Sunday, May 13, 2012

When Mother's Day Means Something Different

This is a picture of a flower that was handed to me today in church by one of the children. We celebrated Mother's Day as well as Children's Sunday today. Children's Sunday represents the close of the Sunday school year and it is a celebration and recognition of what the children in our church have accomplished throughout the school year. The handing out of the flowers has been occurring for a few years now. I remember the first year the flowers were presented on Mother's Day. Before the children came out to present them both that year and this year, my minister prefaced this beautiful gesture by telling the congregation the flowers would be given to those of us in church that "look like a mother." I remember sitting in the pew that very first year and thinking how difficult it was going to be for me when the children bypassed me and I was left without a flower. Left with an outward sign of who I am not. A mother.

But miracle of all miracles, I received a flower that year and I have received one every Mother's Day since. All the women in our congregation do; because even if we have never given birth, adopted, or raised a child of our own, we all have in some way mothered a child or another human being. The flower is a symbol for the mother that lies within us.

Mother's Day has notoriously been a very difficult day for me over the years. Correction: I have made it a difficult day for myself. The reason is simple. I love children, have always wanted some, or at least one, and have never had a child of my own. The reasons are numerous and complicated. I know it is something that I will eventually write many essays about but for today, writing about Mother's Day is enough.

As the years have gone by, I have struggled with Mother's Day because I have always focused on what I did not have and that is: a child of my own. One that I can raise, nurture, and love. As the day would approach and come to slap me in the face with my reality, I would dread it. Because I knew that most likely, I would never have the opportunity to be celebrated on that one special day each year. I would never possess that which is known to most of our society as the ultimate bond between two people: the bond between a mother and her child. It can be quite a difficult thing to live with in our culture and society where being a parent is given the utmost priority and acceptance. It can be quite a difficult thing to live with period. Sometimes you feel like you don't fit with the rest of the world. Sometimes you just feel plain old sad. But those are topics for another day as well.

Luckily though, my thinking about this issue has evolved over the past year or so. And it has not come easily. Changing my thinking about going through Mother's Day with no children has taken a lot of soul searching and yes, even some acceptance. It is not because I like children any less. But rather because I am more focused on what I do have rather than what I do not have. To start with, I have my own incredible mother. One that has nurtured me and supported me my entire life and whom I would probably be lost in life without. I do not want to waste precious time feeling sorry for myself on Mother's Day when I could spend that time honoring and thinking about my own mother. And there is my fiance's mother. How grateful am I for her? The person that brought the love of my life into existence. The man who has completely changed my life.

Most women in my life, whether they are friends or family, are mothers. I have been blessed by the grace of God to know them and to witness the everyday struggles, challenges, joys, and blessings that come with raising a child. To be honest, I do not think that every mother is a great one or even a good one. But in my circle, they are. So on this day, I honor them in my heart. I feel lucky to be a part of their lives.

What I have also come to realize, similar to how my church treats the women in our congregation on Mother's Day, is that being a mother is not just about having a child of your own. It is about how we, as women, nurture and support the children in our lives whether it is in our own family or in our community. I now can stop and think of the times I have nurtured other people's children. I have cared for, nurtured, and loved nephews, future adult stepchildren, goddaughters, and children of friends closest to me. I have supported the children in my congregation in their endeavors and activities. I have been a mother to every single pediatric patient I have ever taken care of by holding their hand, disciplining them, and singing to them in the middle of the night when they were scared or in pain.

I have been present.

Is it the same thing as raising a child of your own twenty-four hours a day? No, it is not the same. But I do not think that fact makes it any less important, or any more important for that matter. It just makes it different.

I am not living in denial of the difficulties associated with losing a part of my life's dream. Now though, I try to not let it define me by who I am as a woman. From this Mother's Day on, I refuse to let it overshadow what this day is supposed to be about and that is love. So Happy Mother's Day to all of the women in my life who are mothers. Those who have:

Given birth to a child,
Adopted a child,
Raised a child,
Encouraged a child,
Been a role model for a child,
Helped a child,
Loved a child....

You are all truly my inspiration.

Photo Courtesy of Chuck Myers

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Leaving Forty

Every year on your birthday, you get a chance to start new. ~ Sammy Hagar

Tomorrow I am leaving my fortieth year. It seemed like just yesterday I was writing about turning forty in a blog entry (Turning Forty) and how significant that event was to me. It was a great birthday accompanied by a super fantastic surprise party with my family and friends. My impending birthday tomorrow has left me reflecting on the past year. One of the things I wrote about in the Turning Forty essay was about how birthdays are a way to celebrate our lives and how they are also a chance to say "Yes, I have gotten here."

In many ways, I have not quite ended up where I thought I would be by the time I turned forty-one. I had anticipated that the past year would lead to a significant improvement in my health as well as a return to the work force as a registered nurse. I had plans for having one of my essays published in print. I wanted to lose a ton of weight. Like I stated in the previous essay: Ahh, the best laid plans. Maybe that is why we shouldn't make so many of them, right?

My autoimmune illness got worse rather than better. I was diagnosed with two life threatening illnesses within a span of ten days earlier this year, both of which I have recovered fully from. At least physically. The threat of what "could have happened" still lingers in my memory. I know, I really need to get over that. Although both illnesses were not lifestyle related, I hit rock bottom with the exhaustion of dealing with illness and being sick all the time. I found a way to cope with that. I took more control over my body and health by changing several aspects of my lifestyle including changing my diet, getting exercise, and reducing stress. I made a big commitment to being a healthier person.

I lost a lot of connections with some friends over this past year for a variety of reasons. I made a few new ones. In the process of both, I learned the value of quality over quantity and the importance of selecting my friends with care. As I continue to get older, I become more astutely aware of the significance that these relationships have for me and that sometimes these relationships are ever changing, just like the rest of the world is so much of the time.

In my fortieth year, I took a few risks. One of those was committing to marry the love of my life, A bold move for me because it has meant placing my complete trust in a partner. And finding out that when you are with the right partner, that trust will not be broken. I have learned over my past year with him about what it takes for a relationship to survive the darkest of hours in order to be able to travel the same path together for a lifetime.

Although when I turned forty, I felt like I had already learned the importance of living each day like it was a privilege, this past year has taught me the importance of prioritizing each of those days:

That cleaning the bathroom is not as important as spending time on the phone with a loved one.

That washing the dishes in the sink is not as important as hanging out with my fiance.

That returning emails is not as important as getting my work out done.

Although my birthday tomorrow will be much more low key than when I turned the big 4-0, I am looking forward to it. I have much to celebrate and be thankful for. The most important thing I have to celebrate and be thankful for is the fact that I get to keep going on this crazy journey which is otherwise known as my life. I am still alive. I get to experience more joy, more hugs, more tears, and more laughs. Tomorrow I get to sit back and say once again, "Yes, I have gotten here." And like last year, I once again have the opportunity to realize even more of my hopes and dreams in the next year of my life.

I really could not ask for more.

Photo Courtesy of Chuck Myers