Today is my mother’s birthday. It arrives 15 days after the New Year, when people are still weighted with the promises they made to themselves to revamp small or big areas of their life and make this year better than the ones that preceded it. I think about my mother in light of the transience of New Year resolution packages, with all their short steep spikes in gym memberships and ambitious projects that often fall to the wayside as the winter months drag on. When I measure the constant choices of any day in her ordinary life, the hype of the New Year seems all the more flippant.
6:00am: She wakes up and moves from her bed to her rocking chair to spend the first quiet hour of the day.
7:00am: She goes downstairs and prepares a quick cup of coffee from the (environmentally destructive) Keurig that my parents caved in and purchased
7:15am: She begins waking up the kids for school, or lets my dad do the wake-up duty while she checks to make sure school lunches are made and bagged, and uniforms are laundered. The kids saunter down and pull together their things while Mom pours cereal, heats bowls of oatmeal, gives Cora the Cat Who Thinks She’s Human her morning wineglass of water, and begins the avalanche of laundry for the day.
(Point of note: She knows exactly where every belonging of every resident of the house is at all times, to the point where we actually get frustrated with her if she doesn’t give an answer, within two minutes, as to the whereabouts of a misplaced knee sock or Ipod charger)
8:00am Kids scramble onto the bus, Mom gets dressed to give our neighbor across the street a ride to church.
9:00am She returns home and begins cleaning the kitchen while my dad urges her to sit down and eat the eggs he has made for her before they get cold. She promises to sit down with him and eat them while they’re still hot, but instead continues cleaning the kitchen, and eventually gets around to her plate of cold eggs.
(Point of note: One of Mom’s biggest pet peeves is actually the term pet peeve, but apart from that, she also dislikes wasted time. This prevents her from being able to enjoy most sedentary activities such as eating or watching TV. Apart from dinner, any exceptions to this rule are made on a limited, temporary, and reluctant basis. She occasionally allows herself small luxuries like playing word games on the computer that help maintain her linguistic dexterity. Because of this, Mom is a record-breaker at boggle, Wheel of Fortune, bananagrams, Scrabble, and any other number of games involving the procurement of words.)
10:00am-onward: Mom goes for a walk or does her exercise routine, brings her mother-in-law to the doctors and grocery shopping, volunteers in my youngest sister’s school classroom, brings an elderly neighbor on various errands, cleans the entire house, sends me a hilarious email about her morning, coordinates the kids’ extra curricular activities and manages the storm of homework assignments once they come off the bus, prepares dinner, and pauses occasionally to talk to the cat.
Through her life, hour by hour, my mom teaches me how to love. She wakes up early each morning, and from that point forward, it seems like there are endless stores of generosity. It’s all a quiet thing too; often we don’t notice the liberality of her presence until she’s having a sick day. In her absence we can see that her presence sets the tone for the whole family. She’s the one who is aware when moods are down or morale is low, and she kind of becomes our default cheerleader.
What my mom teaches me when she gives herself over and over to the demands of the day, is that love is both fragile and resilient. We need to recreate it everyday to keep its embers alive, and yet somehow it’s a living thing of it’s own, and it surprises us with its own life, to which we are utterly dependent. The paradox of love is that you have to give it your all, and yet in the end you’re still a humble recipient to its grace. For our part, we can try to let the ones around us be our teachers in love. What I learn from watching my mom is that every moment is really charged with opportunity. Because of her patience, my mom often becomes the venting board for the complaints and frustrations of the family. Usually she tries to make light of it, and diffuse the tensions with her sarcastic sense of humor. She enjoys the ones she loves. She does not try to control the world or the people around her, and yet she is able to shape her environment by her gentle response to it. She enjoys what she has. The people around us, and the circumstances we encounter, always invite a response: Am I going to be gracious in my words? Am I going to give the benefit of the doubt? Am I going to be patient? Am I willing to do what must be done even if it’s hard? I am lucky to have the example of my mother to show me that life can be good and full and precious, even in its heaviness, and I am honored to be able to celebrate her life today.
Marie Murray is the Director of Operations for WYA North America
Photo credit: MILK, A Celebration of Family