My Mother Made Me Two Shawls
My mother made me two shawls
one brown and the other full of greens.
The greens of moss and forest leaves,
and new grass,
the gentle weight of them
on my shoulders, come cold winter days,
is a reminder of her love,
woven with needles and ladles
and potatoes roasted crisp
with chicken and gravy. And pancakes
on rainy afternoons.
And on sick days,
hot lemon and honey
(with a dash of brandy)
and tucking us into bed
with ginger ale and grated apple.
She stayed up late some nights, sewing
for school and Christmas plays,
and curtains with flowers of pink
(a surprise, returning from camp one day
to find my room transformed,
and I-a girl-full of the delight
of a gift created just for me,
could not stop looking at them).
Now I am a woman,
a maker of gifts myself,
but still, a daughter.
My mother made me two shawls.
As a little girl I always had a new dress to wear on Christmas Day, and most of the time the dress had been made by my mother. I remember the magic of anticipating Christmas morning, of being so excited to put on my new dress and wear it to church. My mother enjoyed sewing and knitting, and she loved to make things for me. When I was about eight, she knitted me a jersey in a coral peach that made me think of starfish. It had puffy sleeves into which she threaded silk ribbons. It was beautiful and I remember being sad when it became too small to wear. I held onto it for years, unable to let it go. I eventually gave it away, but only with much reluctance.
On Sunday it will be Mother’s Day, and I am mindful of the many gifts of love and care my mother has given. With my own sons closer to leaving home, I am more aware than ever of the vulnerability of parenthood, the weight of it. I think about what it means to shepherd your children from birth to adulthood; it is a much more intricate and careworn task than I ever imagined. The road is full of turns and sheer drops. There are moments when there is a break in the trees and I glimpse a view that is clear and beautiful, and there are places where the path has given way, and the mists have come down, and nothing feels certain. There are times when it seems that joy is the abiding truth of motherhood, and times when I ache with loss and hurt and sadness.
My mother and I do not always see the world through the same eyes. In some ways we are so alike, and in others very different. But as I grow older and watch my boys begin to leave, I find myself newly conscious of how much I value her. I am conscious too of all the other mothers in my life, the aunts and friends, the older women and mentors who have walked alongside me. In Beannacht, John ‘O Donohue speaks of a slow wind working “these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.” I have felt that invisible cloak, in experiences of both joy and pain. The shawls my mother made me are visible manifestations of that cloak, and when I wear them I feel minded, nurtured and held.