The Mother Thing

So, yesterday we managed to have sun, hail and snow all in the space of a few hours.  More importantly, the bad weather caught me and older son at the other house, where we were painting the attic, and brought our work to a standstill.  Painting white on white even if the older white is all scuffed and dirty — hence the painting — is near impossible in a gloomy, drowned looking half light.

We waited around for half an hour or so, then waited some more till the weather abated enough to drive back.

And then I had to do at least partial cleaning here (more needs to be done.  Things are… well… things.  We’ve spent so much time at the other house, this one is in danger of choking on cat hair and household dust.)

What this all means is that I’m still sipping a cup of too-hot-coffee in the sleeping house and trying to extrude some post from a jumble of thoughts and emotions, before I have more coffee and put some serious work into Darkship Revenge which, in its present state, is a kludge.

So you’ll forgive me if I take on Mother’s day.

I always assumed I’d be a mother some day, even though I never thought anyone would be crazy enough to marry me.  (Yes, he’s still asleep.  Eh.  He masks the nuttiness well.)  After all for a woman being single was not a bar to being a mother.  And besides, I could do it all, hear me roar and all that.

Ah! I’m glad I didn’t try it that way.  With all hands on deck, motherhood was at times — when I was ill, for instance — more than I could handle.  In fact, the early childhood of number 2 son is a blur, as I was recovering from near-fatal pneumonia.  We had a friend live with us and pitch in, but also Dan took on a lot more of it than normal.  Heck, all through Marshall’s elementary school, he kept track of school parties, baked when needed, that sort of thing.  (Fortunately he had a traveling job and spent some time on the bench.)  Or as he puts it “I was a kindergarten mom.”

He also took over all the time when Robert was tiny and I was recovering from pre-eclampsia.  I think Robert was three months old the first time I changed his diaper.

Motherhood for me wasn’t an easy badge, anyway.  It was a matter of infertility treatments and several misscarriages.  And yet, when I held our oldest in my arms, the first thought that came to me was “I’m responsible for him for at least 18 years.”  And it was terrifying.

By the time motherhood came, I’d assumed it would never happen.  I’d have books.  Surely you can be a complete adult without having children.

I know people who are complete adults without having children.  I don’t know if it would have worked for me.  It was that responsibility I couldn’t evade, and the certainty that I was part of a chain stretching back to forever that made me grow up.

I looked at my kids and knew that, if everything went well, they’d be here long after I was gone.  I tasted my own mortality.  Which spurred me, of all things, to take writing seriously.

Regrets?  I have a few.  (Ducks flung carp.  Which of you has the carp cannon?)  Things like, if I had to do it again neither of them would see the inside of a school till at least 10th grade. (It’s easier to apply to university if you do the last two years in a regular school.)

But then… but then… if we had homeschooled all that time, would we have known about the dual college/high school program in which younger son was so happy?  Who knows.  A lot of his classmates came from that background, but there are no warranties.

And if we’d homeschooled would our household become even more wrapped up in itself than it already is?  If that were true, the kids might never figure out how to move out (We’re still not sure they will!)

And if we’d homeschooled, would I have written at all?  And does writing even matter compared to children?

I can’t answer.  It reminds me of that scene in Lords and Ladies where the Chancellor is fantasizing about what would have happened if he’d married Granny and she says “What about when our house burned down and we died with all our children?” because just taking an alternate path doesn’t mean no strife.

As is, I look across twenty three years, to holding Robert in my arms (while he gave me a suspicious look.  That boy was born fifty three) and being terrified I’d forget to feed him/change him/let him catch the black plague/whatever, and think it didn’t go badly at all.

Yes, they ate up a lot of my time, but writing still happened in between.  Yes, there were troubles and worries, and I suspect the worry will continue.

But there are those moments of inexpressible joy, too: building wooden railroads with younger son, all up and down stairs, and running toy wooden trains on collision courses; watching older son place second in a state singing competition, against children who’d been in voice lessons since birth, when he just sings all the time, around the house; watching younger son play Petruchio to a packed house and do it perfectly; late night coffee with older son in a diner, watching the rain paint the windows; countless walks with both of them, and the talks; watching them work hard and succeed at their chosen paths.

All of these are moments when I had to back off and realize they might have been completely dependent on me, once, but what they are is not all what I or their father put in.  They are their own, imbued with a divine spark, with will and interests and abilities of their own.

And that is a wonder to behold.  And the best reward of all for all the years of care, and diapers and feeding.

They are more than the sum of their parts, and I’ve been privileged to watch them grow up.

