Is there a day more touched with emotion than Mother’s Day? While for many it’s a day to celebrate, for just as many, this Sunday celebration (coming up this next Monday, May 12) is a difficult and tender day where Monday morning can’t come soon enough.
I didn’t marry until I was nearly 30. As an older single in an LDS Singles Ward, Mothers Day was especially long as I viewed my potential future according to the existing demographics of a congregation that felt like a little girl’s Barbie collection: a whole lot of pretty, fancy Barbies and one or two Kens in desperate need of some clothes. Would I ever marry or be a mother? The answer to that constant ache and question in my heart seemed further away than ever with every passing Mothers’ Day.
Though my own husband and five children eventually and joyfully arrived, I’m still tender on this special Sunday after not just my own extended single years , but as I consider very close friends from that time 30 years ago who have as yet never married, along with dear friends and situations where infertility is a sadness. ( In fact, my first question when I get to the other side will most assuredly be, “So who decides who gets the babies?” ) In addition I have several dear friends where very difficult situations with either their own mothers or children make the day almost impossibly long. Another friend with an insensitive husband, trouble-ridden marriage and a large number of very active small children yearns on Mothers’ Day for a few quiet hours all to herself – and feels a great burden of guilt about it all.
I doubt there are any of us who don’t know and cherish women where Mothers’ Day is not all flowers and joy.
I grew up in a ward where all the mothers were asked to stand and flowers were presented to each of them by a gaggle of awkward deacons. After the flowers were presented, the Bishop would then ask for the mothers with one child to sit down, two to sit down, etc. until the mother with the greatest number of children was left standing and we would all beam appropriately. Some years it was done with age, so that the oldest mother was left standing. It was all meant with kindness but I had to laugh when a friend told me that in her ward the pendulum swung way too far the other way. This Bishop invited not just all the mothers to stand, but those who were pregnant or considering adding a child to their family. Then he added , “Those who want to be mothers … those who are preparing to be mothers”, etc., so that it felt that no one from age 5 on up should be left out without standing to receiving the flower. She said she wanted to stand and shout “Could you please save some time and the embarrassment by just asking all of us with ovaries to stand?” I had to laugh on that one!
Thankfully in our current ward, the Bishop wishes all the women (without designation) a wonderful day after the closing prayer in Sacrament Meeting and invites all of us to pick-up the treat or flower that has been prepared and is waiting on tables in the foyer. The auxiliaries take turns preparing the treat. Whew! What a relief. Take the treat or not, no standing, no gawking, no embarrassing ranking of maternal standings or ages.
One year it was my turn as the Primary President to organize the Mothers’ Day gift. Remembering my own long single years and knowing that several women in our ward were agonizing over infertility and the issues I mentioned earlier, I was blessed to pen a poem that we also printed and included:
“Mother “Is A Verb
(by Carolyn Allen)
Some say that the word “mother”
Is defined to be a noun
This gives some cause to wonder
And often brings a frown
For God and children know that “mother”
Is a verb for love and deeds
For teaching grace and beauty
And planting life’s good seeds
Young and sweet or old and wise
Each child has more than one
God bless their hearts and hands and eyes
That help His work get done!
The thoughts in the poem lingered in my heart as I was also preparing for the weekly Weight Watchers meeting where I was a leader. For myself and so many of the women of all ages that attended my meetings, in the throes of motherhood we had neglected our own health. I was watching a number of these dear women quietly emerge from years of putting their children’s needs way too far ahead of their own. It was exciting to watch them lose pounds and inches while they gained confidence and energy. What could I share with them that would be meaningful for Mothers’ Day?
With a prayer the answer came with the inspiration of my own lovely daughter Emily, who was then about 16. As a small baby, she had found her thumb and it was a source of constant comfort.
At age 5, it was past time to give it up. I could relate: I’d been a thumb sucker until the second grade. One thumb is still shaped slightly differently. My mother relates in great detail all the things they tried to crack the code with me, so with Emily we went straight to the one that worked: a major incentive.
Bob took her to Toys R Us and asked her to choose something she was willing to work for. They browsed and “eye-ball” shopped and at last they came home. With shining eyes, she told me about Bitsy Bubbles, a doll, who could drink from a bottle, and when you squeezed her little hand, she spit up little bubbles that the doting mommy could wipe away. Just like a real baby! She could be a “real” mother!
And the work began. For a full two weeks she was not to suck her thumb at all, either in public or in private. We created a sticker chart for her to record each successful day. With adorable Bitsy in mind, she shouldered the task and diligently accepted the challenge. Two weeks later, Bob took her back to Toys R Us. I waited at home with the younger siblings. At last they returned. She threw open the door and rushed into the house with Bitsy still in her box. Oh the joy shining in Emily’s voice and face. It was priceless to behold and her entire little body was so excited she could hardly open the box. The thrill, of course, was not in just the doll itself, but her personal achievement, a crowning accomplishment of self-discipline and personal commitment. It still brings me to tears and 22 years later I can still hear that front door being thrown open and my little girl calling me to hurry and come see her beautiful new baby, Bitsy. Bitsy was a big part of her life for a long time.
Three years later, in the early part of the year after her 8th birthday that past October and well after Christmas, she came home from a friend’s home with a desperate longing in her eyes. For the first time she had seen an “American Girl” doll catalog and needed, not wanted, but needed one of those dolls ASAP! I am a doll lover from my own early childhood and in the early years of our marriage, my wonderful Bob had come across one and brought it home to me in the early 80’s before Emily was even born, so I knew what she was talking about.
