Tag Archives: Motherhood

Mother’s Day

I used to feel like I was the only woman who was suffering, on Mother’s Day. For a decade, I sat in a series of pews in churches across the country, surrounded by strangers. I remember them all. I dreaded the moment when they asked the women who were mothers to rise for a blessing and a single stemmed rose. What to do, as a single and apparently childless woman? Should I sit or should I stand? As a birth mother, both choices felt like a wound.

I am married with four more children now. I am older and wiser, I hope. One thing that I have learned is that of course I am not the only one who has suffered. So many of the women in the pews whose judgement I feared in my own grief and awkwardness and confusion and shame are suffering too. On Mother’s Day, women are mourning. Women are bearing the grief of infertility, broken relationships, abortion, stillborn children, grown sons and daughters lost in the opioid epidemic, or in the war that rages on the other side of the world and never seems to end.

We are offered flowers, cards, candy. We are given images of motherhood so idealized they bear no relation to our own lives. In fact, they offer insult to injury, taunting us with images of plastic perfection.

This is not the way this day began.

Mother’s Day was founded by Anna Jarvis, the ninth daughter of Ann Jarvis. Anna wanted to honor her mother, who gave birth to eleven children. Only four of them survived to adulthood. Seven of her babies died as infants, lost to measles, diptheria, and typhoid disease.

Ann Jarvis was a woman of deep faith and dynamic action. She was a force to be reckoned with. When she was pregnant with her sixth child, she founded the Mothers’ Day Work Club to bring women together to improve public health and reduce disease and infant mortality. The clubs raised money to support buy medicine, to hire helpers to work in households where mothers were suffering from tuburculosis and other health problems. They visited women in their homes to educate mothers about how to improve sanitation and health. 

When the Civil War broke out, Ann Jarvis insisted that the Mothers Day Clubs remain neutral. The members of her Clubs fed, clothed, and cared for sick soldiers, Confederate and Union alike. When the War ended, she brought together soldiers from both sides and their families for a “Mothers Friendship Day”. She spoke to those gathered about unity, and reconciliation. They prayed together, they ate together, they sang together, and they cried together.

What an inspiration, and a challenge.

We cannot erase the crass commercialization of Mothers Day- but can we strive to become more like the woman who inspired it? My hope is that instead of suffering alone, we can reach out to each other to support each other in our grief, to strengthen each other, and to improve the health of our families, our communities, and to change the world.

A Vagabond Song

In October I leave home, headed home. Seven hundred and forty one and a half miles lie between my yellow brick house on a hill in this city and the white farmhouse which still holds my roots and my heart. In October the leaves begin turn to flame and in the dark before the dawn I load my children into the van and set off, bound on a vagabond journey back to where I began.

As we drive across the green rolling hills of Ohio as they begin to turn golden, we read this poem:

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood-

Touch of manner, hint of mood;

And my heart is like a rhyme,

With the yellow and the crimson and the purple keeping time.

 

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry

Of bugles going by.

And my lonely spirit thrills

To see the smoke of asters like a frost upon the hills.

 

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;

We must rise and follow her,

When from every hill of flame

She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

-Carman Bliss 1861-1929

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Waiting for Spring

by Kate

She’s standing in the window on the radiator dancing, singing, and telling stories.

ballerina baby in the window

Snow is falling softly.

There is a park across the street and this morning she asked me to take her there. It is cold though, a raw wet dismal damp last day of February cold with snow falling like frozen drops of spittle from a bedraggled old white haired witch in the sky.

I didn’t take her to the park. It was all I could do to push the stroller up the hill this morning with a heavy baby in the sling and a huge bag of sheet music slung over my shoulder, headed to play harp for the old folks who have lost track of time. I haven’t.  I am ready for spring.

So I will let her dance on the radiator on this long grey afternoon, while we dream of spring.

Finding Balance

by Kate

I cannot do everything at once. Lets start with laundry. I have not been caught up on laundry since Francisco was born. It has prevented me from using cloth diapers which triggered a whole heap of guilt in my country girl in the city soul. I am happy to report that I started using cloth diapers again yesterday and (so far) it is going splendidly. My theory is that now I will be forced to do laundry more often.  Also it is almost spring and in the spring I hang all the laundry on the line. I am much, much better at getting the laundry done when half the job involves stretching my limbs under an open sky.

But more to the point, there is this rise and fall, depths of desperation and peak of elation pattern to my life of late. Let me paint a couple brief pictures for you.

