The month of May is a beautiful one—bright and bold flowers begin to bloom and the earth warms under a gentle sun as it recovers from the frigid cold of winter and the pervasive damp of early spring rains. Maybe this is why it seems so natural to celebrate mothers during this month. It is a time of beauty and growth and tender things reaching for the sun. My own mother loved to walk through the neighborhood on spring and summer evenings—she would get me to come with her by asking me to tell her stories. We would walk through all the many neighborhoods where we lived as I was growing up as I told her stories about school, friends, family, and then moved to more fantastical subjects; places I had never been, things I had never seen, but could imagine as we talked about anything and everything during those gold-tinged summer sunset strolls.
My mother was one of the first women in my life who made me feel heard; that when I had something to say, she would be there to listen. But she was far from the last. My aunts, my grandmother, my next door neighbor, and the librarian on the bookmobile that came to my small rural elementary school—all were, for me, a type of mother. Big Ocean recognizes this ability of any woman to become a mother, not necessarily through biological means, but through the ability to change the lives of young people around her. Our definition of motherhood reads— “A Mother: Any woman who has the best interest of the rising generation at heart, and willingly sacrifices to protect and nurture the rising generation.” All of these women, and so many more, were mothers to me.
My mother is the one who encouraged my writing, who urged me to go back to school, who told me to call and get involved in Big Ocean when I expressed an interest in their message of maternal feminism—after all, this was the type of feminism she had modeled for me my entire youth. Maternal Feminism is, according to Big Ocean, a movement of women who deeply value faith, family, and motherhood, and employ the model of powerful impact to bring about generative solutions to current issues and challenges.
My mother is usually the problem solver, the one who brings the rest of the family together. But my mother has had three strokes in the last two years. This seems like a dismal fact, one that should be pitied or that should make me feel sad, but in reality my mother’s strokes have become an uncertain blessing. She can still play the piano, crochet, walk around the block with my five sisters and I, and hold whichever of her grandchildren is most insistent on getting into her lap. What she doesn’t do very well anymore is communicate.
Her ability to talk fluently—without pause and hesitation and groping for the right word, or at times for any word—has been impacted in what seems a permanent way. And there are times when I miss the quick, sharp verbal sparring that was the norm in our family before the strokes. The turn of phrase, the pun, the love of language that made up our family communication. But as the stuttering stops and starts that is conversation with my mother have become the new normal, as our family has slowed down, and begun to really listen, and try to understand, I have come to appreciate the role she plays in tying our family together, in creating a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, to understand what we each need—love, understanding, and a listening ear.
Now my sisters and I all find ourselves playing the role of mother. Married and unmarried, with children or without, these five women with whom I grew up have all become mothers to my children, to the neighborhood, to the community. And this is what we see happening all over the world. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world,” and as women all over, from every city, state, and even country connect with their families, communities, and other women, the act of becoming a mother, of protecting and nurturing, will create powerful and lasting impact locally and globally, and will blossom just like the tender May flowers; sturdy and bright, and fiercely resilient. A true representation of motherhood.
Written by ShelliRae Spotts