As a child, I was carefree and naïve about married life. My sister, cousins and I played house with stick and paper dolls for children. We built pine needle houses with as many rooms as we chose. Mansions were our dreams. We never imagined that rooms must be cleaned and maintained with the broom and the mop bucket. We knew we would find Prince Charming right out of high school and go on to live happily ever after. My sisters and cousins married right out of high school, but I took a different path, and as for the happily ever after, we are still waiting for that.
I waited many Mother’s Days before I met Prince Charming. Those days were difficult because I did not understand. I would go to church and the speakers would inevitably talk about mothers. They would read poems and hand out flowers. I felt very alone. As I reached 30 and started to look more matronly, the kids passing out the flowers would insist I take one. At first, I protested saying, “I’m not a mother.” The kids would say, reassuringly, “Someday you will be.” At 30 I seriously doubted it, but the hopeful look in their eyes won me over, and I took the flowers. I went home and put the flowers in the window and shed lonely tears.
Year after year I put the ritual flowers in the window and took comfort when people would say, “You don’t have to be a mother to be motherly. Just look at all the children you mother when you teach them at school. Look at all the plays you have written that have touched people. You’re a mother.”
The void in my heart was still there. I wanted to be a real mother. I wanted to hear that magical word sung on the lips of my own children. I wanted them to bring me their first scribbled drawings and say, “Mommy, this is for you.” I wanted my sons to say, like Abraham Lincoln, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” I wanted the children in the church to be my children singing to me.
Finally, I got married and became an instant mother of six children, and as time progressed, we found and adopted five more from foster care. They brought me the homemade cards and gifts. They sang songs and said, “I love you, mother.”
One Mother’s Day I sat in the audience as my youngest sang with the other children. He came to me after the meeting. “Mommy, why were you crying when we were singing?” I could hardly speak when he handed me a homemade card. “I am so happy,” I said. He wrinkled up his nose. I knew he did not understand, but he let it go at that. I have had many grandchildren sing in the choir, and I always get teary eyed. One dream I had as a child keeps giving and giving and I treasure it.
From the mountaintop of grandmother, you realize mother is another name for sacrifice. It is a willingness to give up who you think you are for someone you will eventually become.
When I was single, I had time to be sentimental and put wishful flowers in the window. I had time to meditate on the poetry speakers read in church. I had time to study the freehand Mother’s Day cards that children made for their mothers. When I became a mother, there was little time to be sentimental. Between the laundry, cooking, cleaning and the myriad trips to town for shopping and gathering children from the four corners of the universe, there was little time to breathe, let alone be sentimental.
A mother’s job is an endless string of Mom will yous. “Mom, can you do this? Mom, I have to have this. Mom, where is my underwear? Mom, my homework was right here, where is it? Mom, can you take me to practice? Mom, I’m hungry.” The magical word of mother is the ringing of an overused bell. I began to wonder sometimes, who died and made me the slave of the universe.
I soon realized that a mother is another name for unskilled laborer who must perform as a professional instantaneously without training or expertise. You are the doctor at 3 a.m. when your little boy is running a 104º temperature. You are the psychologist when your preteen daughter says, “Mom, nobody likes me.” You are the spontaneous caterer and chef at a homecoming dinner of 14 guests. You play the role of the school counselor in helping your high school children figure out their schedules. You are the pro baseball player to your little leaguer and an expert on music to your child just beginning piano. You are a financial wizard. You must make a dollar stretch and stretch without going broke. You are the gardener, the plumber, the carpenter and the mechanic. You even become the expert teacher when the new math seems like a foreign language.
A mother wears so many hats she could be a stand-in for Bartholomew in Dr. Seuss’s, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, a book popular when I was a child.
When you are a mother, the rewards seem rare and are often slow in coming. Sometimes you wait years to see the fruits of your labor. You struggle year after year to instill moral principles and a strong work ethic in your children and wonder if they will ever understand the importance. Year after year, they look at you with raised eyebrows and say, “Mom, that’s so dumb. Nobody else has to do that. Why do we have to?”
Finally, one day you get a letter in the mail from a college student that says, “Mom, I’m so glad you taught me all the things you did.” Then you hear a daughter stand up in a meeting of her peers and talk about morality. She quotes you and thinks the words are her very own. Your son is chosen by his company as a model employee and is chosen to represent the company.
The best reward of all is to see your children with their own children struggling to teach them the values you put into their minds. You see their frustration and smile knowing that someday it will be all right. Those are the true rewards of motherhood. Now as a grandmother, you see married grandchildren snuggle their infants and know that they will follow your footsteps.
That reminds me of a story my mother told me when I was a child. When my mother was a child, she doted on her grandmother. She wanted to be with her and followed her everywhere. If she was tagging behind, she would try to put her feet in the steps of her grandmother.
Years later, when her grandmother passed away, my mother was gardening at the old ranch where she used to garden with her grandmother as a child. She walked along in the newly plowed earth. She noticed some tracks between the rows she had just made. She stopped and stared at them. Her heart began to pound. Those were Grandmother’s tracks. Same indent, same twist of the foot, same distance between tracks. Her grandmother had been dead for years, but those were her tracks. Where did they come from? Mom studied the tracks for a long time before she realized they were her own tracks. She had spent so much time walking in her grandmother’s footprints as a child that she walked just like her in later years.
In my mountaintop view of life, I have seen my mother’s tracks in my life and have seen her visage in my face. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see her standing there – only to realize it is me.
What a wonderful blessing it is to be a mother, even with all the frustrations and heartache that come with daily living. It is only after you have walked the path a mother has walked, cried her tears, smiled at her triumphs and reaped her rewards that you can genuinely appreciate what it means to be a mother.
Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.