Italian poet and novelist Cesare Pavese said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”
Looking back on the 30 or so years that have passed since I’ve joined the motherhood movement, I cannot help but agree with this conclusion.
Memories themselves are disjointed little beings. Gaps and blank spaces sit where details once appeared. Rarely if ever are we permitted the luxury of a single recollection in its entirety.
The day I gave birth to my oldest child. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast, or even if I’d eaten at all. I’ve forgotten which family member showed up at the hospital first, whether the steel blue January sky hinted of snow, or what I’d packed in my overnight bag. But I’ll never forget that particular moment, when I lay there exhausted, shaking, and waiting anxiously to hear her first cry. Thereafter I’d asked, “Is she okay? Is that how she’s supposed to sound?” I remember this event, underscored in my mind by the small and tentative voice of a brand new Mom.
The calendar spun through its pages in rapid-fire succession, the way it does when you’re caught up in the business of mothering. Teaching a child her ABCs, her please and thank yous, her evening prayers. Confidence accompanied my direction - the voice of gentle guidance. “Mustn’t touch!” “Brush your teeth.” “Because I said so.”
Soon thereafter I paid another visit to the maternity ward, this one far ahead of schedule. My son, born prematurely and oh-so fragile. My voice this time, a mere whisper. “Please God, let him be well so I can take him home.”
Over time, moments were shared chanting nursery rhymes, and singing choruses of “Happy Birthday to you.”
Others that followed were spent exchanging harsh words with adolescents boldly testing their boundaries.
It’s the stuff most parenthoods are made of. If you’ve been in the trenches, you know the drill. The shouting, the silent-treatment, the “Just wait till you have kids of your own!” warnings.
And then you blink and it happens.
Memory may not disclose what you were wearing the precise minute your first kid left home, or exactly what dialogue was spoken. But the most important parts remain stored for safe keeping. A mother’s urgent plea, “Keep your doors locked,” followed by a request, “and call me every night.” The lump in your throat when the words simply wouldn’t come.
Throughout my parenting journey I have worn several different hats. Each one came with its own voice. I’ve been, among other things, a friend whose tone was light and encouraging. A sergeant calling off strict marching orders. An attorney bargaining for justice. A counselor offering words of comfort and hope.
Voice in motherhood is nothing if not flexible. Accommodating.
Eventually all the noise and commotion had stopped. One day, it seemed, I looked around and the house was exceptionally quiet. The children had transitioned into young adults whose lives had taken them elsewhere. I’ll never forget the moment I sat and wondered, “What is left for me to do?”
Frantic and lost, I was certain I’d somehow been demoted. That my allotted mothering moments had run their course.
And then from somewhere deep inside, came the calm voice of reason.
You’ll always be a mom.
The days of physically raising a family had perhaps come and gone. The design had changed. However, the structure was still standing.
Memories will continue to be selective. Specific bits of chapter and verse surely will have slipped away.
But, the most precious moments, those that have hung in there in spite of it all, will remain...forever mine.
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