I’d felt exactly the same after seeing those pictures and I was a married woman!
Somehow we got a catalog, and looked at the price. Even way back in the early 90’s they were $85. Oh, my goodness. Here was a problem: both her birthday and Christmas were a very long ways away. It was far too expensive to justify just giving it to her, yet she felt she could not live without one.
It was time for a job and to earn some money of her own. We helped her figure out that she could deliver newspapers in our neighborhood and made arrangements. Within a couple of weeks, she and her brother (and some help from me) were delivering a daily paper in our neighborhood after school each day. These were the old days where collections were made by knocking on the door and getting the money. That was almost a bigger part of the job than delivering the 65 papers each day.
There were lots and lots of days when it wasn’t fun, and several families that were never-ever-ever home to pay us. It took several months to collect the necessary money. During that time there were lots of long and rather tearful conversations as we re-explained why we couldn’t advance her the money to get her doll sooner. We all hung in there, however, and at last the day came when we could order her doll. I will never forget my excited eight year old, sitting on her bed as we made the phone call. I told the operator that she was sitting right there with me and had earned the money herself, so she was delightful in letting Emily talk directly to her and place part of the order herself.
What Emily hadn’t planned on was the “seven to 10 business” days of shipping that were longer than any nine months of pregnancy. Each day she’d rush home to see if “Kirsten” had arrived. Each evening we looked at the catalog again and anticipated her arrival. At last, of course, it did come. Thankfully it was before she got home from school and I was able to hide the box so that Bob could be home from work and be in on this greatly anticipated experience. She came home from school and was crushed to find that she’d have to wait another day. After dinner, however, I came up with an excuse to go look by the front door just one more time, and had arranged for it to be there.
If opening Bitsy was a thrill, this was Bitsy times ten. Once again, her shining face, excited voice, and her little hands trembling with excitement are a joy to remember as we helped her undo the packing box and material, until at last, there was Kirsten in all her glory. Her perfect face … (the dolls were then made in Germany with a different type of beautiful bisque material for the face than is now used) her pioneer dress and the exquisitely detailed pinafore, apron, pantaloons, little socks and shoes were priceless, but not more so than the expression in my own little girl’s countenance.
She had done it! She had earned over $90 all by herself and Kirsten was hers!
Kirsten was a source of more joy and pleasure than I can begin to recount. Emily spent countless happy hours creating imaginary worlds and relationships, stories and experiences for Kirsten. Eventually she earned enough money (as we kept the paper route) to add “Molly” to Kirsten, and now she had the two of them to create and mother. We had fun afternoons sewing doll clothes for the two of them, and I was able to extend my own “mothering” as I made some matching outfits for the dolls and furnishings for their beds, etc.
And so, for that Mothers Day Weight Watchers meeting, I lovingly wrapped Bitsy, now at least ten years old, in a baby blanket, and put on Kirsten’s original pioneer dress and did my best to arrange her braids that had been lovingly combed ever so many times. I shared the stories I have shared with you now and we all had a marvelous discussion on the joy of mothering … ourselves.
There are things that only a mother can do, and things that only one “mothering” oneself can do. Choosing a healthy lifestyle tops the list. As a mother lovingly provides her baby with foods to help its little body grow, as adults we are the only ones who can mother ourselves with smart foods. As adults no one else feeds us. Our marvelous bodies, though now grown, are still in constant need of appropriate nourishment and strength. As a mother sets limits on treats and times for them, so only we, as loving mothers, can set the time and limits on appropriate treats. A wise mother puts up with tears and tantrums from her child when she knows what is best. However, as adults, it’s a self-chosen opportunity to discipline ourselves and our own tears and tantrums in whatever form they arrive: excuses, private bingeing, oversized portions, or whatever is your personal challenge.
At the end of the meeting, I sang the old song that spelled the word M-O-T-H-E-R that I had changed the words to, then had them sing along with me. There were tears and laughter then, as there are for me now as I see my own needs and that only I can “mother” for myself. I’m quite sure it’s that way for you, so won’t you sing along with me?
(by Carolyn Allen)
M is for MYSELF worth taking care of
O means I’m no longer overweight
T is for temptations I now turn from
H for healthy food upon my plate
E is for the energy I enjoy now
R is right and right this is for me
Put it all together it spells MOTHER, a thing that I can do for me.
As Mother’s Day for 2013 arrives this next Sunday, I hope you’ll find joy in not only your own mother, whatever her strengths and weakness may have been, but in the fact that she loved and loves you in the best way she knew (and knows) how. And for what she couldn’t (or can’t) do, well, that’s where “mother” is a verb.
Happy Mother’s Day!
(As a fun P.S. to this story, I will be Utah spending Mothers Day this year with my two baby dolls, Emily and her sister Kelly, along with Emily and her own two living baby dolls, my granddaughters Evie Kate turning two in June and baby Eliza, born just last Friday afternoon, May 3, 2013.)
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success – One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She is the owner and president at MyMiracleTea.com, an herbal detox tonic in keeping with the Word of Wisdom. She is mother of five and the grandmother of a growing number of delightful grandsons and granddaughters and lives with her husband, Bob, in Springfield Virginia, where she serves as the Visiting Teaching District Supervisor.
She has been writing for Meridian since 2007. Her favorite foods are broccoli — lots of it! and chocolate frosting … just a taste every now and then. Her book is available at both Amazon.com and her website www.MyMiracleTea.com