The glue beneath the glitter
Who we admire and why
We’re knee deep in sports around here at the moment: my girls’ lacrosse, the NBA playoffs, USGA’s majors. Where there are sports, there are adjectives, and where there are championships, those adjectives are garish and piled high—players are relentless, failures are soul crushing, achievements are breathtaking. On a golf course alone, there are epic collapses, pitiless greens, and harrowing sinking traps that wreak havoc on the spirit.
As a longtime minder of words, it takes me back.
About 20 years ago, my friend Tracy’s dad took a bunch of us out for shrimp scampi at a kitschy seafood place in Berkeley called Spenger’s. Tracy’s dad, a guy named Bert Yancey, was also a professional golfer who racked up six Top 5 finishes including 3rd place in the Masters. I was taken with Mr. Yancey, not because he could play golf but because he could articulate so vividly what about golf kept him coming back. That night, he mesmerized everyone at the table by explaining how any given round tests everything you’ve got.
“…the major muscle groups in your legs, back and shoulders … the minor muscles in your wrist and hand…think of the choreography of movement required to make a putt… and that’s to say nothing of the mental game, amalgamating everything you know about a hole and yourself and the day’s conditions… silencing the second guessing, finding your conviction about which club, what strategy…” After shaking his head in disbelief, he came to this poetic conclusion: “It’s man vs. man, man vs. nature and man vs. himself.” His description of the game’s archetypal challenges made the work seem downright heroic.
As the 2014 Masters unfolded recently and announcers flipped through their thesauri searching for ever more florid language to elevate the already hallowed grounds of Augusta, I found myself wishing that some of that breathless reverence might befall another group slogging their way across a grueling course: mothers.
Wouldn’t it be something to sprinkle some of those heady, enlarging words on the invisible army of women shaping our next generation?
What might it feel like to be regularly admired and celebrated for our stamina and cunning, our ability to read the situation, control our emotions and march on? Perhaps more importantly, what might it feel like to be the child of such a grand and superhuman figure? What pride, what respect, might follow if we let the exuberant sportscasters write our Mother’s Day cards this year rather than the hacks at Hallmark who want to minimize the gritty inch-by-inch campaign for individual competence that is motherhood with pink blossoms and lavish calligraphy?
Maybe the 300-yard drive that we capture with a massive lens to project on screens large and small, to replay endlessly, to measure and rank and call Miraculous!, is a little bit like finding twenty-one different ways per week to put all the food groups in front of a kid, or showing them how to cross a street—on foot, then scooter, then bike, then skateboard, or monitoring medications, physical therapy, sleep habits. Nothing so remarkable perhaps but then, this is the groundwork that establishes lifelong healthy habits and the ability to self-manage.
A golfer’s iron-work down the fairway might translate to volunteering at school, doling out chores and allowance, and insisting on mouth guards, supportive sneakers, and sunblock, quotidian activities that in total help kids develop a sense of security, an empowering work ethic, and an abiding respect for money as well as keeping them out of the orthodontist chair, the ER and the melanoma clinic.
Perhaps the precision involved in holing a crucial putt is, by comparison, a smallish party trick when held up to delicate, well-timed conversations about prejudice, self-respect and personal standards, faith, citizenship and STDs.
So, come June 9, when the golfers reunite for the US Open, let’s swap out golfer for mother in our minds and let ourselves be wowed by the women whose steely and loving hands led us from childhood to adulthood.
In fact, maybe it’s time for a new magazine, Motherhood Illustrated.
We could put Pam from Indiana on the cover, holding her four foster children, or an action shot of Becky from Cleveland navigating the college financial aid maze with her 17 year-old, or Tracy from Virginia hunting down a second opinion for her son’s possible ADHD. On the inside pages, we’ll do in-depth interviews with moms of colicky babies, anorexic teens, any one of the 8th graders failing algebra, moms who wipe their eyes and slap on a smile as they leave pediatric hospitals and therapist’s offices, moms upright at the grocery store while emotionally laid out by betrayal, left for younger, easier, less encumbered women. (Readers will clamor to know how these moms manage to bite their tongues when their often-angry children blame them for “ruining everything.”)
That’s the magazine I need.
That’s whose autographs I want.
My heroes are the people with the stamina to run a family, people who stay, people who take the hits, draw the fouls and keep showing up the next day, attitude readjusted, to run the breakfast shift in the morning and the homework shift at night, insult after eye roll after fight after slammed door, day after month after year, while also taking full responsibility for cultivating and maintaining their own happiness.
So let me end here with a shout out to just a handful of my Poster Moms, women I admire for their relentless, breathtaking commitment to motherhood—archetypal work indeed—who navigate the epic collapses and the harrowing sinking traps, who take the job to a new level.
Kristi Stone, Melissa Williams, Kristina Smith, Amie Prendergast, Betsy Barnes, Susan Burch, Laura Pochop, Phoebe Lichty, Sarah Handelsman, Michelle Constable, Shannon Faucette, Liz Laats, Beth Barrett, Hilary Cooper, Sandy Aslanian, Susannah Meadows, Ariel Trost, Kia Conn, Tracy McGowan, Alex Conroy, Gretchen Burke, Christy Smith, Pam Johann, Missy Carr, Anna Quindlen, Meghan Mackay, Meg Garlinghouse, Frannie Cooley, MH McQuiston, Tracy Defina, Jen Felten
…and Mary Corrigan, you da man.
Glitter and Glue is out in hardback now. For autographed copies, email Kelly’s local indie bookstore at firstname.lastname@example.org.