Mothering Underground

tree roots

All children begin in approximately the same way as all plants: just seeds in the dark covered in water waiting to emerge in the light.

My plants usually spring out of the ground when I am not looking and begin very quickly to grow stems and bear leaves. Even if all I can see is the bloom or the bud or the bean, I cannot forget the work that is going on below the plant and how vital this work is to the life of the plant. Underground the plant is pushing down just as quickly, its roots reaching for water and claiming a place to live. When I see a picture of roots, they always bring to mind our own circulatory system which is full of rivers that branch off into smaller and smaller tributaries.

My children, likewise, grow up before my eyes and yet I often seem to overlook the signs of their growth until someone else points it out to me. Claire is becoming so kind and compassionate, and Rachel is such an accommodating friend. Luke is so content and easy going. In the daily routine, I can forget to look for these signs of maturity.

That is because since I became a full-time stay at home mom I do most of my mothering underground. In order to prepare my children for the world, I’ve had to withdraw from it.

I’m often buried in the most necessary and least interesting tasks. I trace and retrace my own paths back and forth around the house all day. If you were to take a time lapse photo of my day from above, I imagine it would resemble a circulatory system. I deliver what’s needed and clean up what isn’t like a busy little blood cell.

I am realizing more and more how much I am taken for granted. But in some ways I wonder if there is anything more glorious than being so important as to be taken for granted? I can only hope that my children might find me so dependable that they can take my presence and my help for granted.

And yet, and yet… I don’t think anyone, least of all me, actually wants to live underfoot and unnoticed. And of course I do not. I am not above reminding my girls (probably more than I should) that my jobs are important. I turn often to the words of Marilynne Robinson who celebrates that “housekeeping is a regime of small kindnesses, which, taken together, make the world salubrious, savory, and warm.” I am at my best when I can see each of my chores as “small kindnesses” which bring order and comfort amidst a world that can sometimes feel chaotic and harsh.

But we call it courage when women “lean in” and when they “find balance” and when they “make time for themselves.” I don’t care to disparage these forms of courage because I believe all these things DO take courage. As we look ahead to Mother’s Day, I simply want to add another kind of courage–the courage it takes to do the tedious and unseen tasks of a mother without self-pity or bitterness about being taken for granted. It is no small honor to provide the roots for your family, even if it means being underground.


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