2014-05-11 06.40.15Let me tell you about my mom. She was seventeen when I was born–about to be eighteen that winter–and she already had my brother twenty-one months before. She was smart, so smart that she skipped a grade and graduated from eighth grade a year early.

Her parents were having all kinds of trouble. Her daddy wanted to preach–felt called–and her mother just couldn’t see it. She wanted him to continue farming, the life that she had always known, to be the man she’d married. Was she scared of being a preacher’s wife? Lord, I would have been. I’ve seen what that’s like…

In 1946, nobody divorced; well, it was rare. The papers were filed. Pa had a lawyer, but Granny Bessie didn’t. What would happen, would happen. A neighbor lady called my mom aside.

“Ethel,” she said, “your daddy and mama are going to split. He’s suing for custody. It’s just trouble a-brewing. I know you’ve been courting Toby Blair. If y’all have any idea at all that you’d marry someday, you need to go ahead and do it and get yourself out of this mess.”

“I want to marry him,” Mama told the neighbor lady.

“Well, I’ve already talked to Toby. Y’all get your plans together. We’ll help you ever’ way we can.”

They did, these neighbors. They helped to hire the taxi-cab to drive Mama, Daddy, and Granny Bessie to Ringgold, Georgia, on Halloween, where they were married by a Justice-of-the-Peace. My grandmother signed for my mother to marry. Mama was fourteen years old–about to be fifteen that winter.

Mothers come in all sort of forms. Every Mothers Day, florists and card-makers get rich on children trying to express their undying love for the one who grew life inside of her. Sometimes it’s just crazy, this outpouring of…well, CASH…to try to say something that just can’t be said.

If I were to offer a blessing this Mothers Day weekend, here’s what I’d say:

God bless my mama. She didn’t have a clue what she was in for, but she did it anyway. And then she started growing and never stopped. She’s eighty-two and she’s thrilled to learn something all the time. God bless my dad for encouraging her, for pushing her to conquer the world. She certainly conquered her world–and my world.

God bless your mama, and what she means to you. God bless her if she’s perfect. She’s not, but God bless her, anyway. God bless you for thinking she’s perfect.

God bless your mama if she’s gone. Some mamas leave you–and some leave this world. God bless you, in either of those two cases.

If your mama left you, God bless whatever caused her to fly–Just remember, there was some reason, so don’t go thinking your mama was a total mess. She might have been–but you don’t need to go there with the mess. You be you–with all your connection to the world around you. Be you. She might not ever be able to tell you, but she loves you for it. Love her for her struggle and her pain. Love her because, in loving her, you will love you.

If your mama went to Heaven, God bless her for her life that set her on that course. God bless all the people who helped her get there. God bless you as you try to be what your mama was. God bless you for being who you are. God bless you for being a motherless child. God bless you if you gather the strength to mother a motherless child….God bless you if you become a mother, yourself.

If you are a mama, God bless you. God bless you for realizing that you’ve been favored, and God bless you for realizing you’re really not all that special.

If you want to be a mama and it hasn’t happened yet, God bless you. God bless you for wondering if it will ever happen, and God bless you for not realizing that you’re already a mama, just for the longing.

If you’ve “been like a mama” to somebody, God bless you for what act of selflessness drew you to a child that wasn’t yours on the onset. That child is yours now…not to the exclusiveness of her own birth mama, but she’s yours somewhere deep inside you and her.

Whatever kind of mama you are, God bless you. Being a mama doesn’t come with an instruction manual. You do what you can. You learn from the ones who went before you–and sometimes you have to UNlearn what they told you. You learn from the book on raising children–and sometimes you ignore it. You try being the authority–and you shrink into uselessness. You try being their friend–and you fail on the first effort. You strive to be perfect–and you realize you don’t know what perfect is. You aim for being strict–and you hate yourself. You turn toward permissible–and you don’t know where permissible starts and “don’t care” takes up. You pray for your children–and wonder if anybody hears that prayer. You stop praying–and start again when you’re scared that your reluctance might doom them to Hell. You accept what it is you can do with whatever resources are available to you–and you often admit failure.

And then you take a look at those kids–yours, mine, somebody else’s–and you know they’re okay. They could be in diapers yet, or they may be mothering and fathering children of their own–or grandchildren. One of the bunch comes along and tells you, or sends you a card with roses on it, or lily-of-the-valley, or sparkles to say, “You’re wonderful.”

You are. You’re not perfect, but you’re a mom.

If you want to say something to your mama this Mothers Day, you could probably save some dollars by just showing up. Forget the cards. Forget the roses, the lily-of-the-valley, and the sparkles.

Just show up. Let her look at you. And ask her to tell you about becoming a mama.

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