So here’s to Robert and Marshall as they are in their early twenties, the best mother’s day gifts any mother could have.


97 thoughts on “The Mother Thing

  1. It’s that chain reaching forwards to forever which makes hope possible. Mandatory even. Some terror required.

    1. SOME terror? Some? Granted, I say less often “I should have stayed with cats, they don’t have opposable thumbs and can’t become mass murderers” but…. I do still say it now and then.

      1. A primary job of the parents is ensuring that, should their children become mass murderers, they do it for the right reasons and to the proper people.

        1. … I remember telling my parents about when my college prof expressed disappointment about my not having anyone to kill with the sword I’d brought with me as a prop; she said that anyone I decided to kill was worth killing, and she wanted to watch.

          My parents’ response was something along the lines of ‘Well, we raised you to know when that would be necessary.’ (Y’know, self defense, defending family, etc.)

          …So not wrong at all, heh XD

      2. Hmmm. Cats merely focus on smaller helpless creatures they can mass-murder. It’s not disposition that renders them largely safe around humans.

        Happy Mother’s day.

    2. Had my mother watched my antics on the trampoline at the YMCA camp where my father worked, she’d have died of a heart attack.

      One of my favorite stunts was something that the counselors told me was called the “Suicide”, which consisted of diving head first toward the mat, with the intention of causing the bystanders to think you are going to break your neck, then tucking your head and shoulders under at the last instant, to land on your upper back. I generated more than one scream over the years, but two of the counselors were far better than me – they could let their hair touch the mat before tucking under. I generally didn’t get closer than a foot before tucking.

  2. … there are no warranties.

    There are no warranties.

    Of certain things you may be sure, that death and taxes will long endure, that mistakes will be made and courses not taken, but surest of all is that there are no warranties.

    I’ll warrant you was expecting a pun. Sorry, all out.

    1. Someone pointed out to me yesterday that with the ACA, death and taxes have now been combined into one thing.

  3. Going out on a limb here, going to cut it off behind me too.

    A man is not fully a Man until he’s got wife and kid counting on him. That’s when you step up or show the world the large yellow stripe down your back. Some men have to change their very cells to make it through, and they get white hair from it, but they do it anyway.

    Some don’t. Lotta yellow out there these days, you ask me.

    1. Have to disagree with you. A man isn’t fully a man until he takes responsibility for himself and others. Being a husband and father is one of the most trodden paths to that, but not the only one. There have been fine, even great men who never married, or even were celibate. They took on different responsibilities, and discharged them well.

      Many men, both mated and single, are poltroons. This has been true in all ages. I agree that it looks like there’s an awful lot of it about these days, but I hope that some of that appearance is caused by good men recognizing that the Cultural Elite are against them, and keeping their head down.

      1. Excellently reasoned, there.

        Also, in regards to “it looks like there’s an awful lot of it about these days”, remember that “dog bites man” is not news, and I know very many counter-examples who will never get in the news for the simple reason that their acts are simple, ubiquitous, and from the POV of the media, boring.

    2. Leaving aside the question of what becomes a man, we live ina society which overemphasizes the costs of adulthood (which are readily apparent to the immature mind) and under-reports the benefits which are largely incomprehensible to the immature.

      It is sort of like introducing beer to a five-year-old.

      See: Sarah’s post
      See: 10 Amazingly Enjoyable Things About Having Kids

      Until you’ve a loved one you cannot know the pleasures of kvelling.

  4. Back in out last totally incompetent Democrat president (Carter) and the economic malaise he provided, I was in my early twenties and spent time after graduating at home with the parents. I think that was less stressful for Mother than my first ‘real’ job, which required relocating from Virginia to Texas (O.K. it was Texarkana, kind of like Texas with south-eastern weather).
    Hopefully, we will get past the current 5.4% unemployment that counts 20 hours/week as employed and ignores anyone that has been unemployed more than a month as ‘not seeking employment’, and your young birds will fly and leave the nest.
    You may not believe it now, but someday yesterday that you spent with your son painting will be a priceless memory. My mother died 8 years ago, and I think of her every day. Likewise, someday, for Robert, yesterday’s painting will be beyond priceless.
    Our afterlife we must accept or reject on Faith; however, the memories of love and compassion for the people you touched in your life, and how those memories touch some other, is a known and lasting testimonial of your life that remains on Earth forever.

