Here & there: Motherhood isn’t a competition

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FEATURE — I remember two significant things from my days as a young girl at church:

  1. I got teased mercilessly by the Baptista boys (all seven of them) whenever I wore knee socks because I had no knees to speak of with those long socks and my short legs.
  2. Motherhood was some sort of competition.

The more children you had, the bigger your bouquet on Mother’s Day.

On those particular bouquet Sundays, I sat eagerly in the cushioned pew as the women of the congregation stood around me while someone at the pulpit called out ascending numbers. The woman with the most children remained standing while women with fewer children sat down one by one.

My mom sat down at five. I was surprised by this every year. I intimately knew my mother had five children. But still. Each year I hoped she’d be the last standing – that she’d win.

She never did.

That honor always went to the mother of ten in our congregation. And yet every year I sat riveted in my seat, head flipping around to see the newly seated, as the non-drama unfolded around me.

My mom was a pretty amazing mom. At some level, I thought her quality mothering might make her an upset victor, a Country House.

She made birthdays an event and Christmas magical; she helped with late night homework projects and volunteered with the Junior League. She read us Good Night Moon in French and read me Little Women in English; she made buttermilk pancakes with tiny pats of butter on Saturday mornings and beef brisket on Sunday afternoons.

And if not her mothering, then what it took for her to become a mother would surely qualify her one of these years.

In between her first child and her last (which was unexpected at 41 before it was in vogue to be over 40 and pregnant), she also lost one premature baby who died within hours of his birth, suffered through an ectopic pregnancy that made her so sick she could hardly stand on my first birthday and had more miscarriages than she could almost count.

But in spite of her qualifications and her struggle, my mother never won. And neither did any of the other dozens of mothers.

What I didn’t know then, raptured in the spectacle of the Mother’s Day child count, that I wasn’t the only one who wished for a different winner.

Surely, there were women in that congregation who couldn’t have any children, or couldn’t have the number of children they wanted, or even women who didn’t necessarily want to be mothers, who felt completely marginalized by the whole event.

I wish I could go back to that little girl with the knee socks that didn’t show any knee and tell her to stop watching that silly Mother’s Day church tradition. Or, even better yet, to put her pudgy hands on her hips, maybe stomp a patent-leather foot, and demand an end to that awful tradition.

But I can’t. So, what I’ll say now is this:

I am the proud mother of three. I birthed them. I carried them. I nursed them. I got up with them at 2 a.m. I bathed them. I kissed their skinned knees. I sang them to sleep.

I now help them with homework. I make them practice their instruments. I drive them to soccer. I fly with them to gymnastics meets. I give them advice about girls.

I am their mother. I celebrate that. And I cherish that. But I am not their only mother.

There are many women who also mother my boys. There are many women who teach my boys. There are many women love my boys. There are many women who inspire my boys.

The most significant of whom is my eldest sister who has no children of her own but who loves and teaches and cuddles my boys as if they were hers. She takes my oldest car shopping on weekends. She is my middle’s fancy date to cotillion. And she hosts my youngest for regular sleepovers.

So, this Mother’s Day, here’s to all the women who never won the “the most children” competition at church – or anywhere else.

Here’s to all the women who are kind and smart and loving.

Here’s to all the women who make children think and help them learn and grow.

You are all invited to have some of my breakfast in bed. In fact, please do – I’m not sure these eggs are edible. Even if they are made with love.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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