Friday, November 27, 2015

About Motherhood

Because I began motherhood late in life, a woman asked me why I bothered at my age. She said my world was predictably arranged. "Why invite chaos?" she scoffed.

I cobbled together an explanation that probably didn't sound any more convincing than a beauty pageant contestant outlining how she'd achieve world peace.

This November, the traditional month of thankful thoughts, I finally figured it out. Twenty years ago, when that woman confronted me, I had no idea about motherhood. I could never have known how breathtaking it would be to have a daughter who filled in my pauses and finished my sentences.

I see now that it began early on, after we'd returned from China. At eleven months, Maggie babbled in Chinese baby talk. She didn't understand English, but she found a way to speak beyond words. As we napped side by side one afternoon, she sat up suddenly, put a tiny hand on each side of my face, and leaned down to stare into my eyes. I held still as she peered into my soul and promised that she knew me and would forever be on my side.

She was my Merlin.

I realized the depth of her little-girl commitment when we watched Disney's Beauty and the Beast for the first time. In the tavern scene with Gaston, she quickly said, "Mama, don't look," and reached up to shield my eyes. Because she already understood I was upset by stories about animals dying, she didn't want me to notice the walls were covered with the mounted heads of wild game. She protected me through the entire song.

When she was a fourth grader, we took her to a parade. A float with dancing girls rolled by with their organizational slogan scrolled along the side. Maggie asked, "Mom, isn't that apostrophe in the wrong place?" Cliff laughed and said, "Well, she's your daughter without a doubt."

In keeping with our punctuation theme, an odd thing happened when we sold our house last summer. My best friend Laurel had sent me a New Yorker cartoon that I taped to our refrigerator. During an open house, someone took it. It was a loss that could only make an English major suffer. I whined for days. Then it miraculously appeared. Maggie had searched for it online and printed it off. Just for me.

When Cliff and I recently visited her at the College of Wooster's Parent Weekend, she said she had a present for me and handed over a pocket-sized Gideon's New Testament. Because we're not a religious family, she explained. Two boys were distributing them on campus, and she felt terrible over what happened. Polite students were accepting them, not wanting to be disrespectful, but later she'd find the books tossed into trashcans. It pained her. "I know you like little things, Mom, so I kept mine for you." I do love miniature objects. She's watched me move a thumb-sized elephant around the kitchen counter for years. A three-inch by four-and-a-half inch collection of Psalms and Proverbs delights me, but she knew how deeply I'd appreciate her concern for the boys.

Her spirit radiates through my life.

So this Thanksgiving I recited my dad's traditional dinner blessing: For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful, and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen

I looked at her across the table, knowing I was grateful, not for pie and potatoes, but for my daughter. Twenty years ago I was honestly clueless about motherhood, thinking the value centered around what I could offer a child. I had no idea that a baby born on a summer night in China would be the gift I had always needed to receive.

She had everything to offer me.

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