The mother stands in the doorway beside a girl wearing a dark dress, tights, and shoes. The woman's long, flowing white gown has ruffles on top that remind me of angel’s wings. She’s looking away from the camera and leaning over, maybe to kiss the girl on the head. Maybe she’s about to say, “I love you. Have a good day.”
This photograph, taken in 1899 by modernist Gertrude Kasebier (1852-1934), is called Blessed Art Thou Among Women. It's one of my favorites from an exhibition I saw several years ago. Every time I look at it, I think about motherhood.
But when I’m saying goodbye to my daughter every morning, the scene doesn't look anything like the photo. Rather than a long, ruffly gown, I’m usually in my robe and pajamas. We are rushing out the garage to my daughter's car in the driveway. She’s loaded down with a bulky backpack and another bag or two of something important, and I’m carrying her travel mug of coffee in one hand and breakfast sandwich in the other. I give her a big hug, say a quick prayer, and off she goes to high school.
And my heart goes with her.
When I discovered I was pregnant years ago, I did not fully grasp how my life would change forever. I daydreamed about what I would do with my baby. We would go to the park where I’d write lyrical journal entries as she dozed in the sun. To the art museum where the Impressionist paintings would mesmerize her. To church where she would never fuss. And of course we would always look cute and pulled together.
However, after she was born, I couldn’t write anything coherent for months; I didn’t dare go to a museum with an infant, for goodness’ sake; I made my husband take her to the church nursery because I couldn't bear to hear her cry. And it was a long time before I looked or felt pulled together.
During her first year, we often went to my parents’ house about an hour away. The time in the car was blessedly quiet because she would sleep. When we got there, Nana and Papa would take over and I could relax. But one morning when she was about two months old, she cried the last 20 minutes before we arrived at their house. Harried and jittery, I handed her off to Mom and sank onto the sofa. Through tears, I said, “I can’t do this. I can’t.”
My mother, with wisdom, tenderness, and confidence, said, “But, LeAnne, you are doing this. You are.” Those words sank into my heart like a soaking rain on a parched desert floor. I still keep them close at hand for those times when I need to hear them again.
Like any mom, I’ve had difficult days but I’ve had many moments of joy, too, starting with my daughter’s birth and including all of her firsts: first smile, laugh, tooth, steps. Then, during her preschool ballet recital, she twirled and spun and did the bunny hop with aplomb. In the kindergarten class play, she was a narrator because she was one of the few in her class who could actually read. So many highlights...
Now, she’s finishing up her junior year. Just like that. She’s growing in so many ways, coming into her own, and looking ahead to college. She pulls me out of my introspective thoughts, makes me laugh, and challenges me to grow too.
As I look at Kasebier’s photograph, I think of my daughter: does she know how much I love her? And how grateful I am that she is mine and what a gift she has been to me?
I think of my mother, too: does she know how much I love her? And how grateful I am for all she has done and continues to do for me? And for my daughter, too?
With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ll make a point to tell them these things again. And I’ll remember how I love being a mother even on challenging days, how I can’t imagine my life any other way, and how my mother is the best one of all.
For those of you who are mothers, I hope you have a special day on Sunday. And for those of you who find the occasion painful—maybe because you want to be a mother, you miss your mother, or you miss a child you lost—my heart goes out to you. I will be praying for you all.
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