Peter managed to weasel his way out of giving a talk by moving sooner than the Bishopric expected, and I was left with the task of giving our farewell talk.
I was asked to speak on Mother's Day, with the topic of "The Virtue of Mothers". A few asked to have a copy of the text, so I figured I'd just put it here on the blog. And this way, my mom can read it, too.
So happy Mother's day y'all. Happy Mother's Day.
Last year I spent Mother's Day with my daughter in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She had gained not quite twice her body weight since birth, tipping the scales at a whopping 2 pounds, 1 ounce.
I was laying down that Sunday for the obligatory post-church nap, when we received the phone call. Charlotte was not doing well and was being placed back on the ventilator. As we rushed back to the NICU, we learned that she was requiring quite a lot of support. We spoke with the neonatologist and gravely agreed with their plan. We'd try one more course of heavy steroids to attempt to lower her ventilator settings. If that did not work, we would remove care.
I learned a lesson that day, and many times since. It's a lesson I probably should have learned, from watching my mother, grandmothers, and mother-in-law, but one I never really quite grasped. I felt like the Grinch, in his moment of epiphany, only my lesson was not about Christmas, but rather, the role of mothers.
Motherhood, I learned, is not the same idea as I had been told. It wasn't the same role that I had been taught in oh so many Young Women's or Relief Society lessons. Motherhood, I learned, was so much more.
Sure, there are parts of being a mother that involve driving kids to school, tucking them in at night, and counseling them about decisions. Sometimes motherhood does in fact involve getting pregnant and physically delivering a child.
But more often than not, motherhood has nothing to do with the physical acts we so often associate with being a mom.
The virtue of mothers is that it lies within us all. Whether we be biological mothers, step mothers, adoptive mothers, mother-to-be, mothers of full term kids, or special needs kids, or special-because-they-are-our kids. Whether as women we have children, are desperately waiting for children, or have buried our children. Whether we're not sure if we even want children or if we can't stop trying for "just one more." Whether we work outside the home, or in the home, or are employed by our own families. The virtue of mothers lies within us all.
In fact, just to be a little controversial, I'd even say it lies within our husbands, fathers, and brothers. Every Sunday while Charlotte was in the Chester County NICU, Peter and I would spend the afternoon with her. It was a special time, our time to spend together, just the three of us. Each Sunday, Peter would spend that time with Charlotte, barely the size of his hand, doing Kangaroo Care. During this time, Charlotte's vital signs always improved, and she was the most stable of any point throughout the week. Sitting there, watching my husband warm our tiny little girl on his chest, I was reminded that some of the most important moments in mothering come from those whom the world would not recognize as mothers.
In my congregation growing up, there was a wonderful couple who did not have children of their own. Jeff was our home teacher, and became a second father to me. His wife, Bonnie, worked in the library at church. Despite never bearing a child of her own, Bonnie is one of the most poignant examples of the virtue of mothering. A young man in our ward struggled with social and academic situations. Often viewed as the troublemaker, this boy found it difficult to related to others. Yet every week, you could find him sitting in the library with Bonnie, as she spun her own wool, telling her about the snakes he saw, or the stones he collected throughout the week. Bonnie did not try to befriend him, she simply befriended him. She did not act interested, she was interested. She may not have tucked that boy in at night, but by the genuine smile on the face of a young man who was often forlorn, everyone knew- Bonnie had the virtue of a mother.
My own experience in mothering has not been the one I imagined as a child. Despite our circumstances, or maybe because of them, I've come to believe that few experiences with mothering are as we imagined. Few are the mothers who fit the idolized fantasy: marry the prince, have a baby (or four), enjoy the task of raising the perfect children, and step back to watch them continue the cycle.
For so many of us, true mothering occurs when that fantasy is shattered. We don't get married, or we can't bear children, or our children are sick, or die, or grow up only to go astray. Maybe we find ourselves divorced or widowed, with children still to raise. Maybe we find ourselves grandparents, raising another generation long after we though we would be done. Maybe our husbands lose their job, or we have chosen to be the breadwinner. Maybe in the quiet moments of honesty we admit that we're exhausted, overlooked and worn out.
And yet, in those moments, when our lives are nowhere near the picture painted in Sunday School lessons or Family blogs, we pick ourselves up. Many times, very slowly, many times after great delay. But we pick ourselves up none the less and continue the work.
It is a work very different from the one we may have imagined. And yet, the blessings of that work are just as unimaginable as the work itself. Watching Charlotte this morning, nine times the size she was a year ago-- an incredible eighteen times the size she was at birth-- I am struck by the power and magnitude of mothering. Today, my children test me in ways I had not foreseen, and I am blessed by that same measure.
This is not to say that mothering is all difficulties or quick adaptations. Part of the virtue of mothering is the ability to savor the moments. Like when Caleb points to a man with a pony-tail and very clearly asks, "Why are you a lady?" Or in the more uplifting moments, when we sit down to dinner and he quietly exclaims, "Mommy, I love spending time with you."
The virtue of mothering comes as we learn to embrace what we have, the situations we have come to live in and we simply make the most of it. That virtue fills our lives as we learn to stop comparing our inside to everyone else's outside.
May you all have the most Happy of Mother's Days.