As a holiday, Mothers' Day never receives too much attention in my family. We celebrate birthdays ardently, but none of us is very interested in the obligatory consumerism that surrounds these kinds of generalized occasions.
By chance, though, I did spend this year's Mothers' Day weekend with my own mother--a weekend in which we were both wrapped up in doing the concentrated work of being parent and grandparent rather than focusing on what kinds of celebratory attentions were due to us as mothers. Our days together were invested in cheering and coddling and supporting my son, showing him how happy we were in his delight, how proud we were of his growth as an artist. His response was intense gratitude and sweetness but, just as importantly, a vivid joy in sharing how he had come to grips with his role in a difficult play, in chattering about his creative excitement.
It struck me, as we talked, that we were three bonded generations for whom a life in art was as automatic as breath. The importance of our connection did not center in "I am your mother" but in "we speak the same language."
I am a writer because my mother gave me difficult books to read. She showed me that I had a right and a duty to procrastinate on housework because I was in the middle of an exciting part in David Copperfield. She talked about what she was reading and listened to me talk about what I was reading. Books were never, ever, a waste of time. Nor were they distraction or relaxation. Serious engagement with literature was a necessity of life.
Yet I am also a writer because my sons taught me how to work. I learned how to negotiate boredom and misery and exhaustion and anger. I learned to find space, to keep going. I learned to live outside myself, even as I lived within myself. I learned that responsibility to them meant responsibility to myself . . . and that such responsibility includes serving as both model and mentor. If I don't take myself seriously as an artist, if I don't do that work in front of them, fervently, rigorously, and consistently, how can I show them that they, too, must cultivate their flame?
On the page, these words may sound self-satisfied, sentimental, smarmy. Reality is messier. Commitment wavers; accidents swerve us toward good or evil; selfishness is power.
But there are moments when model and mentor, parent and child, cluster together around the flame. Dear ones, it is an honor to be in your company. Happy Mothers' Day.