Motherhood is both enormous and tiny

Despite my general disinterest in mother’s day, even my dug-in heels are slipping against the tide of forwarded emails, blog posts, and essays I’m reading this weekend. Let me be clear: I have no problem with beautiful, heartfelt words about motherhood – in fact I adore them. I just find the packing of them into a single weekend a little weird. I think we ought to celebrate this every day, and in my view random celebrations mean more (big, huge massive exception: my birthday). I also share all of Anne Lamott’s aversions to Mother’s Day, so lucidly and wisely expressed in her essay here. I have always disliked this day but it wasn’t until I read her words that I really understood why.

Still, as Anne says, being a mother is among the richest experiences of my life, and I’m thinking about it this morning. Motherhood is is both enormous and tiny. It is made up of emotions so unwieldy that I can’t put them into words, and of moments so small I would miss them if I blinked (and I’ve surely missed millions). Sometimes the feelings are so giant I feel swollen with them, taut, tight, very much like I was in the last trimester of pregnancy. Sometimes the minutiae is so small that it seems impossible to hang any meaning onto it, and every time I am surprised when somehow, the hook actually holds. I’m not sure whether it is one facet of the human experience or a prism through which that experience may be seen.

In my struggle to experience the moments of emotion so overwhelming I feel as though I’m jumping off a tall pier into the ocean, or ducking through the heavy downpour of a waterfall, I turn to the words of others. It is in Anna Quindlen’s essays, Kelly Corrigan’s videos, and a million quotations that I have pulled out of books that I find myself nearest to understanding. I reach, grasping, for the ways that those far more eloquent than I have described and captured this experience.

For the tiny, the minute, I don’t have to look any further than right here. The moments flutter like magnolia petals around my feet, stunning, short-lived, and quickly turning to brown mush. When I write about them I’m trying to memorialize them in their pink beauty, their spring perfume wafting off of them in waves. In this way, motherhood is running upstairs to change my shirt before a meeting because Whit pressed his peanut-buttery face against my belly when he hugged me goodbye. It is instinctively holding out my hand to receive a chewed-up maraschino cherry as soon as I see Grace grimacing with not liking the taste of it. It is cooking the same zucchini chocolate chip muffins every single week because it’s the only vegetable Whit will eat, ever. It is driving around to four stores at rush hour because Grace was sad one day in preschool that everyone else had cartons of milk in their lunch and she did not (not easy to find small cartons of soy milk for my dairy-allergic daughter).

Big and small. Tiny and huge. Overwhelming and underwhelming. Tears and laughter. All of these tensions, some of them cliches, exist in every single day for me. Happy mother’s day to you all, regardless of who or how you mother. It is universal, this feeling, and spans far beyond the most traditional definitions of “motherhood.” Of that I am certain.

9 thoughts on “Motherhood is both enormous and tiny”

  1. Well said, Lindsey. Thanks for once again putting my feelings into beautifully woven words. And Happy Mother’s Day to you…

  2. You, too? An aversion to Mother’s Day? Maybe it’s because my husband and I waited 17, almost 18 years, to have a child ON PURPOSE, and when Mother’s Day came, I continually felt on the “outside,” like I hadn’t fulfilled my earthly duties. Funny, isn’t it? I’d rather celebrate “mothering,” perhaps. Then everyone can join in…xo

  3. Holding out your hand for the cherry. Yes. Automatically. Before I had children I would watch mothers lick of their children’s ice cream cones. Gross! Gross! Gross! I couldn’t imagine doing it.

    Then, one day as we had cones in the back seat of the car and there were the drips…what was I to do? I’ve been licking up the drip patrol ever since.

    It’s a mom thing.

    Wonderful sentiments. And you can offer them any other day of the year…I’ll read.

  4. Although I LOVE Mother’s Day (and my birthday, Halloween, and Christmas. I actually have an huge aversion to Father’s Day and Thanksgiving. Because I’m lazy and don’t like cooking.) I LOVE that you said you have a million quotations from books and essay to find solace and explanation. I am the same way. I have been collecting words and sentences since I was 14 years old. And when I am lost in the large and small of motherhood, those words help me find my way.

  5. Loved this:

    “It is cooking the same zucchini chocolate chip muffins every single week because it’s the only vegetable Whit will eat, ever.”

    Sounds like my kids with carrots. I swear, they will turn orange in time from so much consumption.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Lindsey.

  6. Thank you for sharing Anne Lamott’s essay. I had just spoken to my own mother before coming to your blog. Her mother had died when she was 14 years old from breast cancer after a long, and for a long time hidden, battle with the disease. My mother mentioned she woke early today to go to the cemetery before her own “celebration” began. It struck me – especially after reading Lamott’s essay – that this day could, despite my brothers’ and my funny cards and Mother’s Day traditions, be a day of deep sorrow, of a bottomless ache, for my own mother. How long it has been that she has hidden this from us. How lucky I am, to have only known Mother’s Day as it exists according to Hallmark, and now, how fortunate to have my perspective broadened, to have a better understanding of my dear mother on this day. Thanks Lindsey.

  7. We scramble around the scrawlings of others and the corners of our own hearts looking for the words to properly express the fact that words cannot contain the big intangibles.

    Maybe life is a bowl of ABC cherries?

    Either way, as the seconds tick down on the last minutes of this Mother’s Day I honor the petals, the mush and the mutual efforts to unify the opposites and really live our lives—every day.

    Happy M.D nonetheless.

  8. Thank you for the link to Anne Lamott’s essay on Mother’s Day. I’m a mother of two fantastic girls and I consider motherhood a priceless privilege but her words just rung so true…and I must say I can’t stand the obligation, the expectation, the guilt, the resentment that seems to go with Mother’s Day. I appreciate far more the spontaneous every day love that is honest and heartfelt and right in front of our eyes.

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