The MAMAs / Mother Artists Making Art celebrates the Mother+Artist. The MAMAs column is dedicated to sharing the stories of all things Mother*+Artist – personal and universal, integral and peripheral, iterative and ongoing, purposeful and playful. May you find yourself here. Welcome!
By Catherine Mueller
*statement of inclusion at end of the page
We Need Each Other
Second in a series: Call + Response, Reclaiming the Lost Village
By the time this writing is published, most of us will have removed the candles, wreaths and trees from our homes. Our fireplace mantles will be bare, stockings stored away, the candy canes, chocolate coins and chocolate cars consumed, except for the ones that have fallen between the couch cushions, only to be discovered in July and perhaps eaten then without judgment or remorse. As I write this, it is already mid-January, and my son’s attachment to our Christmas decorations remaining up up up is second only to his attachment to our Halloween decorations remaining out and proud forever. We will be the last house on our street to retain this tiny display of magic, hope and light well beyond society’s prescribed dates.
During this past holiday season, our second in this house and town and as just the two of us, we were the beneficiaries of several acts of kindness, nearly all of them exclusively executed by mothers. It is for them that I write, making their efforts public here in my quest to further demonstrate how quietly and steadily mothers make magic, what the magic of care looks like, and how these actions softly weave into the fabric of our lives even as we wrap up in it.
On January 1, 2022, as I tucked my young son into bed, he was suddenly and tragically struck by an urgent awareness that Christmas Carolers Had Not Visited Our House. Was Christmas over? He asked. No, it is both a day and a season, so there is still a chance they might come, I replied. His yearning overtook him, and in between his tears and pleas I told him I would check outside for any Carolers and send a message to the town requesting that they come. After I closed his bedroom door he emerged twice, asking if they were here yet, imploring me to wait by the front door and wake him as soon as they arrived.
The origins of this urgent request were thoroughly unknown to me and I was quite surprised by it, but I also thought it lovely in its determined wish for goodwill singing at our doorstep as part of the wonder of the season. Without much hesitancy, in my town’s Facebook group I posted a modest request for 1-3 people to come the following night and sing 1-3 songs of their choosing for my son. In the 16 months we have lived here, I have noticed all manner of requests honored in this group: extra pumpkins for homemade pies; strangers leaving treats at the doors of a front yard fairy house; lawnmower repair advice; how to handle aggressive bunny rabbits. My town’s self-anointed nickname is Mayberry, and I thought caroling for a five year old was easily on brand.
Less than an hour after posting, however, my request had been bombarded by aggressive, condemning responses. Strangers felt compelled to criticize my parenting, chastising me for being one of those people who fills her child’s head with false hopes then expects the world to appease them so the child can avoid all knowledge of disappointment, pain and suffering. The presumptions about me and my child were shocking. The comments, quickly turning into cruelly sarcastic mockery, felt vindictive, personal and dangerous. I deleted the post in horror. In the moments before erasing its chronicle of anger and righteousness, I noticed that two women had offered to come sing, one even defending the innocence and simplicity of the request as she had read it, asking people to just ignore it if it did not speak to them, stating that she refused to let another mom be bullied. Her imploring was not ignored and we each became the subject of ire and disdain. I sent both of these women messages of thanks and gratitude before closing my laptop for the night, actively contemplating the readily available mean-spiritedness on display and wondering how I could protect my son from it.
Was I wrong to ask for the magic of a simple wish granted? It was not the sort I could create on my own but required the participation of others. It was a community moment and the community’s response was overall quite disgusting. Was magic purely a domestic domain, exclusive and undeserving of expansion? Did magic only act for monetary compensation? Is asking for magic selfish? Offensive? Inappropriate? Is magic not the language of childhood, when we most expansively step into stories of surprise, benevolence and quest, letting these notions take foothold in us? Is it not our job as parents to promote magical thinking when it is most accessible to our children, for it is from these dreamy leaps that new territories of design, discovery and conflict resolution emerge? Do we really need the inevitable pragmatism and limitations of adulthood to descend on the young child willfully, knowing that they are unavoidable regardless? What are the lessons we aim to teach in these moments? It this why it is so hard to find magic as adults? Does my proximity to hope threaten someone else’s attachment to despair?
The following morning, one of the women replied affirmingly, and later that day she and her mother faithfully rang our doorbell. Wearing their best holiday sweaters, they sang Santa Claus is Coming to Town to my son’s back as he hugged me in our vestibule. In addition to songs, they brought him a candy cane headdress and a small box of chocolates. In return I gave them our homemade peppermint fudge, which my son had proudly sprinkled with broken candy cane “snow” only days before.
