How would we celebrate without our mothers? Imagine birthday parties without shopping lists full of food, drink, and decorations. Think of a dinner party without clean dishes, candlelight, or the soap dispenser in the bathroom being refilled. Would anyone hear from your family at Christmas time without your mother’s stationary, stamps, and time spent filling out festive cards? All of these things can be accomplished by men, of course, but by and large, they speak to the attention of a woman. There is a reason we talk about homes and special events needing a “woman’s touch.” That reason is that women have a gift for the particular.
This idea is one that I first heard from a Mariologist, in relation to Our Blessed Mother, and I immediately recognized the truth in the statement. Though my dad can clean a room better than anyone I know, though he was the one sewing buttons back onto my sweaters as I grew up, and though he dedicated himself to learning how to do his little girls’ hair, he once bought me a birthday cake in March, six months ahead of my early-September birthday. This is a mistake my mother has never made. My husband is wonderful with our children, fully involved, delighting in their games and newfound verbal abilities. But he has a really rough time picking out outfits for them that match. When we first started dating, he handed me gifts concealed in plastic bags. It took more than a year for him to start buying and using wrapping paper. You could attribute these gaffes to any number of things, but in them, I see missing a gift for the particular.
Babies are full of particularities, aren’t they? And toddlers? From their daily care routine to how and when they fall asleep, there are a million little details to know and keep track of. Every kid is different, but moms tend to know what must remain constant in a day or in a lunch hour lest the whole thing collapse into little-person sobs and frustration. My son’s apple slices should rest on a black appetizer plate, my daughter’s on a red one. Reverse that, or choose other plates, and they will argue over the food. Our baby must be the last to go to bed, no matter how tired she is earlier in the evening, otherwise she will inevitably wake up after her siblings are tucked in and wail. The list could go on.
Look at baby Jesus here, held close to his mother’s body. St. Anne is leaning in, and Mary seems to be paying close attention to her words. Imagine the details being discussed – how the Christ child has been sleeping, eating, maybe how to heal a rash he may have developed or soothe his fussiness. Joachim seems to breaking in, maybe to ask to hold the baby, maybe with a totally unrelated thought. Joseph, spouse of the most Blessed Mother, is gently silencing his father-in-law, perhaps recognizing the value of these particular details being passed from mother to daughter-just-turned-Mother.
What an amazing moment. How fragile and beautiful such moments are as they still occur today. After my oldest child was born, my mother-in-law came to visit. My baby girl grabbed at her necklace, and while gently removing the delicate chain from my daughter’s tiny grasp, my husband’s mother made a simple, passing comment about how she had stopped wearing jewelry and perfumes for years when her sons were small. I think of her every time I look at the jewelry box I hardly lift anything out of these days, I think of all the wisdom my husband’s mother stored up as her earrings and bracelets sat unused, how her heart was stretched in those years, and how common all of this is for mothers. Oh, the treasures they have to relate to us!
Does this mean you should arrange your home and your childcare routines exactly as your mother thinks best? Of course not. There is value found also in a couple learning to do things their own way in their own home. But as we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, perhaps a prayer of thanksgiving might find our lips for all the treasures our earthly mothers have handed down to us, from their baked bean recipes to the holiday traditions we hold dear. And perhaps we might also whisper thanks for all that Mother Mary and Mother Church have given us – the gorgeous rites and deep Tradition that has been passed onto us, down through so many generations, despite all sorts of things, from wars to lukewarmth, trying to interrupt. May we thank the Holy Spirit, the spouse of Mary, for the times he has silenced these interruptions and let us hear calls to conversion, the infinite wisdom of the Church, the glorious Alleluias of Easter. May we listen to our own earthly mothers with a deeper appreciation of the small, unsung special touches they bring to our lives, and may we tune in dedicatedly to Mother Church as she seeks to turn our hearts, little by little, toward the love of God.