My memory for childhood is detailed and vivid. I remember the slap of my melting bare feet running up the black-top road to my great-grandmother’s house and how good it felt to make it to her shadowed carport. I remember turning over rocks to collect roly-polies just for pure fun, and I remember licking so many drops of nectar off the inside string of honeysuckles that I may as well have had a glass of tea.
But my memory only accidentally saved flash pictures of my mama when I was very small, as if I didn’t know that her experience was separate from my own. A loved child takes a while to realize that she exists outside of her mother’s arms. I remember her yellow trapeze, so big with my sister inside. I was two. She was sitting on a stool brushing her hair. I remember reaching up and pulling the ponytail holder out of my own hair. This may be the moment I realized she had to go to the hospital, the moment I realized I would live if she left to somehow get that baby out through her bellybutton.
I remember a silk polka-dotted scarf tied around her head, her wooden easel, the smell of paint smeared on a board. She sat with Bob Ross on the tv and churned out a world I had never seen. How does she do that?
She watched commercials and cried, on the ridiculous side of tender.
She danced. I remember her singing “I’m Walking on Sunshine” while she cleaned the house. She would squat way down and pick up a toy. She cut bologna and cheese into heart shapes. She hated to cook. She made us hotdogs on Thursdays. She sat in the back doorway on the top step and heaved her body back and forth in contractions with the oldest of my brothers. Her eyes get green like spring grass when she hurts.
Not shortly after, I came home from school to her in stone-cold shock. She was having another, and after that ginormous baby brother came, we spent the next kid years laughing at how funny he was. Inside the house turned into a rotation of baths, plates on a table, and laundry. Once I hid beneath a pile of hot clothes on the couch while Mama and Daddy had an argument. Her voice is as sweet as any girl-child. She was never good at fighting, not like the rest of us are.
I was a rebellious teenager when she told me that she prayed for me daily, and I believed with all my heart that it was ruining my social life, bringing me to the end of myself. Her power was only in the invisible realms. I wanted a different power than that.
We don’t realize when we’re younger that our parents keep changing. We don’t realize that life continues to ask that they hurdle the impossible.
I’ve been away from home now for over 15 years. She never stopped making beautiful things. Ideas turn into beads, wire, water on canvas. Now to me she is an artist, someone who exists without us. She exists on frozen yogurt. She exists on the way she believes God carries. She is the most powerful woman I know.
Last week I drove her car, and she had the music blaring, and the bass rattled the trunk. She explains a lot about me.
I am surprised by how motherhood has shown me Jesus, but not just with my own children. I am surprised by how a woman continues to mother as her children get old, not by clinging or soothing or even by living until she’s 80, but she mothers in all the private ways she ever leaned hard into Jesus. I still watch Mama cry. I sit and listen to her talk about the Holy Spirit. Those are the things that will mother me even after she’s met the grave.
My girl, Lisa-Jo Baker, has published a new book Surprised By Motherhood, and her story is fascinating and beyond worth the read.
Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but this video here tears me up.
I just know there are some of you weary, and Lisa-Jo’s story, Surprised By Motherhood, is going to be just the thing.
I love all you Mamas, especially my one in Alabama.