  5. My oldest will be 45 this year. His brother turns 41.
    Both have me on speed dial for those all too frequent occasions when life goes wonky on them. They both have wives that love them, work that they are good at, the younger has two precious babies (who turn 13 and 14 this year, revenge is sweet!!!)
    They speak to their mom regularly, but I’m the one on speed dial.
    She’s their mom, I’m just the guy who married her when they were little and spent the next 18 years doing my best to keep them alive and out of jail.
    Guess this is my way of wishing you, your two boys, and their other mom, Dan, a very happy mother’s day.

    BTW, younger boy owns his own painting company. Independent contractor specializing in apartment complexes. He will come in and completely redo an apartment between tenants, so he’s pretty much seen it all. If you should need painting advice let me know and I’ll ping him.

      1. Next time for your C4C, instead type LOL, and then some commenter name chosen at random from above your post. Perhaps that will spark some interest.

        1. Or the name of someone who has not been here for a while. That should really stir interest. *evil little grin*

          1. Stir not those who lurk unseen, for they are here yet; Speak not ill of the lurkers, for many watch closely from the shadows, and they yet retain most of the prior generation of carp cannonne.

      2. tacky box.

        I get the green one! I don’t care if they all look the same — wait’ll you see what I do to the inside!

        True fact: a few years back there was a serious effort to find an example of the original design homes in Levittown, Long Island, where the original little boxes had been “made out of ticky-tacky” (built by William “Bill” Levitt to alleviate the post-War housing shortage, using mass production techniques he’d learned in the Navy). It seems humans, being what we are, had made modifications — repainting, additions, remodeling — to personalize their houses, leaving no examples of the prototype.

        Perhaps one reason for the derision expressed by “Red” Segar was the fact that Levitt’s firm used non-union labor.

        On the other hand, they paid them very well and offered all kinds of incentives that allowed the workers to earn extra money, making them often earn twice as much a week as elsewhere. The planned 2,000 home rental community was quickly successful, with the New York Herald Tribune reporting that half of the properties had been rented within two days of the community being announced on May 7, 1947. As demand continued, exceeding availability, the Levitts expanded their project with 4,000 more homes, as well as community services, including schools and postal delivery. With the full implementation of federal government supports for housing, administered under the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Levitt firm switched from rental to sale of their houses, offering ownership on a 30-year mortgage with no down payment and monthly costs the same as rental. The resulting surge in demand pressed the firm to further expand its development, which changed its name from Island Trees to Levittown shortly thereafter.
        … although Levittown is remembered largely for its homogeneity, the majority of houses in Levittown have by now been so thoroughly expanded and modified by their owners that their original architectural form can be somewhat difficult to see; however, with diligent observation, several original examples can still be seen today.,_New_York

        Few critics of suburban housing developments today can recall the effects of the severe housing shortages experienced by returning servicemen and their families. Levitt and his brothers were putting up thirty houses a day and few people seriously complained about their uniformity.

        One more example of taking enormous societal wealth for granted.

    1. oh, and sorry for being rare hereabouts lately.
      Someone hit Frappé on the blender of life … 12 to 18 months from now my job moves to the Marinette/Menominee area of Wisconsin and Michigan and the closest time frame the big boss gave me was it is likely the move will be one of the last, which mean a likely move right into the start of winter.
      So good news, closer to many family and hometown. Bad news, leaving Texas.

  6. I have mixed feelings about Mothers’ Day. My Lady and her extended family make much of it, and I don’t begrudge them one moment. But my Parents were born in the 1920’s, and grew up in households that (it seems) took the repudiation of Mothers’ Day by its founder to heart. I was told explicitly, all through my childhood, that Mothers’ Day cards, flowers, or gifts were not welcome. Instead I made sure to do something nice for my Mother’s birthday.

    My Father’s opinion of Fathers’ Day is unprintable.

    1. Don’t get rid of them, though!

      Chocolate sales this month. Tool sales next month. I hit them both…

      1. I *do* wish that the home improvement stores would have power tool sales for Mother’s Day, too. I could do with another half-dozen Ryobi battery packs, since I’m the principle user of the battery-operated power tools (including a marvelously useful leaf-blower.)

        1. I think they’re mainly afraid of what the comedians would do with the concept of a Mothers’ Day Sale On Power Tools.

    2. I have mixed feelings about mother say especially this year because… well, as of the beginning of September it will be twenty years since my mother passed suddenty, (and eleven days earlier, ten years since my father passed)

  7. Happy Mother’s Day! Yeah, had a great day at the store even with the hail, thunder, lightning, some snow etc. Booker the black cat sat on top of the highest bookcase (eight feet or so) throughout, but little Pages was terrified and hid under a bookcase or cart through the worst.

