2005-05-09 � mother love

Usually, it is the little chickadees that I notice in my daily travels.

The darling, chubby cheeked anklebiter next door, lounging in the back of his green wagon while mommy pulls, like a plump little sultan, imperious and cheerful, his hair gleaming a most wonderful new penny copper. Or the little Bug down the street, his delightful dimples bracketing a mouthful of new teeth, the floppy brim of his hat bobbing as he toddles down the street, turtles on the toes of his shoes, clenching his mommy's finger.

Or the impossibly adorable, irrepressible urchin across the street, who knows my name and hollered out that he loves me a couple weeks ago. He looks like he just leapt off a Campbell's Soup tin, sparkling eyes crinkled just so, busily arranging rubber boots on the doorstep, examining insects, navigating the world under the watchful, adoring eye of his faithful black dog.

The little blonde girl next door, on the opposite side from the copper haired sultan, her lips pursed in a rosebud of concentration, walking the narrow curb and looking like a living Loretta Lux photograph. Her grandma told me she takes gymnastics on Saturdays. Her sweet sing-song voice floats like flute music through the slats in my fence, and occasionally a bright bubble drifts from her pink wand and over my lawn, past my window, like it did this morning as I was standing at the kitchen sink, filling Finny's water bowl.

Another little girl, who once lived down the street but has since moved to a bigger house somewhere, with long auburn curls, twirling in her driveway and beribboned yellow dress, twirling, twirling.

They produce the most beautiful babies on my street.

But last week, I made it a point to notice not just the kiddles, but the moms. The moms on my street are unquestionably devoted, but different from each other.

The little gymnast's mother is patient, efficient. She arranges play dates. Her girls are always beautifully dressed. She bustles her chicks like a mother hen. They are always on the move, it seems. I see them heaping in and out of the mini-van, on their way here. On their way there. Coming, going, returning. Bustling.

The copper haired sultan's mother is ebullient and confident. She seems somehow Californian, with a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose and white blonde hair swinging in a sheet. Flanked by a pair of Pomeranian puppies, she chatters to the Sultan over Baby Einstein gear, all the latest stuff. It doesn't look hard, this motherhood thing, the way she does it. It looks candy colored, easy, fun.

The floppy brimmed Bug (he has a t-shirt with the word boldly emblazoned on it. I want it.) has a mom who is quieter, serene. Tall and willowy, she is due to give birth to a second Bug boy in 7 weeks. My back aches in deep sympathy as I watch her bend to hold the finger of her little explorer. He has her eyes, piercing blue, but hers look a bit tired these days. Weary. It's all those new teeth, I bet. Sleepless nights. She has a classic, unadorned, almost old fashioned beauty... straight bridge of her nose, pink windburned cheeks, light brown hair down to the middle of her back, straight like a river, a studious look somehow. Her husband gave her a gift certificate from Chapters for Mother's Day, she told me, and I can see this instantly, her head bent over a book. Framed in a window seat. Where will she find the time to read with beautiful Bug II on the way? I think to myself.

Getting into my car to take the wolf for her walk, I always scan for them... the Bookworm and her Bug. They often sit on their white spindled porch, rocking gently, or play quietly on the grass in the front yard, the scene so sweet and pastoral and gentle.

I do not know how they do it, this simple magic. They are living, moving, breathing, engaged. Mothering. They make it look so easy, these women, so natural and effortless, unrushed, but I know it cannot be.

The auburn haired girl's mother, for instance, it did not seem to wear well on her. Whenever I saw her, she looked frail, too thin, her upper arms not much bigger around than my wrists and my wrists are fairly narrow. Long, curling, arresting red hair like her daughter's, pale, pale skin, a pensive expression and her arms crossed over, huddled to her narrow chest. She looked like she should be painted by Klimt or Egon Schiele. She looked worn and worried. She looked like she might be sick. But this is all speculation. I never talked to her, never knew anything more than what I glimpsed from my window, my car, my front yard. And now that they have moved away, I doubt I will ever know much more.

I watch them all from my bedroom window as I make the bed, awed and a bit envious. I have no children, save for one of the demanding but furry variety and yet I always feel as if I have no time. Rushed. A bit breathless.

I have no idea how my own Mom did it. She went back to teaching full time when I was four and entered kindergarten. I remember her sitting at the dining table as I was going off to bed, bent over her lesson plan book, sewing machine at one elbow, fabric for a skating costume bunched in the middle and stacks of papers for grading at the other elbow. She made marble bags and Baked Alaska and had the best classroom decorations ever. She taught me how to make little rosebuds out of white bread, glue and food coloring, bandaged my skating blisters, trimmed my bangs, sewed Halloween costumes and special, spangled numbers for skating carnivals and ballet recitals, never missed a single one of my brother's hockey games from the time he was 5 until he was 16, and then very few of the games after that. She once made me a special crown of daisies to wear in my hair. She quizzed us for spelling tests, threw dinner parties, gardened, maintained long, polished nails and a stylish wardrobe that were admired by all the little girls in her second grade class. She was our unabashed cheerleader, our touchstone, our centre. She was as my brother once said, "Our lifestyle manager." She made our lunches, our dinners, made us mind our manners, made it all possible. She did our laundry, heaps and heaps of it. She made Christmas cookies, whimsically shaped birthday cakes, fat raisin stuffed cinnamon rolls. She loved to fish... when we lived on a lake in Wisconsin, she and my brother would sit on the end of the dock, fishing for (and most remarkably... catching!) bluegills with a stick and string and a safety pin fashioned into a hook. She taught us nursery rhymes, supplied us with the best, most fabulously illustrated books, taught us a deep and abiding love of animals and nature. She mothered. She mothered well and truly and deeply.

Of course, back then, being young and completely absorbed in my own world, I never stopped to think that she might be tired, that all this might be exhausting and exasperating and overwhelming, that caring for my father, my brother and me might be anything less than unadulterated joy and priviledge. Now, from the vantage of adulthood, I marvel. I'm awed. I'm humbled. I'm bursting with admiration and respect.

But most of all, I'm grateful. Thank you Mom, for all you do, all you have done and for shaping my world, making it safe, keeping it shining and hopeful and for making it all seem so easy and effortless. I love you more than I can begin to express.

P.S. I can't believe my luck in having stumbled across a nest of robin's eggs to photograph this morning and planted at just the right height too! The mother Robin cursed me loudly from a top branch the whole time I was photographing her amazing eggs.

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