It was September. I was sitting on the river bank, the sun on my face. Those late summer rays somehow felt warmer, closer…as if I knew they were on borrowed time and was storing them up for the seemingly endless gray, damp months looming just around the corner. Nearby, my three boys were busy, trudging back and forth between the river’s edge and their freshly dug holes, into which they were pouring bucket upon bucket of water. How hard they worked. I closed my eyes, heavy from the exhaustion of a sleepless night. The silence of the campground where our family was tucked away in our tent had been broken by the cries of a child, my child. Jack, our youngest boy, just 2 years old, had been cranky and fussed in those early morning hours. In a panic I desperately tried to quiet him, heaping the unspoken and likely nonexistent judgment of fellow campers onto myself. Long after I’d cradled him in my arms and comforted him with a bottle of milk, I laid in my sleeping bag, eyes wide open. My racing mind refused to be quieted, unlike my now-sleeping boy.
Mothering is madness, I thought to myself. You do your best, you try to love these tiny people in every way you can, but deep down you know that someday, everything you do is going to become just another conversation between a grown man and his therapist. All these choices and sacrifices will be seen as “the old way”, the wrong way, the decisions of the unenlightened. And every judgmental gaze, every sideways comment that had been indirectly aimed at you at the park, at Target, wherever you go, comes rushing back in those sleepless morning hours.
Mothering is madness.
And yet, that late summer sun rises, and with it so do you, and you do it all over again, whether you’ve slept or not. And so there I was, on that sandy riverbank, my fingertips stained purple from blackberry picking earlier in the day, trying to simply be in the moment. I began grabbing pebbles and tossing them in the river, listening to the satisfying plunk they made as they broke through the water’s barrier. One after another, almost meditatively, I released those small stones, until my trance was broken by an unusual feeling rock in my hand. I looked down to find a miracle, a tiny grey miracle, right there between my fingers. As soon I set my eyes on it, I saw her.
I know it sounds crazy, but there she was, in the palm of my hand. It was all there: her face, the folds of her robe, even the child, right there on her lap.
Hail Mary, full of grace. Come to save this tired mother.
I’m not Catholic, but Mary has always held a place in my heart. I suppose it’s because my grandmother loved her first and her home was filled with statues and scrapbooks full of hundreds of different variations of the Madonna and Child. I knew her not as a source of guilt or shame but as an example of grace, goodness, kindness…everything I loved about my grandmother became who Mary was to me. Every time I encountered her image, it brought a small piece of my grandmother back to me. Her loss was a hole that can’t be filled. Unlike those sandy holes my boys were so diligently digging, no matter how much I tried to fill her absence, it only grew deeper and more empty. As I gazed at this tiny Mary, I felt my grandmother with me, and I knew she was whispering down from wherever she was now, “Mothering is beauty. Mothering is peace. Hail Marin, full of guilt. Forgive yourself and move forward.”
Marin Kaetzel is a full-time mother to three active boys and a part-time preschool teacher. Aside from writing, she enjoys traveling, watching Masterpiece and taking walks in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where she and her family reside.