Guest Post: Absent Mother?
My 4-year-year old daughter asked at the dinner table why we don’t talk much about Mother in Heaven. Good Question. I said we should talk about her more.
Shortly after this conversation with my youngest daughter, I was reading an essay about why there are no mothers in classic fairy tales, girls’ literature, and by extension girls’ films. I disagreed with just about all of it. The typical male-dominated argument about the desirable female being center stage, free to develop on her own, for the pleasure of the male gaze. Really? Is that the best we can do? Can’t we develop the critique any further? From another perspective?
Let’s ignore all historical facts that indeed mothers did die often in childbirth or child rearing – around 20% according to medievalist Sarah Woodbury – leaving many children motherless. Thus, blended families were not uncommon, giving rise to the cult of the wicked stepmother, really having little to do with the vain, preserved creature we see in our mind’s eye now. And in the process of critique, are we disregarding who was telling these stories and consuming them? Not solely men. I kind of doubt that the men on the hunt around the campfire in the 14th century were telling Princess stories to satisfy the male gaze. I may be wrong. I may be stereotyping, but I suspect they were telling fart jokes just like they do now–see Chaucer or Shakespeare.
However at the end of this reading experience I had a moment of very bright insight: what if our mythology is simply reflective of our theology? That might be interesting to think of. This has probably been said before, but it needs to be said again. I think Mother is missing in part because, as I have learned in my own practice of motherhood, one function of a mother is to stave off tragedy. This protective hand is often as silent and unrecognized as the near tragedies she prevents.
I had inklings of this as my daughters were born and it was my job to make sure that they ate, slept, pooped, and therefore stayed alive – an often silent, and unrecognized feat. Moreover, I have averted many the tragedy in our home by being the only one who can locate a blanket, book, toy, or shoe. The sheer number of unrecognized things I do daily as a mother is too long to list here, but gives rise I think to so many of the honestly unsatisfied discussions of motherhood that occur so often in so many venues.
But I truly learned my role as a “tragedy staver” in February of this year as my oldest (6) was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Now I am a pancreas. And quite literally, I must avert tragedy each day and night and make sure her blood sugar does not drop or rise to fatal levels. Days, I handle pretty well, but it is the nights where I can’t sleep, because someone must test her and make sure she is safe. So I sit at vigil, allaying tragedy. We have had many 4 am breakfasts because her blood sugar is dangerously low. The not sleeping is getting to me. But it is my role to avert the tragedy.
On both the literal and literary level fairy tales do not work unless there is tragedy. Simply put, the mother must be missing, so she can not function as the deus ex machina that she is and prevent the tragedy that drives and creates the plot that titillates and excites us. Oh, the pathos of the orphan child! Will you find love?
So in my sleepless nighttime vigils I started to wonder: is our Mother in Heaven missing because we require trials to drive forward our earthy narrative? Do we need that adrenaline rush to really get that we are alive and have choices to make? Does she need to absent herself because she would too readily apply the 2 AM spiritual or temporal juice box that would deprive us of our freedom to learn and risk the low blood sugar danger? No, I don’t think that is the right answer. We are back to the original essay that started me off in the first place and I still disagree with most of it.
So, here is what I think might be interesting to think of – she is not missing from our narrative at all, we simply need to recognize Her. I do believe that one of our Mother in Heaven’s many roles is to prevent tragedy. She is as active in our lives as our earthly mothers, handing out blessings, finding lost thoughts, protecting us from all manner of tragedy we do not know of—because she prevents it. She is in fact so much a part of our lives that we don’t stop to think what she does for us until perhaps we pause to note it. I mean, when was the last time you thought about your pancreas?
(deus ex machina: noun. An unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.)