These women outed themselves as mothers simply and kindly responding to another mother’s request. The whole event took less than 15 minutes, but its brief glory assured my son that magic still existed, that songs make things better, and that goodwill does sometimes come to your front door.
Reflecting on their generosity of time, energy and care, I began to note a pattern.
On Christmas Eve, my son fast asleep, I was overtaken by a violent and unrelenting stomach flu. I sent frantic end of days text messages to friends and family, begging for Gatorade, ginger ale, and affirmations I was not going to die. The following morning, Christmas morning, the worst had passed, and my son, upon entering my room, looked at me and asked if I was not feeling well. Later that morning, two friends who are also mothers dropped small care packages at my doorstep: one of bagels, ginger ale and charcoal tablets, another of crackers, popsicles and tea.
Additionally, two neighbors, also mothers, gifted my son with the toys he most desired: monster trucks and garden rocks and a giant airplane with a smaller airplane in its belly. These presents also appeared wrapped on our doorstep and were given without expectation of reciprocity. Like the bagels, tea and carols, they were given for giving’s sake. They were given by mothers to another mother and her son.
This is an incomplete list, exclusive to a specific sequence of days, and surely omits the comprehensive expanse of these kinds of small gestures in our lives. It takes a village, indeed.
My gratitude for these women, some I do not know at all, some I know only in snippets, in the chance encounters of time and space these pandemic years have allowed: our children playing in the street because we have all been inside for too long, our conversations and cookies exchanged over fences and front porches, our commiseration over how much is too much for ourselves and the ones we love — my gratitude is unbound.
Is it the mantle of motherhood that releases the caregiving within? Is it the gift of perspective, when we are farther away from infancy and toddlerhood, that lets us each in turn honor those who are newer to the game, deep in different trenches, and tethered to young ones out of necessity? There is no mother alive who has not had to recover from something, whether it was the stomach flu, a public misunderstanding, mice in the kitchen, fear of cats, playground hubris, childbirth, divorce, loss or an unexpectedly high tax bill.
The mothers who cared for me and my son are not different or exempt from this list. I posit that part of our recovery from the inevitable suffering of life is in the caring for others, and not just our own children to whom we have an inexhaustible obligation. But it is when we simply and kindly move beyond the intimate spheres of our all-consuming family lives, this is when we weave the magic blankets that truly hold us when we find ourselves shivering in the night from cold, despair or anxiety. Our blankets are bigger than we realize. Our blankets are full of mothers.
Mothers cannot answer all questions, solve all problems or change the weather, but we can bring tea and kindness. We can reflect back someone else’s quandary without judgment, offering hope and stillness to assuage the fraught. We cannot do this forever for everyone, but when we do it for each other we fill our own tanks as well as those of another. This is how we weave a web of care. This is how we care. This is how we teach our children to care. This is how we stay warm, how the candles stay lit, and how a front porch becomes a portal of possibility.
This is why, in honor of these mothers and so many others, The MAMAs established the First Friday (virtual) MOMS COFFEE. Come see and be seen. Bring your mess, bring your magic. They travel in tandem.
We need each other.
The MAMAs / Mother Artists Making Art has been invited as the inaugural program in PAAL‘s new incubator initiative for artistic and communal development for artists and activists. More to come on this exciting news!
This column is part of The MAMAs / Mother Artists Making Art. The MAMAs and its sister subset The PAMAs / Pregnant Artists Making Art is leading a movement that foregrounds the value and visibility of mothers who make art.
The MAMAs embraces ALL who identify with the words Mother and Artist, including biological, adoptive, surrogate, foster, those who have experienced pregnancy or child loss, Trans, and non-binary parents; and passionate and/or professional creative practice across all forms and disciplines. The PAMAs welcomes people who birth.
Both PAAL and IFCAP welcome all caregiving responsibilities and realities in the background or foreground of any meetings, phone calls, and exchanges and gladly receive your life in our pursuit of productive and supportive practices.
PAAL and IFCAP are transgender and non-binary affirming spaces. We support a safe space for everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and beyond. Our programs are designed for anyone going through the huge changes we experience as artist-parents, whether that’s as someone who identifies as a mother or birthing person, including cis-, Trans and gender non-conforming parents and caregivers. “Mother” is for all who identify with it. PAAL is actively working to develop an organizational standard of language that expands caregiver terms off the binary.
PAAL and IFCAP commit to anti-racist roots in our structures, practices, policies, principles, and producing.