Thursday, May 8, 2014

Unforgettable

          It seems I can't open my email this week or check the Facebook feed without being reminded a dozen times that Mother's Day is imminent.  "What's the best gift for your mom this year?" the headlines ask.  "Don't forget Mom this Sunday!"
          I'm all for celebrating the lovely ladies who have brought us into the world.  To honor the courage, grit, and determination it often takes to raise kids in this day and age.  To acknowledge the patience and selflessness required to care for little people who often don't appreciated it.  So kudos to all of you have been a mom for decades, for years, for weeks, or even a few days.  Celebrate the joys of motherhood this weekend!

          Still, every May, I remember those whose tender hearts might be hurting and healing.  I think about people who've lost their mother through death or estrangement.  The ones who lost a child.  Who miscarried.  Who endured another round of failed fertility treatments.  I think of the parents whose children have been missing for weeks or months or years.  This May my thoughts are very much with every mother in Nigeria who is wondering where her daughter is...wondering if she's alive. 
          What about the women who are childless...and not by choice?  For me, Mother's Day was often a bitter pill to swallow, especially in my twenties when it seemed all of my friends were having babies.  For someone who desperately wanted children, every May I'd have a crying jag and feel sorry for myself.  I'd wonder when my life would start.
          It seems that many in our culture don't think their lives really begin until they "settle down and start a family."  But what if that reality never happens?  Are those of us who are single and childless doomed to being endlessly anchored to the starting block?  Am I only considered a "grown up" when I have a family of my own?
          I used to believe that, but not anymore.  Time and space have softened my definition of family, made it much more elastic and flexible.  There have been a host of women who have been like a mother to me, hundreds of kids who have been like my children, several in particular who have lodged themselves so deeply in my heart that, twenty years later, I still think about them and wonder how they are doing now.
          Out of all the children I've taught, there was one boy I desperately wanted to rescue from his family life.  To raise as my own son.  "Brian" was the oldest child in his family.  His parents were divorced and he lived with his mother and siblings in his maternal grandmother's often unstable home.  Brian would come to school clean and well-fed, but he was often agitated and couldn't sit still.  Highly creative and incredibly articulate, he finished his work with ease so he could move on to writing and illustrating his own stories. 
          Brian and I were kindred spirits the year he was in my first grade class and I loved listening to his interpretation of the books I read to the kids.   "I know what that story means," he told us once. "It's about how we're all part of the earth and it's a part of us.  We're supposed to take care of nature and take care of each other.  That's what it's all about...it's why we're here."
          Did I mention Brian was highly spiritual as well?
          It was a difficult "good-bye" for me when I watched him leave first grade and the safe haven I tried to provide for him while he was with me.  I stayed in touch with some of my former colleagues and found out Brian struggled in school and eventually dropped out.  After that, I lost touch with the touchstones that helped me stay connected to him. 
          Of course, I've never forgotten him.  I dream about him occasionally, this little one who I would have loved to raise.  Sometimes he's a boy, sometimes a teenager.  Most recently he was all grown up (as he would be now), almost the age I was when he was in my classroom.
          Always he has a sad smile for me.
          Always I hold him close and tell him how precious he is to me.
          I hope someday I'll run into Brian and get to tell him that in person...but I believe in some ways, he already knows.

          I'm blessed to have a small, but joyous circle of children in my life.  Many of my friends' children call me "Aunt Katie," and of course, there are Satish and Danta, who I've taught how to play tennis and how to knit and read with expression.  They're not mine by birth, but these children have revealed that I truly am a childless mother...and I embrace that reality with a peaceful assurance that this is exactly the way it is meant to be. 
          The unforgettable lessons I have learned through delighting in the time I spend with children and then coming home to a silent, empty house have been immeasurable. 
          I used to resent it. 
          Now I rejoice in it...this recreation of what motherhood means to me.