Motherhood is a fearsome and wondrous thing. It is a paradox of ginormous proportions, full of sacrifice and salvation, hazards and hallelujahs. It requires strictness and softness, discipline and wild abandon. It is both bright and beautiful, and dark and draining. It is savagely, insanely strong, and it is fragile and insanely frightening.
Right now in my life, I am two kinds of mother. I am the up close and personal and the long-distance devotional. Up close and personal motherhood demands wide arms and an even wider lap. There must be snuggles, and tickle monsters, and story time chairs, the occasional cupcake for breakfast, lots of crusty snot kisses and all manner of privacy lost. Long-distance devotional motherhood brings late night phone calls, biweekly FaceTimes, and random text marathons. There are Easter, birthday and Christmas goodies to be mailed, numerous road trips to be made and blessed reunions to be had. Both types of motherhood come with daily prayers, loads of laughter and plenty of tears. But the recipe for each is unconditional love for all of eternity.
This week, after reading several heartbreaking and anger-rousing personal narratives by my students, I have been reminded – once again for perhaps the two hundredth time or more as a teacher – that my definition of motherhood is not everyone’s definition of motherhood. And this crushes my mother’s heart to its very core.
In my sixteen years as a secondary teacher, I’ve seen battered teens, homeless teens, molested teens and drug-addicted teens. I’ve seen young adults haunted by all manner of familial demons. They’ve ridden the storms of failed marriages, felt the trauma of ripped families. They’ve suffered the stigma and shame of home evictions. They’ve borne the weight of sibling deaths and parental suicide. Some are bitter; others blame themselves. Some are searching for love in proverbial dead ends. Others are hardened to love and are angry. If they are lucky, the anger is redirected into extra-curriculars that are sanctioned by society and school. But that’s not always the case. So many young men and women have taken up the cross of rejection and dejection, denial and guilt at a very young, very impressionable age.
As a mother, I am not blameless. Not by a long shot. I flung my own two beautiful daughters into the howling, painful abyss of a failed marriage. They know all too well the agony of a home ripped to ruin and the struggle to balance a broken family. I take my job as mother quite seriously, I always have, and yet I have done irreparable harm. Even the most careful and conscientious among us does. Add into the mix all of the hardened, the jaded, the marred, the scarred, the vicious and the cruel mothers out there, and I’m amazed the world still has any goodness and grace left in it. I honestly am.
Motherhood is tough. I know it. I own it. At times it feels impossible. So much is out of my control. Then on top of motherhood, add the calling of teacher — with so many more lives entrusted to my care, along with so many more restrictions, so many more unknowns and so many uncontrollable origins and angles and — suddenly — I’m overwhelmed, I’m terrified, and I’m inept.
This week, two former students — now mothers themselves– suffered mightily at the hands of a callous universe. One was a vibrant young mother taken way too soon, leaving behind a precious, precocious toddler. I taught this young mother. I knew her. Her life was hard. Her path was littered with difficulties, with uncertainty, with confusion. She was torn asunder in the push and pull of it all. She left Woodland’s halls and my classroom walls several years back, and I immediately lost touch. Did I do enough? Could I have helped? I’m haunted by my inadequacies. She was bright. She was talented. She had such potential. I feel that I failed her.
The second is a beautiful, strong, spiritual mother who has had to face more in her young life than any mama sixty years her senior should ever have to face. In just over a year and a half, she has lost two of her three children to an incurable and mysterious illness. Twice she has held tiny hands and kissed tiny noses while praying mammoth prayers amidst tubes and wires and ports and invasive medical procedures. And twice the prayers and the tests have accomplished naught. This week she said goodbye to her beautiful baby girl. Her wide arms and wide lap have suffered two unspeakable losses. I can’t fathom her pain. I can scarcely breathe when I even imagine her loss, her agonizing, mother’s grief. Yet her faith has never waivered. Her strength and her confidence in God and His Will is always intact. Again, I am haunted by my own inadequacies. I am a mother, and I am a teacher, but I am nowhere near the mother and teacher that this young woman is. I never had the privilege of teaching her, but she has taught me so very much about the grace and love and strength of a good mother. I am in awe of her.
Motherhood is a fierce and fragile and frightening thing. I pray every day that I am doing my absolute all to nurture and mold these four precious gifts I have been given. It is a tall order. Two are out of my nest and far from my loving arms. I can’t wrap them up in hugs and kisses anymore. Not physical ones — at least not very often. But they make me proud on a daily basis. And I worry over them on a daily basis. And while my arms and lap aren’t THAT wide, my love IS – it is deep and wide enough to travel the distance so that my girls feel it when they need it. It is always with them. I hope they never forget that.
And then there are these boys. Whew! I’m new to boys. They challenge my patience and my perseverance every day. They keep me hopping, that’s for certain. But my arms and lap are here for the here and now, always ready for a snuggle, and a story, and to wipe away snot.
And then, there are my students. For I find teaching to be a responsibility closely akin to motherhood. So I suppose I am THREE kinds of mothers right now in my life. And my students challenge me daily, as well. Can I ever be enough? Do enough? Care enough? to truly be a help in this, their hour of need?
To be given the opportunity to mother my babies, both born to me and gifted to me in the classroom, is a responsibility I take very seriously. I try every day to be worthy. Some days I fail. I would like to believe that on many days, I win. I pray that I have enough. Enough love to show them that they are beautiful and perfect and worth only the very best. Enough strength to offer stability in their tilting, whirling worlds in Dallas, in Knoxville, in Euharlee, and in Woodland High. Enough joy to help them find sunshine beyond their personal raging storms. Enough wisdom to teach life and not just lessons, so they might learn independence and discipline, autonomy and connectivity, outspokenness and humility. Lord, help me to have enough, to be enough, to love enough.
For all of my babies. For them all.