  8. Thanks for this Sarah. Our daughter is three (and came unexpected, as the fertility treatments had failed for us, and then preemie by 15 weeks), and I’m turning 40 in two weeks. She’s in that chaotic “Threenager” phase right now, and sometimes it’s hard to see through the gloom and histrionics and tears down the road. We’re contemplating the homeschooling thing too; when a Kindergarten teacher of 20 years looks at you and tells you to homeschool at least through 1st grade…

    My wife’s out having her fun day with her mom, and my mom is off to brunch with my grandmother some 4 hours south, and I’m on threenager duty for the moment, but I’m going to pass this post on to my wife for later reading.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Sarah!

    1. We’re contemplating the homeschooling thing too; when a Kindergarten teacher of 20 years looks at you and tells you to homeschool at least through 1st grade…

      My parents were told that about me, or something similar. Best wishes!

    2. My opinion, having taught school for several years, is that it would be best if all children could be homeschooled at least until they are around twelve or thirteen. That was when teaching became more teaching and less classroom management. (I.E. keeping wiggly children under control.) If parents can educate their own little wiggly children, they can get done in an hour or two what takes a classroom school the whole school day, just because there is so much classroom management stuff going on. And the children can have time to do something with their lives besides sit at a desk all day. (I also think there is less peer-group pack mentality in children who are homeschooled in the early years.)

  9. Happy Mother’s day, to all the mom’s and all the children of mom’s. And beautiful tribute to your husband and your sons, Sarah.

  10. Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers. I have to admit I am at least somewhat envious – I doubt I would have made a good mother, I don’t seem to have the urge for children many women exhibit, and fact is the younger ones, from babies to toddlers especially, often downright terrify me (no damn idea how to deal with them. Besides, they leak.), but anyway… while I can’t say I regret not having had kids, mostly because I never found a man to have them with and I don’t believe in single motherhood (for me, at least, I guess some women do well enough), I guess there still is some wistfulness in there somewhere.

    My own mother died when I was 26 (or technically 25, I turned 26 less than a month after her death). I still miss her. I guess the worst part is that she was so sick for most of the time I was an adult that I never really got to know her as another adult. I didn’t want to burden her with any of my problems at that stage and one result of that was that I never had any serious discussions with her about, well, much of anything, during those years. I was having rather serious problems with SAD by then, didn’t want to tell her and avoided pretty much anything that might have given that up which didn’t leave all that many conversation topics as safe. Still don’t know if I did the right thing there. I don’t know what she might have wanted. She never told me. Maybe she was so wrapped up with her own problems that she didn’t notice. Or maybe she, on her side, was trying to do what she thought I wanted. Communication between people, even close ones, can be *unprintable* sometimes.

      1. Thanks. Yes, I guess so. Especially if there is such a short time to know each other after the daughter has grown up as we had. All the baggage from childhood and teen years is still fresh during the early years, hard to connect as, well, as one adult to another. I wish I could have known her longer. Might have worked pretty well between us. She was not the type to try and micro (or macro…)manage me as an adult, maybe she was even a bit too scared of doing that, she always said that grandmother had very much tried to do that to her so she did her best to leave me enough space to do my own thing. I think we might have managed to develop a pretty good rapport if she hadn’t gotten so sick so early.

  11. That was a wonderful blog, Sarah. Thank you!

    And I have known of a few of those men with yellow stripes down their backs (women can have that problem, too, so I’m not bashing anyone). I have a handicapped daughter and often communicate with other parents of handicapped children. Over the years I’ve known of several fathers who abandoned their wife and child or children because ‘they just couldn’t deal with it’. So, they left their wife to deal with it — alone. I have no words for that kind of ‘man’. Or woman, if it happens to be mom who bails out on the family.

    I remember worrying, before Cedar was born (she’s my oldest, so was my first baby) that I wasn’t up to being a mother. What I found is that God gives me the ability to deal with things exactly when that ability is needed, not before! Knowing that has helped me take on some things that I would never have chosen to do when I was younger, because they needed to be done, I was the one who needed to do it, and I knew that God would help me through it. So far, He has!

    And one last thing, it pleases me no end to see how good a mother Cedar has become. I think, Sarah, that you’ll find the next stage of parenting (watching your boys become parents) to be as good as the one are in now!

    1. I once heard an older guy say, “The best thing about kids is grandkids!”

      And he was in a position to know.


  12. Happy Mother’s Day.

    As to the question of who has the carp cannon, I suspect that 3D printing will soon make carp cannons available to all.

    Carp are another issue.

        1. I got some of my physics major buddies on that.
          Unfortunately, the carp tended to become paste due to the rather…rapid acceleration. When the sabot dropped, it resulted in a fine mist of carp traveling at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light.

