august: adj, inspiring awe or admiration; full of solemn splendor and dignity
The fire crackles as the women breathe in the night air and the words spoken by one another. Here is a diverse group of women from the hills of northwest Connecticut: artists, teachers, nurses, therapists, young mothers, school administrators, peace activists. They gather monthly for celebrations of the spirit: summer solstice, winter equinox, births, deaths, life. The topic on this night is Motherhood—a celebration of Mother, in all forms.
I’m “back home,” visiting from Colorado. Standing by my mother, amongst these women, I feel a little awkward and vulnerable. What can I share about this? Oh, how I wished to be a mother. I already know it’s not going to be easy for me to get pregnant. My husband Jay and I have heard this from so many doctors already.
Each woman shares their thoughts aloud and then throws a twig or a stone into the flames, an offering. I keep thinking, wow, we are a long way from the Bronx, the city where Mom and I both spent our childhoods. And this woman/mother/friend standing next to me is an extraordinarily long way from the person she used to be. A straight-A college student who once yearned to be a minister, she married a man from a sturdy family whom she had met at church. She always tried to do the right thing, the nice thing.
Life should have been kind to my mother—she most certainly deserved a good life—but in many ways it was not. There were too many parts that were just broken. And she has chronic pain, dealing each day with fibromyalgia, scoliosis, and headaches that, if not for her stubborn Scottish spirit, would paralyze her.
As a little girl growing up in New York City, my mother was raised by her stern but loving Nana and her maternal grandfather, who worked high on the wires above the city by day and drank too much Scotch at night. This was an alternative household back in the forties, but one that did not lack in love. My mother was a good girl; she got excellent grades and dutifully played her accordion at family gatherings and in school bands.
Mom became a high school teacher who deeply touched the lives of many students—as indicated by the enormous box of thank you notes she received over the years. She is a teacher—and a student-- of the beautiful things: art, literature, philosophy. She always seeks the meaning in life, noticing the small wonders of our existence. “Look at how that flower insists on living” she marvels, spotting a bud poking up through a crack in the hard city sidewalk. “My goodness, the sky, the vastness!” she’ll exclaim, with utter wonder and awe in her voice, as we gaze up at the dark Vermont sky in winter. Mom always finds a way to see the joys of life, to stop and take notice.
I always knew my mother wanted me to have a happy life… a joyous life of freedoms that she didn’t have. In 1990 I packed up my baby blue Subaru hatchback to move west, to start a new chapter for myself. Mom held me for a long time and then whispered, “Now you have your wings.”
For so many years I wished she too had wings, that she could fly away from the pains of her life. “Please, Mom, life is short,” I’d say. “Maybe someday, Lori. I might surprise you yet.” But she has never gathered up the courage to make real changes. Whether it is a profound fear of the unknown, a genuine concern as to what a break would mean for the rest of the family, or something else entirely, I don’t know. She has just never left.
But we all make our choices in life.
Here she stands amongst her closest friends—her tribe, I call them with great affection and gratitude. There is laughter, hearty from-the-gut guffaws. There are some tears, big smiles and lots of hugs. The women go around the circle and speak of mothering, motherhood.
“This is for my mother, who gave me everything.”
“I am a mother to no one… and to everyone.”
“I can think of no bigger job or bigger gift than that of Mother.”
It is my turn to speak. “For my grandmother, my mother…and the mother I hope to be someday.” I can hardly hold back the tears. Would it happen? Could it happen? As I said the words, my mom gently lays her hand upon my shoulder, as if to say, “I know. I’m here.”
I need to be near the sea and I need to be with my mother. I take a week off from my job at the university, fly to Connecticut and together we journey north to Cape Ann, one of my favorite places on earth.
For the past year I have undergone several painful abdominal surgeries, multiple pokes, prods and tests, disgusting Chinese herbs, Reiki treatments, visits to psychics and a failed attempt at in-vitro fertilization. I need a break. I do not feel that I am running away as much as it feels like I am being drawn to something. Air. Sea. Sand. Breath. Mother.
Every day I go to the beach and take long walks along the shore and breathe in the freshness of the ocean breezes. I’m crazy about the mountains of Colorado but the ocean is where I’ve always felt the most peace in my life. I walk from one end of the beach to the other and write out prayers in the sand. “Please” and “Help.” I try to picture myself being carried by a higher power, a force for good. I walk slowly with hope, despite having such a heavy heart about the failed IVF attempt. I am breathing in faith and love and acceptance.
Mom and I go to one of my all-time favorite places on earth, Halibut Point. Located in Rockport Massachusetts, it is nothing short of stunning. After walking down a pristine tree-covered path, we come to a magnificent, expansive two hundred and seventy degree view of the Atlantic. Looking seaward on a clear day, we can see Crane Beach in Ipswich to Mount Agamenticus in Maine and the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire. I hop along on the immense sea rocks and get splashed by the waves crashing upon the slabs of granite. Then, I sit quietly, letting the power and vastness of the ocean sweep me away. I call to the sea. Help me to heal. Give me strength. If I a meant to be a mother, show me how. Show me.
Glancing up towards Mom, I see her sitting silently, watching me. I rise up to meet her, and quietly, we begin to gather rocks. We build an altar there, at Halibut Point. We gather more rocks and lay one on top of the other: One for me. One for Jay. One for the baby we wish for. We say some silent prayers with the roar of the ocean waves crashing behind us. I leave it all there, my sorrow, my fears, my dreams. I give this altar to the sea and I walk back up the path with my mother by my side.
When I give birth to my daughter on a bright summer morning—an event that is essentially, a miracle—we name her Marin, with a nod to both of her grandmothers (Mary and Nivin) and after the sea. Mom comes out to Colorado to help out in those first few weeks. She holds her granddaughter and says over and over again, “She is wonderful, just full of wonder.”
On more than one occasion, in the midst of newborn madness and exhaustion and great joy, we catch each other’s eyes and the tears leak out. I am reminded of the crackling flames from two summers ago. Mom and I share tears of knowing and release and elation. Tears—of sharing this moment—this whisper of time. This gift of motherhood. This gift of wonder.
This gift of life.