Our last Mother’s Day speaker in sacrament meeting, Dave Herrscher, stood up and told a remarkable story.
Every Mormon can hum the tune of “I Often Go Walking.” And most of us can repeat every lyric too. It’s sung by Primary children every Mother’s Day and many days in between.
I often go walking in meadows of clover,
And I gather armfuls of blossoms of blue.
I gather the blossoms the whole meadow over;
Dear mother, all flowers remind me of you.
While the lyrics might seem overly sweet and sentimental, they hold new meaning when you learn the history of the song. “Phyllis Luch says of her inspiration for the words: ‘My mother was mentally ill….Nearly the only time she was at peace was in the fields and meadows….She knew the names of wildflowers, which as a child I thought was amazing.’” (Our Children’s Songs: Teaching the Gospel with the Children’s Songbook, p98)
Suddenly, a song which seemed to celebrate only perfection in motherhood, reveals itself as a tribute to a fragile, broken woman navigating life to the best of her ability. And aren’t we all fragile and broken?
I wonder if Phyllis knew of her mother’s mental illness as a child or used it as a looking-glass later to explain events in her early life?
O mother, I give you my love with each flower
To give forth sweet fragrance a whole lifetime through;
For if I love blossoms and meadows and walking,
I learn how to love them, dear mother, from you.
None of us are perfect, but each mother teaches her children in her own way. I’ve written before about my complicated relationship with my mother, and as I’ve grown older I appreciate her deficiencies as much as her strengths. Looking back at my childhood I can see the enormous stresses she was under. Like Phyllis’ mother, she was always happiest in her garden and I owe her for my vast knowledge of plants and flowers. I can hear her voice when I’m selecting plants, “Don’t put a big plant in bad soil; make your soil rich and let the small plants grow.” “Don’t buy the flowers with the most blooms, rather the ones with the most buds.” “Once you plant a garden, take the time to nurture it.”
I can talk garden analogies all day. In fact, I think God sent Adam out to the fields because growing things teaches us so much about the mind of God. But since I already have two more garden posts in my drafts, I’ll move on.
All of the speakers in our ward were excellent– funny, engaging, genuine, and sensitive to the vast range of emotions of the day. So we’re making progress. My friend Shelah said she lobbied for chocolate over flowers in her ward and even helped put together cute bags with notes and chocolate inside. But when she saw her family after church, her two youngest had already opened the bag, stolen her chocolate and smeared most of it on their faces. When she tried to protest, someone told her, “Don’t be selfish.”
Sigh. Such is Mother’s Day. Maybe that’s why my ward continues to hand out foil wrapped flowers.
For me, Mother’s Day has been wholly redeemed by the missionary phone call (and even better, last year when it was Stefan’s homecoming). Really, it’s a day to celebrate the privilege of mothering, not to make demands.
Ben and Sammie came with peonies and chocolates, Stefan and Heather wrote sweet notes, Erik bought tulips, made barbecued salmon for dinner and gave me time to nap after church.
At the end of every Mother’s Day, Erik starts to fret that he didn’t do enough or that I’m somehow disappointed. I always tell him not to buy presents because I’m pretty good at shopping for myself. And it’s not really about how my family treats me on Mother’s Day– it’s every day. It’s Xander thanking me for his lunch and Gabe giving me a big hug, Mary organizing my drawers and Erik changing the tires on my car. Really, what’s better– a man buying you a new purse (much rather pick that out myself) or edging the flower beds?
I’m content. Oh so content in my mothering and my place in the world. All my children are happy and I’ve seen enough of life to know these peaceful times are precious and fleeting and must be savored.