meet my mother

My mom, age 17 (I believe). Look at those lashes!
I hope you all had a lovely Mother's Day! We had a joint celebration with my family and Ian's family, starting with a visit to the beautiful and strange di Rosa art gallery in Napa, and ending with a picnic in Sonoma. There was sun and laughter and a red checkered table cloth. It was a perfect day. My mom got some extra love from one of the fifteen peacocks on the di Rosa property, who raised his magnificent tail feathers with a loud whoosh and slowly backed her into some bushes.

I'll admit that I find Mother's Day challenging. We are to make homemade bath salts or buy jewelry as small tokens to express something I can hardly even understand. To express something that is always floating just beyond the reach of words. We try out "love" and "thanks" but if we really stop to think, they are a far cry from what's there, needing to be said.

I wrote "Thank you for everything" in a card I gave my mom over the weekend. Thank you for, ya know, my existence? Thank you for creating me and protecting the safe little universe I grew up in? For always putting yourself second, even when "thanks" did not seem to be part of the equation. For staying awake with me in the living room until sunrise because I was too afraid to sleep. For writing limericks on our lunch bags every day. For being our peacekeeper, our emotional foundation, the hot molten core of our family. For reading one more chapter. For playing games of crazy eights or Mancala on school nights. For teaching me to be reasonable and thoughtful. For always, always listening.

I usually feel a little sad after spending time with my mom, like it wasn't quite enough -- what I said, what I did. But I suppose it will never be enough. There will always be something there that is bigger than me, impossible to define and impossible to escape.

In honor of Mother's Day, as we all think about where we came from and wonder what that must have been like for the person responsible, I'd like to share a little bit of my mother with you. So here, readers, are some thoughts on motherhood from my mom, Barbara.

With my sister, the oldest.

What's best:

What I like best about motherhood, both now and when my kids were little, were the surprises they came up with. I don't mean breakfast in bed on Mother's Day, or surprises on any holiday, really. 

I mean the thoughts they were thinking, the reflections they shared on big and little issues, the ideas they had about the world and their place in it. When they were little, these were things like how long can a tadpole live in your pocket? What does a snail taste like? What's the right way to "test" your pee? (this one is referring to one of us overhearing my mom talk about a pregnancy test.)

Now that my kids are adults, the thoughts are still surprising and fascinating. Some are big. How do you rehab a relationship? How do you find meaning in a life after it's fallen apart? How do you figure out what to do with your life?

Some thoughts are smaller, and way easier to answer. How much flour do you use in a pan so the bread doesn't stick? Corn dogs and ice cream can be lunch sometimes, right? How do you thread a sewing machine? 

I love to hear what my kids are thinking, questioning, struggling with, reflecting on. I hope they never stop sharing that with me. Those are the surprises I like, even when they're not syrupy. 

What's hardest:

Watching my kids struggle when I can't help them. Always has been.

What's different than she thought:

I didn't think it would be so hard or so fulfilling. I thought kids popped into your life, you fed them and sent them to school. They would grow up, get married, be happy and successful. I didn't think about how every single moment along the way had the capacity to either a) be a huge problem or b) make me breathless with joy. I also didn't think that my own parents might have gone through the same struggles or joys, because they never talked about the trials or joys. They just did it, so I thought everybody just got it done, without a fuss. 
A few days before Mother's Day, pregnant with baby #1.

What she gave up:

The big picture? Honestly, I feel like I gave up more to get married than to have children. I think that once I became part of a team by getting married, I didn't give up any more by adding new members to the team. If anything, my team gained from the new perspectives and qualities each new member added. 

The little picture? Sleeping late. Time to myself. My own space. My figure. 

What it means to love her grandchildren:

I think the only real difference is the sense of responsibility I feel. I feel responsible for everything my kids do. Good or bad, I feel responsible for it. I don't feel that responsibility toward Alice or Ivy. I only feel joy in their existence and pleasure in what they share with the world. 

What advice she would offer new parents:

Trust your instincts and don't overthink what you should or should not do.

What she wants most for her children:


Thanks Mom! Love you more.


  1. So, so lovely. I adore your mom; she's simply wonderful, and I've thought so since before I can remember! Always the funniest Christmas letters about your family ;)

    Glad that you had such a lovely Mother's Day and could spend it with her.

  2. Aaaand I'm crying. Damnit, Shannon.

    I've figured out what I like so much about your writing. What I like about your writing is that you know how to express what I don't. I feel a lot of the same things about this stuff as you, but there's no way in a million years I would be able to express it as beautifully and eloquently as you do.

    Add that to the list of reasons I like that you're around.

  3. As her brother, I find that the ease with which her and all of her sisters seem to have accomplished in much the same way is always amazing. I have always felt I was holding onto the last knot at the end of the rope trying to see to all the kids needs and managed to make it through because of the qualities they possessed rather than mine. Happy Mothers Day to all of you who make it look easy.

  4. Thank you all for the nice words! Three cheers for awesome moms everywhere.

  5. I cried...At work. And then I sent it to my mom. I love the perspective/advice piece, great way to incorporate her very words into such a special post.


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