Praising Mothers’ Hands
I really don’t remember what my mother’s hands physically looked like. I remember the rings she wore, her diamond, Mother’s Day, an occasional Avon knock-off. She wasn’t one for flashing around elaborately fake or polished nails. Mostly I remember what she did with her hands.
My mother’s hands were all about doing. She raised her children to believe God gave us hands to do. There was never enough time to get it all done. Her voice, always in sync with her gesturing hands, forever asked or told. “Are you done yet, did you do this, that’s all you’ve gotten done? Hurry up, this needs to get done; we should get going, we’ve got a lot to do, there’s more work to do.” Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan had nothing on my mother.
A staunch matriarch, she simply walked her talk. Meeting expectations came before choosing options. Giving was more important than receiving. Doing it perfectly justified doing it over until you did it right. Work came before play. Thank God she was Irish or we’d still be wondering when we could stop to play.
Without pay and without fail, my mother’s hands performed the monotonous and often thankless domestic chores and child-rearing tasks that so many women do. She fed, clothed, taught, cleaned, gardened, groomed, laundered, wrote, shopped, spanked, polished, prayed, decorated and God knows everything else. Her hands routinely pulled up, pushed out, picked up or let out; people, animals, things, it didn’t matter.
Proudly checking off an endless to-do list, she used her hands to meticulously create, select, steer, deliver and bury. Those same hands wiped away, held, protected and hid many tears. Her fingers feverishly dialed phone numbers to invite, inform or spread news of joy and grief.
My mother’s hands often made sweeping, jumping-jack movements, gestures designed to convince, welcome, scold, approve and dismiss. Her gestures often provoked fear or encouraged laughter. We loved it when she laughed first, taking time to pause and celebrate. Invariably, she’d stop laughing and we’d all get back to work.
She must have intuitively known that she didn’t possibly have enough time to get everything done on her to do list. She died at age 53; her day’s to-do list complete — her life’s to-do list cut far too short. Or not, maybe she was done doing. Moving on was the only way she could simply be. One thing her children definitively knew: all of her training and hard work certainly hadn’t prepared us for the overwhelming to-do list brought upon by her death.
Each Mother’s Day since, I have used my inherited hands to plant flowers in spring’s soil and quietly honor my mother. As my hands dig deeper, I surface a lifetime of memories reflecting hard workers, doers and givers. Generations of farmers’ hands seamlessly connect through dirt and doing. I find great comfort in knowing the seeds I plant each May bring new life. Each returning bloom or new sprout symbolizes a loving check off on my mother’s to-do list.
I look down at my own hands, before protecting them with gardening gloves. I suspect they’re similar to hers. Large and rough, freckles mixed in with age spots, pronounced veins carrying the spirit of life, puffy lines circling the knuckles, topped off by weak nails. I never take for granted that my hands have now outlived my mother’s by nearly a decade.
I sit back in stillness and gratitude, recognizing and appreciating my own hands. I see the joy and hopefulness each contribution created. As I grow comfortable in defining my own legacy, knowing what my hands hold and will leave behind, I am pleased to hand down my mother’s legacy to the granddaughter she never met. As my daughter starts to find and create a life of contribution, using her own hands to become a seasoned doer, I know her grandmother is quite proud.
Mindful of the global angst and the many weary, worried hands of mothers worldwide, with too much work and not nearly enough resources, I wish I had more hands. Sometimes that’s the best we can offer one another, our supporting hands and hearts. We mothers universally share one important truth. Our loving, powerful, doing hands will always continue to foster hope, meaningful work, joy and legacy greatness, if not for ourselves, for our children. It is that spirit that binds us all, our unified motivation to make unforeseen lifelong sacrifices for those whom we so dearly love.
Slowly, I introduce my hands to the concept of being. My mother didn’t live long enough to allow her hands to fully rest and be. I am mindful of the long courtship required before doing marries being. Will I actually live long enough to experience both of them walking down the aisle together? Mother’s Day is the perfect occasion to put our important hands down to simply be. Grab the hands of a mother, or give your own hands a respite. Let us agree to put our doing hands down for the day and allow them to simply be.
That’s what I plan to do. First, I have to go to the Farmers Market with my daughter. We have Mother’s Day planting to do!