As Mother’s Day arrives I can’t help but think of those for whom the occasion might be difficult. While all of us come from a woman and thus have had a mother many of those I’ve met have not been mothered or perhaps not mothered in the way they needed. We are too quick to forget that “mother” is a verb as well as a noun. It is a task we choose to take on or not. Like all other tasks it comes to some more naturally than others. Some folks who didn’t have a model to learn from will not know how to do it themselves. The ability to have a child is not the same as the ability to mother. There have always been women who gave birth, but could not give their children what they needed. But there have been just as many who have never been pregnant but have taken on the task of motherhood with all of their hearts.
I’ve always considered myself one of the last women I mentioned. I have no children of my own. Though I might some day, I have always felt like a mother. In the same way writing has always just made sense to me, sensing that need in people around me and stepping in to fill it has always been an instinct I couldn’t explain. I’ve always considered this part of me to be very separate from my work. I wanted to be a radical, an activist, I wanted to subvert expectations.
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I thought it would wound the cause if my public persona was too gentle, too nurturing, too stereotypically feminine.
How could I prove that women with disabilities could do anything if I chose to embody exactly what was expected of me. So the articles stayed angry even when I wasn’t because I thought that’s what was asked of me as a member of the resistance. Meanwhile, in my home-life I was proudly grinning when friends called me mom. I was sitting up all night talking them through their heartaches and cooking for them in the morning. It was all truthful to who I am, but it was always actively separate.
It was only when I started to think about my own mother that I was able to think about this differently. It isn’t unusual to hear my father congratulating my mother for the person I am. Recently, he mentioned how amazing it was that she raised not only a woman who loved herself but a woman with a disability who does. In a world that wants to tell girls they are not only less valuable but that they are to be judged based on their bodies, what a radical act this was. Having lost several pregnancies before I came along, my mother loved and loves me with a vigor and gratitude I have no words for. She felt so lucky to finally have the chance to mother me that my disability never seemed to factor into the equation. That kind of love has become the most radical thing I have ever known.
If I can love the people around me with that kind of fullness and teach them that they matter, that is resistance.
People who feel full and cared for are not only better to themselves because they know they deserve it, but will be better to others because they don’t have to tear someone down in order to rise. This is why we talk about parenting as raising. Because to love someone well is to lift them up and that is not something we reserve for children.
We often talk about activism as a very violent task. We are always fighting a battle or a war. I wear the term social justice warrior with pride. But, we need to welcome nurturing as part of the movement. This isn’t to say we should tolerate cruel or oppressive people or movements.
This is simply to say that raising up and ‘loving up’ anyone we can is an important act of resistance.
This is why I will no longer separate the sides of who I am. I will still write about problems we must correct in the world. But I will also make space for tenderness. I will talk about how disabled folks have their civil rights ignored but I will also tell rooms of disabled teenagers that they are worthy of love, sex, marriage and all other forms of joy. I will write poems about why bodies like mine matter but I will also pen them as salve for broken-hearted friends. Fighting for a full and joyful life for everyone means offering up both parts of myself.
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I will mother the members of my community the way my mother did for me because that is something everyone deserves.
This Mother’s day I ask you to consider mothering as part of social justice. Who mothered you till you believed you were worth fighting for?
Who raises you to your best self? Honor them as part of the resistance. Then look around you and ask who is asking to be lifted. How can you and your work nurture not only those you are connected to by blood but also those in your community? Raise the battle flag when you must.
But, do not be afraid to offer emotional mending as well. Nobody devalues a medic in a war. Healing is part of the process.
[ Feature Image: Two individuals are shown hugging one another in a black and white image. The person to the right has long light brown hair swept back as they wrap their arms around the person on the left who is not fully shown. Flickr.com/James DowseBy: James Dowse ]