An armful of mothers

Mothering Sunday is always an intense day for me, full of contradictory, bittersweet feelings. A day when I carry with me mothers, and women who mother, and children with all their experiences of mothering. A day for an armful of mother poems.

George Szirtes wrote of the beginning of motherhood and of course we all began in a mother:

The first hand coming down from heaven. Her hand.
She hovers above you. It is a premonition
Of life to come, a bird preparing to land.

George Szirtes, Reel, Bloodaxe Books, Northumberland 2004

I was adopted as a baby and I still miss Irene, my mother who brought me up. There were a lot of things off kilter in our family and I wish she had been able to be more emotionally unfastened. Still, she taught me to sew like a tailor, to swear like a Glaswegian and to be a strong woman who chooses my own path. I am grateful to her every time I delve into her button box or lose my temper at an injustice.

my adoptive mother Irene looking glamorous as always in a hat and an outfit she sewed.

This is one of my favourite pictures of her, that my brother and I chose for the cover of her memorial booklet. I am so thankful she lived long enough to be a bad influence on her grandson (gin!) and to drink our health at my wedding. I wish she had known her great-grandchildren.

At her funeral I read Dylan Thomas’s poem

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953

A few years after Irene died we traced and connected with my birth mother, Shirley. As a single parent I understood the excruciating dilemma she had been in when she carried me. Still my inner baby clung on to unutterable feelings of rejection and loss. As we tried to weave our way through this dance of becoming mother and daughter, I learnt a lot about the story of my wombing and birthing. I have her to thank for my Welsh-Norwegian heritage (think music, mountains, epic tales and mournfulness). Who’d have guessed, stubborn opinionated me who fights iniquity is nature as well as nurture?

Shirely and me studying family photos with uncannily identical expressions on our faces

Soon after we met I wrote this fragment of a list poem in gratitude and sorrow for what she did and what she missed. I think this photo reflects the sense of connectedness we are unearthing.

You never taught me to fasten my laces and button up
But you have carried me secret for thirty-nine weeks
You never splashed me with the waters of God
But you have pained and pulsed me into this world
You never spooned puréed apple into my mouth
But you suckled me stealthily in the midnight
You never slipped the tooth from under my pillow
But you hugged and held me for forty-two days

Jane Chevous 2006

Being a mother is the source of universal life and the toughest vocation in the world. Today I ask forgiveness from my son, step-children, foster-children and grandchildren for my shortcomings as a mother. I celebrate the many other women and motherswho have shaped my relationship with mothering and my own shape of motherhood. My epic mother-in-law Phyllis and the precious mothers and families of our beautiful grandchildren. Concetta, my sister in spirit and mother of my amazing god-children. My friend Kate who has been my son’s better mother, taught me the best habits as a parent and gently pointed out my bad ones. My friend Maxine, a wise and wonderful midwife who has given so many women the best start to their mothering. Karen, who as my therapist helped me to untangle the threads of family and weave a brighter cloth.

They and all the other mothers I know (including other species!) inspired this pod of mother pictures. It is dedicated to all these mothers and especially all those whose memories or experiences of mothering have been painful, traumatic or lacking. May you have freinds who are mothers like these in your life too.

She is lap that never runs out
And a hug that gathers everyone in

She is a sofa that snuggles me close
Soft when I am weary and womb-seeking

Proud as a swan careening me on her back
Wing-hidden from icy wind and hunting rat

Perhaps a penguin who leaves us sharing body heat
Questing across frozen oceans to fill our shrinking throats

Always the warm brass edges of a tarnished silver spoon
Feeding everyone who comes within sniffing distance of her pot

Ssssh! She’s singing lullabies to thumb-suckers,
Cradling sleepy heads up the wooden hill to blanket fair

She is an album of ice-creams and sandy picnics,
of just out of depth with no arm bands and still afloat;

She is a sniff of sick beds, fried banana and fish to feed you up
Of broken curfews, first time dated, kissed, chucked, ashamed

A minstrel she shares poems with the street
Tells tall tales at the checkout – no, mother, please!

She’s a provider who knits, bakes, bottles and forages
for linen sheets and china cups at jumble sales

She is a tea towel leaping to stroke the dishes
as soon as she steps inside the kitchen

Glowing with our cards scattering glitter and kisses
Joy-struck she dances with the sunflowers

I think she’s a fairy from the bottom of the garden, a spade
planting potatoes on her eightieth birthday.

Jane Chevous 2019