My grandfather, a father of six, had a unique tradition. Every year on his birthday, he drove to his mother's house and brought her flowers. My mother, his middle daughter, was so impressed by this ritual that years later, after she herself had become a mother, she began adopting this practice. To this day, on her December birthday, she bundles up in the New York cold and brings warm-toned flowers to her now 98-year-old mother.
When I was a teen, I recall asking my mom, “Where are you going? It's your day and we want to celebrate you."
“I won't be gone long," she'd say, “but my birthday is because of the hard work of my mother, so it's her day just as much as it is mine. I need to mark that."
In this time where we are all too often conditioned to think our birthdays are all about us, it can be easy to forget that on the day we were born, a woman, her face radiant with effort and care, labored and cried and lost sleep and gave of her whole body and heart so that we might live and flourish. For those among us who were adopted, one woman birthed us with great courage and another, whose eyes shone with loving acceptance, gave us a home in her arms.
Since childhood, I have been impressed by my mother's generous heart and formidable wisdom. But my own motherhood has been a game-changer in my appreciation for my mom. When I was in labor, my husband stood on one side of me, supporting, and my mother stood on the other side, guiding.
Since she vividly recalls what it felt like to give birth, she was able to coach me like a pro. She cried with us when our beautiful baby was placed in my arms. Of all the major life and death moments we have shared (and there have been quite a few!) this was one of the most profound.
She had birthed me, and now helped me to give birth.
After we came home from the hospital with my first child, my mother stayed with us for a week to help. I recall crying the morning she drove away, wondering if I could make it as a parent in even the most basic ways, let alone become as naturally selfless as her. Over the months that followed, I learned hands-on all the shapes that love takes, and all the ways I needed to grow.
My love for my own mother began to deepen in a way I had not thought possible.
How could I love her more? I used to think. But somehow, I did love her more.
Now I knew firsthand the intricate pain of parenthood, the beauty of loving a completely dependent being with all one's strength. Never before had the famous words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta made more sense: “I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, only more love."
I realize now, firsthand, more facets of my mother's love for me. I viscerally understand the sleepless nights, the aches and pains, worries and unrelenting devotion even in the face of great challenge.
We love our children so much that it hurts. But it sure is a beautiful hurt.
So that is why, every year on my birthday, my children will see their mother bring their grandmother a bouquet of flowers. It is a humble symbol of the garden she has given. It's a reminder that I am who I am because of her.
As I love she who came before me, and made me possible, those who come after me are loved more, too. They are given the gift of seeing their extraordinary grandmother honored in whatever humble ways we can devise. It is a reminder of the profound respect due the greatest gift we have been given... and due the women who gave it to us.
To all the loving moms out there: thank you for the gardens you have planted. May we honor your sacrifices in all the ways we grow. And may we always find many ways to, literally and symbolically, bring you flowers.