As I set out to write this ode to mothers on Mother’s Day, I did so with no small measure of fear and apprehension. After all, not only am I obviously not a mother, but my knowledge of motherhood is about equivalent to my knowledge of quantum physics – that is to say I kind of understand the general idea but trying to figure out the intricacies of how it works leaves me sorely puzzled and in need of a strong charka of something alcoholic!
Besides what can you say about motherhood without either being cliché or landing yourself in trouble? After all, everybody loves their mother, at least officially. And if you don’t, you keep it to yourself lest you be branded as some kind of ungrateful degenerate or sociopath. Suffice it to say that I am neither of those and that I loved my mother dearly, though as all sons realize after their mother is no longer there, I never loved her close to enough to repay her for all the aggravation that I caused her as a young delinquent “smarkach” or “shybynyk” as she used to call me. Is there a grown-up son anywhere that doesn’t wish that he had been as good a son as his mama had been a mother?
And I guess that is why I have such difficulty in writing this tribute to mothers. I will always feel guilty in the face of my mother’s trials and sacrifices in raising me to be a worthy member of the human race instead of the incorrigible troublemaker and nuisance that was my basic instinctual nature. I would like to think that in view of what I became, she won that challenge, and what she couldn’t accomplish, my wife Daria, also an exceptional mother to our three children, has been able to complete the job and keep me in line since my mother left this earth for a well-earned rest and reward in the afterlife. As one of my feminist women friends once put it – most men if left unchecked would wind up spending the majority of their time either making war, making babies or making hangovers, leaving it up to the women to clean up and handle all the consequences afterwards!
As a man, I cannot begin to comprehend the dedication, effort and sacrifice that motherhood entails. As a father, I think I have done a credible job as a parent and know the demands of that responsibility. But being a mother is I think a challenge of a different order. Being a mother demands of the individual, not just a genetic contribution, but a lifetime commitment of the body, heart and soul. A father is at best a part time parent throughout most of his children’s life, having other significant roles as breadwinner and protector, as well as dedicating significant amounts of time to external traditional social and economic roles in the broader community. But being a mother is a full-time job, one that never ends, no matter what age the children become, and which involves a unique emotional commitment that defies both definition and measurement.
Becoming a mother transforms the individual and creates a new personal and virtual universe centered on the child. Subsequent children create new overlapping universes within which the deep relationship that characterizes the mother-child bond develops. It is a bond that never erodes and that no force in human nature can overcome. The love between a man and a woman can attain levels of strength and depth that arguably can only be understood through the lexicon of poetry, but there are no words, poetical or otherwise that can describe the love between a mother and her child.
I have reconciled myself to the fact that motherhood is one of those things that I will never really comprehend except for the effect that it had on me as a child and specifically as epitomized by my own mother. Her foremost priority was to ensure that our needs and wants were taken care of, often at the expense of her own. She seldom spent any money on herself, making sure that we always had sufficient clothes, toys, books and whatever else we needed. Throughout my youth and adolescence, I do not remember her ever taking a real holiday.
For her, an important part of motherhood was also to ensure that we understood what being Ukrainian meant. She would teach us songs and help us memorize the verses of Taras Shevchenko. She would spend long evening hours after the normal day’s workload, stitching us Ukrainian shirts and traditional costumes. She would walk us to the Ukrainian hall or church for Ukrainian school or for dance and concert rehearsals. She would encourage us through our mistakes and praise us for our efforts, regardless of how good or bad we performed. If I have become a worthy member of the Ukrainian community, it is primarily due to her efforts. If I am decent human being, that too is largely due to her child-rearing skills.
I will conclude my remarks with an old Ukrainian saying regarding mothers – “When God created earth and mankind, he realized he could not be everywhere and so he created mothers.”