In two hours outside today,

three strangers wished me a happy

mother’s day; I thanked them,

casually enough.  I am actually a mother

this year, and for the past seven,

though not for many grey and grieving

years before.


They could not know my situation,

but I look old enough that here

in this leafy suburb, they assume.

Most women here are mothers.

Not necessarily good ones.


My daughter gave me a book

this morning; pre-printed cover

claimed:  “My mom is the best!!”

I try.  After so many years of trying

to have them, I try hard.  Even so,

so many days I fail to live up

to my own standards of good

mothering.  That bar is set so high.


I yelled at them just now.  The day

was long and hot; I thought a bath

before bed would do them good,

bring them deeper sleep.  They fought,

crabby from the heat, until I yelled

and yelled again.  And then, exasperated,

came over with arms upraised

to take them out.  They went to bed

quiet, a little sad.  Mostly exhausted;

I should have known better.


I do well enough.  It was overall

a good day for them, for me.  This day

must be terrible for those who

failed their children, hurt them

badly enough that they walked

away.  Or were taken.  Terrible

too for those whose mothers

failed them.  When the best choice

you can make is to walk away,

everyone loses, inevitably.


And there are those who

lost their mothers, those who are

still trying to be mothers, still

hoping, those who have given

up hope.  There are those who

never wanted to be mothers but

who are pricked a thousand times

by the casual, insistent assumption.

Why do we do this to ourselves?


But today I spent some time

with old photographs, remembering

my mother as she was; she is

different now.  There is no one

in the world who remembers

the way she looked, mini-skirted,

waving goodbye as I walked

to the bus stop.  And today

my son brought me three glasses

of water, desperate to do something

nice for mommy’s day.


There is no way to balance

these scales, to claim that one

goodness outweighs, justifies

those little pangs and deep miseries.

They coexist, and so do we,

joy and grief intertwined.


Be gentle, be mindful, be kind;

we are in this boat together.