            1. Genetically engineer carp to withstand the high acceleration. It’s the only way.

              1. Sheriff L. A. W. Dawg [looking at odd shaped hole in test-shed roof]: “Great green beans, son, you fellas sure made one mell of a hess! What happened?”
                Christopher: “Well, Sheriff, we were trying to get a harder-headed, self-launching carp, so we crossed an Asian jumping carp with a hammer-head.”
                Sheriff [rubbing forehead]: “And?”
                Guilders: “It self launches, sir, and it’s hard-headed.”
                Jeff: “And it’s running for office. Boulder County, either Democrat or Libertarian. The two sides of its head were arguing over it just before it punched out of the roof. It’ll probably self destruct before it reaches Greely.”
                Sheriff: ” ‘Zat all? Well, fix the roof before anything else gets loose. Did it have a rabies tag?”
                Christopher [thinking quickly]: “Yes, sir.”
                Sheriff Dawg [after picking up cookie from proffered tray]: “Good. You boys have a nice day and keep your pets confined to the firing range from now on.”

          1. This is why hardened carp are essential for the armor-piercing rounds. The surrounding steel skin shatters on impact, releasing the carp core to greatest effect.

      1. Experiments with discarding sabot rounds and carp-core penetrators is still ongoing. Last I heard, there were some interesting improvements, just have to get a few thousand experiments downrange to replicate and refine the results.

        1. I understand Starkist has done some good work in designing a “beehive” round with tuna as a test medium. I undstand the “solid” albacore white has a better terminal energy delivery than the “chunk light” variant.

      2. Fools, that’s what the liquid nitrogen is for.
        The exact reverse of that old joke: first you thaw the chickens.

        1. I remember seeing Mr. Wizard dunk a dead mouse into liquid nitrogen and then shatter it on a table or drop it on the floor to shatter (been a looooong time).

    1. prayers and good thoughts for the both of you, as it’s sometimes just as hard to be the steady support as it is the one going through that.


  13. Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers out there. May your day be cheery and bright.

    1. He was an Annapolis grad after all. Even if ill health kept him from active service.

    2. The Popular Mechanics article on [i]Starship Troopers[/i] was quite interesting. Thanks for sharing the link.

      Their site also had the complete USN fleet in one chart at

      How impressive, yet how sad. I remember skimming a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships at the library, a volume from right before the USSR fell and Cold War ended. The Navy today appears to be a shadow of its former self.

  14. Awesome post. All of our mothers deserve a measure of respect for what we put them through. Parenting is hard, and the feedback mechanisms imperfect. I have written a lot of words about my relationships with my kids, and the general conclusion every time was “life is crazy with kids.”

  15. PS – knowing how much grief we put our mom through, my brother and i make sure to take extra good care of her on Mother’s Day. She earned it. Glad to hear you got to enjoy yours as well.

  16. This is a beautiful post, Sara. I’m going to forward it to my wife. We are yet to have children but this is exemplary of the true nature of motherhood- tears of joy and tears of pain.
    Even though we don’t have children, we continue to discuss the relative advantages of homeschooling versus regular schooling. Our siblings are struggling through this dilemma as we speak. Do you mind if I ask how you overcame it?

  17. HT: Steven Hayward, Reagan biographer, the first “visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy” at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Power Line blogger:

    I hope every last mother’s day was a happy one.

  18. My one regret in life is that at this point, It’s highly unlikely that I’ll be getting married, and having a son I can name after my Father, and have him live to see it.

  19. I was somehow expecting a post titled “The Mother Thing” by a science fiction writer to talk about Robert A. Heinlein and fuzzy not-really-that-benevolent aliens.

  20. Checking back to see if there’s a new post, I see that there’s not, but the title of this one finally hit, and now I can’t help but thinking of The Thing’s mother – “The Mother Thing.” Unfortunately, my image of her keeps shifting (but only in the remake). 🙂

      1. That must be one of the few Heinlein novels I don’t have and haven’t read.

  21. LOL – Here’s what celebrities’ lawns look like during California’s drought

    That’s almost as funny as Mark Halperin’s grilling of Ted Cruz over his Cuban “authenticity.” Perhaps when he interviews Dr. ben Carson Halpering will ask for a demonstration of proper BBQ Ribs and Watermelon eating, and when Elizabeth Warren comes on he’ll ask her to say “How” she’ll secure the borders.

    Lizzie Warren took an axe,
    Gave the Pentagon 40 whacks.
    When she saw what she had done,
    She gave DHS 41.

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