I am pushing a jogging stroller (with Olympia in it wearing a velvet party dress and a blanket tucked over her coat and hat and boots and with my bags containing sheet music and library books etc. precariously stacked above her) up a steep city street one handed, using the other hand to boost up and nurse the baby in the sling under my winter coat. I am sweating because it is quite the climb and because I overstayed a tiny bit at Teresa’s house to do one last thing for her after making her breakfast this morning and as a result I am running late (again) to punch into the Memory Care Unit at Canterbury Place and spend half an hour playing the harp. I am trying to get F to nurse as much as he can so he will be relaxed and happy and I won’t have to awkwardly play the harp for the dementia patients WHILE wearing him in the sling and nursing him and using a pashmina to (hopefully) cover my breast while doing so. There is another block uphill to go and I feel like it is too much.

Then.

I am in the sunny room overlooking an enclosed garden, in the Memory Care Unit. I am wearing jeans and boots and long dangling earrings and playing the harp, to the delight of some of the lined familiar faces in the room. There are others I suspect enjoy the harp as well, though their heads are bowed. Francisco is being held in the arms of the beautiful stylish black aide who has 3 year old twins herself, and he is cooing at all the old people and just won a smile from a man who hasn’t smiled all week. Olympia is in the middle of the room, twirling like Shirley Temple. She has been sitting still with apple juice and graham crackers that she knows to expect, looking at my books of music, and now she is dancing. I am proud of her.  There is so much peace and joy in the room, and in this moment, for me.

Or…

Maybe it is the hills. The hills and the stuff, the big bursting bags of badly packed stuff that I carry around with me, the stuff that is not goldfish or wipes or diapers, those I either don’t carry or don’t have enough of. The thought of the drive up the hill to the Dance Studio after loading a toddler and a baby and my overflowing bag of fringed dresses and huge carimbo skirts and hair flowers and a sequined hat and ballroom shoes and the spiked silver five inch heels, and carrying them all up the steep steps after crossing the icy parking lot with a shrill winter wind whipping across the street feels like too, too much. I feel fat and tired and am castigating myself for trying too hard and not staying home and doing my laundry.

Then.

There are flamenco dancers pounding patterns on the other side of the long studio, samba drums on the stereo on our side. Francisco is asleep in the midst of heaps of costuming after a long conversation consisting of much cooing with a beautiful Brazilian woman. I am sweeping a skirt through the air and spinning through a swirl of rose and gold. Olympia is underfoot at my right side in the midst of the dancers, grinning and leaping joyfully but so far I haven’t knocked her over. I strap on the five inch heels I will wear for a Fat Tuesday samba performance at a nursing home, the one at the top of the hill, the one where my harp is, shaking my head at the ridiculous nature of my life.

I am trying to find balance. True to my nature, for me this means samba dancing in platform heels for elderly people, accompanied by a toddler and a fat five month baby. It’s not wonder this involves so much lurching wildly from despair to elation.

And now, I really must do a load of laundry.

By a Hairsbreadth

by Kate

Last Friday, Francisco nearly lost a toe. That morning, I was hosting playgroup for the very first time. After a flurry of slightly wild eyed dusting and mopping and stacking and scrubbing on my part, the house was swept clean and more or less orderly. There was Bach playing, coffee brewing, cream and sugar in cut glass and a freshly baked coffeecake and molasses cookies on the counter. Only one mother, Jen, had arrived. I am pretty sure she was sent straight from heaven. Jen is a nurse, and a really great one. This meant that when I pulled off Francisco’s pajamas to change his diaper and discovered a blue purple, swollen, horribly blistered toe with two strands of my hair that had been wrapped around it all night, touched it, felt the skin on the back come off in my hand leaving the back of the toe entirely raw, and gasped in utter horror, she could speak to me calmly, tell me it was going to be all right, and to call the clinic while she removed the hair. She quietly and competently removed all of the hair from the two toes affected by the hair tourniquet and described the situation on the phone to the nurse and then to my husband, who happened to call as I was heading out the door. There were three mothers there at one point, and none of us had a car. Thank God, I live a five minute walk from a world class children’s hospital.

I put the baby in the sling and headed up the hill. The playgroup moms watched Olympia. We were seen almost immediately. They called in a plastic surgeon with a jewelers loupe who said the hair was gone and they were all “cautiously optimistic” about the toe. They sent me home telling me to bathe it in soapy water and wrap it loosely in gauze and wait for the body to heal.

