Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca

Sunday is Mother’s Day.

I had a mother. That’s possibly the only statement that every human on the planet can affirm without qualification. Also any mammal.

In the cause of gender equality, I might add that every mammal also had a father, but that’s not necessarily true anymore. Dolly, the cloned sheep, didn’t.

I’m tempted to go farther, to say that every living thing had a mother, but I’m not convinced that laying eggs in a riverbed or casting spores to the wind qualifies as motherhood. The new life may require female DNA, but in my mental dictionary, mothering Involves more than abandoning one’s offspring to chance.

When we scattered our son’s ashes in the ocean off Vancouver Island, his sister said a few words about visiting her older brother during his final month in hospital.

His grandfather recited a poem, about dying young.

I read a passage from one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books that seemed relevant to his story.

And his mother began, “From the moment I first felt you moving in my womb…”

With almost a sense of shock, I realized that mothering starts nine months earlier than fathering does.

No matter how I may pride myself on being a father, she had more time with him, and had more influence on his life, than I did.

Although the patterns of family life are changing, society in general still expects the father to be the breadwinner, the mother to be the caregiver.

Typically, the mother gets up in the middle of the night — especially if the baby is still breast-feeding.

Typically, mom shapes the infant’s most formative years.

Typically, mom sacrifices the most in any family.

My mother gave up her profession, her home, her national roots, to have me.

She died when I was 36. I didn’t love her as much as I should have. After all, I was building my own career; I had worlds to conquer; I had miles to go before I sleep.

I took her for granted. Maybe we all do.

Now, much later in life, when I no longer have a mother, and even more, when my daughter no longer has a mother, and my grandchildren have no grandmother, I begin to sense how much they’re missing. And how much I’m missing.

I thought of this the other day, in a heated Zoom discussion about a different subject entirely. One of the participants said, “Isn’t this really all about ego?”

Yes, it is. It is always about ago. About how this affects me, Me, ME.

The discussion had focussed subduing ego. Keeping it under control — a recurring theme from mystics ancient and modern, from Meister Eckhardt to Eckhardt Tolle, from Julian of Norwich to Thomas Merton.

I believe we only cast aside our egos when someone we love is in peril. When your only child is swept away by a river, and you roar into the water whether or not you can swim.

When your baby girl has a raging fever, and you sit up all night, listening to every breath in the darkness.

When your son spills his bike on the street, and you race out, daring that truck to hit you.

In my experience, mothers are more likely — or perhaps have more opportunities — to display that ego-squelching commitment than men. And that applies to adoptive moms just as much as to birth mothers.

Of course there are uncaring mothers. And incompetent mothers. I can read about them in my newspaper pretty much every day.

And there are mothers who ride their own ego train through pregnancy, bequeathing to their unborn infant a drug dependency or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, leaving society to pick up the pieces.

But you might notice that those are afflictions the father cannot pass on to his children. Because those children have never been part of his body. They have never shared his blood, his immunities, the constant thump-thump of his heart.

Only mothers can do that.

Despite what Hollywood says, love does not mean never having to say you’re sorry. Love, in fact, means always having to say you’re sorry.

Sorry I can’t always be there for you. Sorry that you’ve chosen to go your own way, without me. Sorry that I can’t still wrap myself around you, enfold you, provide for you.

Love is continuing to feel you right under my heart, even when you’re not there anymore. Because that’s what mothers do.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca