It is a silent Sunday morning in my new flat; only the birds outside to tell me the world is awake. In many other places, it’s Mother’s Day, but here in London, that day happened in March. Naomi and Aidan and I happened to be in the same place together, and we went out to breakfast with two of Naomi’s friends, quietly celebrating. This morning, this non-Mother’s Day, I have been watching the sun stream through the windows of our new living room, over the contours of our old furniture, finally arrived, and I am having a mother’s day anyway. There are two of Aidan’s friends asleep in our newly-arrived beds upstairs. Tonight there will be a birthday dinner for another two of them; I baked the cake last night. I’m now mothering a pack of these young adult men in cities far from home, even as I miss my beautiful girl in a town across an ocean from me. Somehow this mothering urge, which has been with me from the days when I marvelled at the disappearing milk in the play bottles of my dolls, doesn’t seem to wear off through time. But, like everything else, it changes.
On my way home from the gym Thursday, I was walking down rain-slicked sidewalks and saw a small boy on a scooter coming towards me. He held up his hand and called “high five!” to the man in front of me. Big hand slapped against small hand; I figured they knew each other. Soon, though, he was next to me and “high five!” again and his hand held up to mine. I slapped it too, warm and soft, and heard his delighted little-boy voice call out to the man jogging behind him, “Daddy that’s twelve!”
I thought, there are moments that remind me of how fiercely beautiful this world is. The rain was beautiful. The streets were beautiful. The father jogging after his boy on a scooter was beautiful. And that small warm hand in mine, touching just for an instant, was the ultimate in beauty—love for strangers, love for children, love for play–all wrapped up in the soft slap of palm on palm.
And then I put my keys in my new door, fumbled with the unfamiliar lock, and walked in to find four skateboards stacked outside my study door. This sight alone makes my heart sing; Aidan has friends over. There, in our empty living room, were four man-boys sprawled out on the floor, two of them playing chess, the other two lazing around, sort of watching, sort of talking about other things—life, literature, gossip, art. I passed by them as nonchalantly as I could manage, but it was all I could do not to stop and envelop them all in a hug. Here is the boy from the scooter suddenly grown. Here are the new games, the new world of these young men, who skate through London’s streets, drink double espressos in coffee shops, and return home to lie on the floor (did I mention we had no furniture in at all), strong and solid in their friendships, curious and opinionated and hopeful and worried about the world they are inheriting. Time passes in an instant in moments like these, the little boy on the scooter blending in to the lanky boy on the floor.
And here I am, the mother, changing places, slipping from phase to phase without fanfare, without always noticing what has happened until it’s behind me. I see pregnant women on the Tube, their “Baby on Board” buttons in the famous London Underground logo, and I offer them my seat, the small courtesy afforded to people currently engaged in creating other human beings. I remember those days, the flutter of movement inside me, the wonder of it, the difficulties of it, and for me, always the questions: What will this child be like? What will I be like as a mother? What does the future hold for us? I stand for those women on the Tube so that they can get a moments reprieve from the weight of their futures, all question marks as far as the eye can see.
And for me, now there are answers. There was a girl baby and then nearly four years later, a boy. I have loved them with an intensity I didn’t know was even possible. I have been surprised that the love increases with time, even as they require less from me. Behind me are the days when strangers rise for me on the subway. Behind me are the struggles getting strollers up city steps. I no longer jog after bikes or scooters or hold small warm hands as we cross the street. I wish I could go back and reassure myself that the difficulties and worries about my young children were for naught. She will outgrow her stubborn ways, and her intensity will be the cornerstone of her success. He will move away from video games and into chess, but his skateboard will stack with friends for nearly a decade, perhaps more.
Of course, this is still the middle of the story (I hope I hope the middle). There are still so many questions a mother holds. Will these amazing young adults find their way to happiness, to love, to a life of meaning and purpose? Will she wear a Baby on Board button? Will he carry a stroller up city steps? Will I live long enough to hold those babies, to watch a new generation blossom?
I sit outside a coffee shop in the cold spring morning. A grandmother and her young adult granddaughter walk past, the relationship unmistakable in the shapes of their faces, the young woman waving her hands, the old woman watching intently. In a moment, I am in the old woman’s place, generations between the Baby on Board and this conversation, and also somehow only a blink, a heartbeat, a life time.
This is what it means to be a mother—whether we have children or not, whether we are women or not. To wonder and worry about the future, to shape the world for the thriving of others. Mothering is about holding small possibilities in our hands until they can run ahead without us. Each of us humans is minuscule, each of our lives a matter of decades we can count on our two hands (if we are lucky). But each of us can be pregnant with the possibilities of the future, and each of us can be in love with the blossoming of whatever comes next. Happy mother’s day to us all.