearts break as the years pass, whose stomachs sink when strangers ask questions, whose hands ache to hold a baby.
Un-mothers could be women who have chosen not to have children, those who feel called to different paths. So I prayed for women whose vocations lead them to other nurturing relationships, rewarding work, and life-giving commitments.
Un-mothers could be women who have suffered the loss of a child, whose motherhood has been broken and reshaped by pain and death. So I prayed for women who grieve for their children, who struggle to redefine themselves as mother after loss, who seek to go on living after the life they held closest to their heart has stopped.
Un-mothers could be women who do not want the children they have. So I prayed for women whose motherhood was forced on them, or who made decisions to end their child’s life, or whose deep sorrow and anger at the world causes them to hurt their children.
In the Christian tradition, one way to describe God is the via positiva: what God is like. God is like a mother. Another way to describe God is the via negativa: what God is not like. God is not like a mother.
One way to understand mothering from a spiritual perspective is the via positiva – what it is to be a mother. Much of my thinking and writing in this space takes this slant. But another way to understand mothering is the via negativa – what it is not. Broadening my perspective to embrace those who are not mothers helps me to understand my own parenting better, situating my cares and concerns within a wider view.
And praying for those whose lives and loves differ from mine reminds me that all of us, mothers and un-mothers, are swept up into the mystery of who God is.
Which is a question well worth pondering, no matter what day it is.