Yesterday was Mother’s day and the lady’s birthday, so I took over all her job descriptions except milk-nurse. I got up early, cleaned and dressed the kids, cooked breakfast, washed up, went to church and back again, made a three-course meal, washed up again, polished the silver, vacuumed all the crumbs, washed up again, and wrote a poem to go with her birthday cameo. I’m not boasting, I’m exulting. I felt like a hero out on adventures, I felt charged up and fine-fettled, I enjoyed myself immensely.
That got me thinking. The thing about adventures is they end. Afterwards one wishes they didn’t, of course, but at the time the adventures wouldn’t be adventure if the end weren’t soon and clear.
For me yesterday was an adventure; I was done at day’s end and full of the gratitude of my wife. She on the other hand has to fight the dragons every day.
I think my realization that adventure is short-term heroism has put me in the way of understanding what’s going on in this thread. Mothers have mixed feelings about Mothers Day even though they get all the praise.
Mothers, I think, are much like missionaries or soldiers in long wars. They are stretched to their capacity. Their life is hard; they need help. They just haven’t the room to amiably tolerate praise from people who aren’t doing anything to lift a barely bearable burden. They can’t bask in praise because their job isn’t over so they still could fail. They know intimately they could fail. They feel how close they are to giving up and know they’ve done it before. Praise for shrinking from the hard job emphasizes too much their fear that they might yet shrink. At the same time, they often feel guilty because though their life is hard and they hardly know how to take it, sometimes–sometimes they can’t take it–yet they’ve done nothing so hard as the people in the stories that are told when soldiers and missionaries and mothers are being praised. That’s how it was, at least, on my mission. When I ran across a panegeyric to missionaries, I felt a little satisfied and a lot weary.
I’m not proposing to do anything about it. The burden of heroism has to be added to the other burdens of the heroes, I think, and the burden of the impossible ideal on top of that. The good must be praised, or the stones would cry out. The impossible ideal must be set before our eyes, or the dirty struggle in the real world would lose its meaning.
So here is my little effort to praise the good mothers, and set an impossible ideal for their motherhood. My effort consists of summarizing a talk in church yesterday that moved my wife, and me, and my mother-in-law.
Two pillars, the speaker said, held up the entrance to the Hebrew temple. Notionally they also held up the universe. I am here, the speaker said, to discuss another pillar, motherhood.
Don’t think of mothering, he said, in terms of the national and international economies, where we measure good in production and in efficiency. Compare the household economy that is the mother’s stewardship to the divine economy of the Lord’s house and of the houses of worship. God’s economy works toward the immortality and eternal life of man. So does the house’s.
The speaker then did a comparison in detail, beginning with meals. He said that McDonald’s, as an instance, sells food as calories. Mothers make food that looks beyond today’s hunger to tomorrow’s health. When they do it they form relationships. The sacrament likewise doesn’t feel the belly but it does heal us and tie us together under Christ. The family meal the mother makes is like the divine meal that the Lord provides. Mothering makes the house divine,
He said many other things.