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September 3, 2014

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Sunflowers and Yellow Roses: Mother Love

Comments (12)


I know what it is for Mother's Day to be hard. When your Mama's broke, and I don't mean, when your Mama has no money, I mean when your mother has a heart so hurting she can't love herself, she can't love her child, she can't even like being black or stand being a woman, the second Sunday in May is not an easy day.

It's a day for pushing rocks up hills.

For years the biggest rock I pushed up the hill on Mother's Day was trying to get my mother to see herself the way I saw her, as the most beautiful woman in the world.

When I was about six years old I tried to tell her with homemade (from a box) chocolate pudding. I spelled out "I love you" in cereal on the top of the bowl of brown goo. She put the mess in the sink.

As the years passed I mastered some of the art of cooking. I learned to make French crepes with blackberries and raised German pancakes with strawberries and I made them for my Mama. I never learned how to make her see herself as anything but too round and too brown.

Eventually I stopped cooking for the lady. I got a job babysitting. I started buying her pretty things. I remember a silver-plated basket from Saks Fifth Avenue I filled with fancy florist shop roses. She thought it was pretty. And irrelevant.

There was a boatload of pain, a boatload of shame, and a boatload of void those roses couldn't drown. At the center of it was those roses couldn't make her forget about loosing her mother when she was five years old.

I spent my first Mother's Day as a mother in Yugoslavia. I thought I might be dying and I was on a much needed spiritual retreat with my best friend. My nine month old was in Maryland with her Daddy. I celebrated the day by writing letters proclaiming my love for my daughter's gorgeously brown and round infant self.

These last twenty-three years Mother's Day has become a favorite day. When my child was an infant there was some thought that she might not be able to see, some thought that she couldn't hear, some thought that she was far from the near perfect she turned out to be. It was then that I fell in love with flowers. I would hold sweet smelling ones under her nose and I would stroke her cheek with them. If all she knew of the world was going to be my lap and a silent darkness is was going to be a sweet scented silent darkness, it was going to be a soft lap.

I was mother. I was a mother of the most amazing person in the world. I had never been more bound or more liberated.

Years later that girl became a young woman who gave me a bouquet of sunflowers and roses. To my eyes the sunflowers were raggedy but right and the roses were exquisite. As I recall her card read, "the sunflowers are you and the roses me. We are the perfect bouquet. Happy Mother's Day."

And it was. From the very first flower we shared, something straggly picked wild in dusty garden, I let the present eclipse the past. I let the flowers matter. On the second Sunday in May, there are no rocks and no hills, round our way.

Maybe your Mama has passed. Maybe you never knew your Mama. Maybe your Mama didn't love you. Maybe you can't have a child. Find someone who needs a flower, give it to them, and let it matter.

Let it remind you of who your other mothers are and of who needs your mothering.

Motherlove is not inevitable. It is not conservative. It is a powerful love that transforms the lover and the loved one by celebrating and exalting the unique identity of both. It is unselfish and unending. It is brave and it is fierce. It proclaims, "even murderers have Mama's" and "I brought you into this world I'll take you out of it" while it means, "I will take on anything and everyone who stands in your way."

Risking death, and every birth risks death, mothers brings new life, assenting with every cry and push; or incision and tear; or signature and sigh; or hug and hand squeeze -- to the eclipsing significance of each soul entrusted to our care -- and of our own significance as nurturers.

Mothers let the flowers matter.

"Mother-love is not inevitable. The good mother is a great artist ever creating beauty out of chaos."

I wrote those words. They're on a few million Starbucks cups. The flowers remind us to keep making beauty out of the chaos. To keep being a mother, is to keep seeing the beauty. And much of it begins in the eye of the beholder.

Be somebody's Mama today. Maybe even your Mama's.

Alice Randall is the author of 'Rebel Yell,' 'The Wind Done Gone,' and other works of fiction. A Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, she teaches Bedtime in the Briarpatch, an intensive examination of African-American children's literature from the seventeenth century to the present. Read her blog on Red Room.

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