It is healing beautifully, thank God.

I have never been so grateful to live in this neighborhood, in this city.

Every night I pray that God will keep my family healthy, happy, holy, and whole. Holding my ten toed baby, I am so glad that He did.

Francisco Hidalgo

by Kate

The two year old is dropping blueberry jam onto the rug and the baby is in a basket, and if I type quickly enough I just may have time to tell you that Francisco Hidalgo Stapleton arrived, belatedly, on September 14th, 2012.

Francisco was in no hurry to enter the world, and in fact had to be coaxed out at great length, but he emerged with fat cheeks, a full head of hair, and a sweet disposition juxtaposed with the occasional fiery Latin temper tantrum when he is cold, or hungry, or generally frustrated by existence outside the womb. Along with the birth of my son, my creativity seems to have experienced a rebirth- but you will just have to take my word for it during the next few days or weeks, as I attempt to balance the needs of a toddler, an infant, a husband, and my elderly Polish refugee.

There are more pictures of Francisco Hidalgo here.

And now, it is time to feed the hungry baby and clean up that blueberry jam.

Singing and Stones

by Kate

I have been singing a strange tune. Twice a month I play the harp in a large sunlit room in the locked down Memory Care Unit for Alzheimer and Dementia patients up the street from my home. They are a kind and appreciative audience, especially when my toddler daughter twirls and spins to the music, claps, and opens her mouth to sing joyfully along. I haven’t been feeling joyful this month. The toddler has been sick and clinging close for weeks on end, kicking me wildly during long and restless nights. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, the elderly neighbor for whom I am caretaker and de facto nurse fell ill with pneumonia just before Christmas, and has just returned from an extended stint in the hospital and in Rehab. My responsibility to the young and the old has left me feeling unusually drained and weary, and as though I have little left to give.

So I am singing a lullaby. I’ve been learning lots of lullabies on the harp lately, as the toddler and the elderly audience are equally appreciative of them. When my daughter was born my mother gave me a beautiful illustrated book of lullabies from all over the world, and I’ve slowly been discovering new and beautiful songs. The one I stumbled across yesterday and have been singing ever since is from Scotland. It’s a strange little song, with a raw honesty to the lyrics and a bit of a bleat of despair in the melody that struck a chord in me. Here are the lyrics:

O Can Ye Sew Curtains

O Can Ye Sew Cushions? And can ye sew sheets?
And can ye sing ballooloo when the bairn greets?
And hee and haw birdie, and hee and haw lamb;
And hee and haw, birdie, my bonnie wee lamb!

Chorus:
Hey-o, way-o, what will I do wi’ ye?
Black’s the life that I lead wi’ ye;
Many o’ ye, Little for to gie ye.
Hey-o, way-o, what will I do wi’ you?

Now hush a baw lammie, and hush a baw dear,
Now hush a baw lammie, thy minnie is here.
The wild wind is ravin’, thy minnie’s heart sair,
The wild wind is ravin’, but ye dinna care.

Somehow, singing this song is a great relief. It seems to lessen the weight of the toddler who is even now clinging to my neck. All of this has made me think about my father and the stone. Unlike many men his age, my father is not retired and living a peaceful life with the prospect of grandchildren to brighten his days. Instead, he is a full time farmer tilling the soil and toiling to turn organic produce into profits. With two children still in high school, a rotating cast of  twentysomethings camping out in the attic, and two elderly people living in the back rooms the big white farmhouse is still bursting at the seams. Still, I know that my father is grateful for his life- for his good work, his land, his home, perhaps especially his wife. I asked him over Christmas if he was grateful for his children as well. He hesitated. and said “My children are a stone upon my chest.”

I know that my father loves us, but he has a lot in common with the Scottish mother sewing curtains long ago. Raising nine children has always been hard,  and doing so on one income is a Herculean feat in this day and age. The prospect of launching nine lives successfully into the world is a daunting one. As my father would tell you, his battle is not finished by any means. He is still carrying that weight. And so, the day before Christmas, I headed down to the barn and pulled up a heavy slab of sandstone. I took it into the house and inscribed a message on the front, and then turned it over and had all of my siblings sign the back. We wrapped it, left it under the tree, and dragged it out to present to my father on Christmas morning.

My father loves that stone. Mom says he lays on the couch now and then with it balanced across his broad chest, just to feel the weight. He says it feels right. I believe that it feels like singing that Scottish lullaby. There is a powerful release in singing out the darkness- and in doing so, there is room for new hope.