Courtesy of Faith Salie
For millions this Sunday, there will be no special brunches or spa days, no visits to church or extended family.
We will all largely stay, of course, at home this Mother's Day — grateful for essential workers who save lives, deliver packages, check out our groceries, and clean our hospitals and streets on this and every day.
But there's another kind of essential worker: Mom.
Right now, in addition to everything else she used to be, or continues to be, in her working life (and many take risks to provide essential services in the outside world), she's also teacher, cook, housekeeper, referee, arts and crafts guru and handwashing czar. On top of all that, she's still “Mom” — the one who hugs you, the one to cry to, the one who scratches your back and worries about you.
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I'm a 49-year-old mother of a 6-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. I'd always been certain my kids kept me young. (Although these days I look so haggard, I doubt I even visually qualify as their young grandma.) But that was in the Before Times. Now my children provide me with something more valuable: They provide me with unwavering purpose. I wake with a quick silent prayer to stave off entropy, to preserve the mental health of my family, to invite grace and be patient. (I'm reliably graceless, but I try to make up for it by singing lots of show tunes and tossing squealing small people onto the closest bed whenever possible. Patience is a muscle I swear I can actually feel growing, so it's a good thing that I'm living in stretchy athleisure wear.)
It's a strange thing, trying to rise with exuberance to meet a day whose expectations and parameters are a repeat of the day before. I know, for example, I'll be disentangling my kids from several emotional scrums. I know that my daughter won't want to draw things that begin with vowels, but she'll love to sit in my lap and read to me. I know I'll have to pry the iPad from my son's warm, addicted hands. I know we'll get stir-crazy, and then I'll enjoin them, “Do not touch a thing,” while we hold our breath and ride the elevator down to escape our building and gulp as much fresh air as our face masks allow. Leaping into the known, rather than the unknown, presents its own intense challenges.
Let me be clear, I'm no hero. I'm no saint. But I know I'm essential right now. For everything from bearing witness to my daughter as she marches through our apartment with a sign that declares “I Am Having Vere Strog Fellins” to holding my son in Central Park while he soaks his face mask as he sobs, “It's so overwhelming.”
Courtesy of Faith Salie
I think about all the moms I know, making it work, getting up each day, scheming ways to inject joy into their kids’ lives. The impromptu dance party, the thumbs-up to living rooms being turned into obstacle courses, pancakes for dinner, PJs for school. I think about the text chains I'm on for both my kids’ schools. I do hate to traffic in gender stereotypes, but the truth is, it's moms, always moms, checking in with each other, setting up FaceTime play dates and comforting one another by sharing stories of epic home-learning fails, such as my daughter's kindergarten assignment to write down her favorite food. With her little marker-stained fingers, she scrawled “CRAP.” (We're hoping she meant crêpe.) I think, too, about the moms of the college students and adult children who've returned home for safety and comfort. I think of the mothers who find themselves physically distanced from their kids of any age, who still manage to provide spiritual shelter, as they reach out any way they can.
Our children's lives contracted unfathomably fast, and while our kids may feel virtually connected to the outside, it's parents who are truly providing their world. It's a lot; it's a challenge; it's a gift. Did I mention this is hard? A lot of us consider the day a win if we don't yell at the kids and we remember to change out of our night leggings into our day leggings. If we make our kids laugh. That's enough. That's good. And these days, good isn't the enemy of great; good is a kind of miracle. Just keep the world spinning.
Here, in New York City, we have a ritual called The 7 PM Clap. We lean out windows of our cramped apartments to bang on pots and pans and clap our hands for essential workers. It happens to coincide with my kids’ bedtime. I tiptoe out of their bedroom as the glorious cacophony of human hope and gratitude, just for a minute, rings louder than the sirens. It buoys me for another day.