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In Sickness And In Health, Thanking My Many Mothers

Please pick up your virtual chocolate Oscar, mothers, writes Marjorie S. Rosenthal. You are all superstars in my heart. (Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
Please pick up your virtual chocolate Oscar, mothers, writes Marjorie S. Rosenthal. You are all superstars in my heart. (Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr)

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Dear Doreen, Marjorie, Diana, Shae, Shirley, Saroj, Cynthia, Kay, Bunny, Madeline, Catherine, Matilda, Cindy, Nan, Judy, Phyllis, Nancy, Beatrice, Cheryl, Doris, Rena, Berta, Eva, Sara, Mumtaz, Jehanara, Becky, Gail, Michelle, Sarla, Alka, Barbara, Carolyn, Blanca, Betty, Nicky, Shelia, Eva, Becky, Suneela, Debbie, Pricilla, Esther, Patti, Linda, Maddie, Anne, Mary Margaret, Susie, Marnie, Teri, Sara, Eva, Gladys, Jean, Robert Ann, Marta, Christina and Helene:

Happy Mother’s Day.

While I usually send Mother’s Day wishes only to my mother and my mother-in-law, last year I was reminded by a 13-year-old girl in my neighborhood how important it is to send wishes to all who mother us.

My precocious neighbor invited a few women to a party on Mother’s Day to thank us for mothering her. Our invitation stipulated that we were to wear comfortable but fabulous clothes — preferably mumus if we owned them. She had bowls of pretzels and plastic champagne glasses for sparkling cider. She gave a small speech about each of us and then awarded each of us a chocolate Oscar statuette, reminding us that we were all superstars in her heart.

There’s no way your children would be mothering me so well unless they had you all as role models.

This year, I am adapting my neighbor’s tradition and thanking all of you, because there’s no way your children would be mothering me so well unless they had you all as role models.

And believe me, your children are mothering me.

Last November I had 12 hours of surgery to remove cancer from my abdomen. My surgeon removed 1.5 feet of my colon (turns out adults have about 5 feet and can do with a lot less), some of my pancreas, some of my liver, some of my abdominal wall and a lot of lymph nodes.

A few weeks before the surgery, my friend Margot (who lovingly mothers all who fall within her circle) created lists and calendars. Lists of people who would stay with me in the hospital, lists of people who would stay at home with my daughters while and I was in the hospital and lists of people who would bring food, drive children to soccer and hockey and a part-time job, take them on adventures and generally keep up the tasks of our household.

Your children stayed with me in the hospital — sleeping on a hospital cot, drinking tiny cans of diet ginger ale and bad coffee — and steadfastly argued for my well-being. When, late in the morning, a third team of doctors wanted to round on me, or late in the evening, nurses wanted to check my vitals or a cable repairman wanted to upgrade my service, your children turned all these people away, treating me as I imagine you treated them when they were toddlers desperately needing naps.

And then when I was home and trying to heal, they greeted visiting nurses so I didn’t have to get off the couch. They acted as my visiting nurses, performing small medical procedures, tasks that they may not have been comfortable with, but — just like you did for them — they did anyway.

Before the surgery, my surgeon told me I would be in the hospital for five to seven days while I recovered. He told me not to feel like a failure if I had to stay the full seven days. I stayed for three weeks. And then over the next two months I got admitted five more times for complications from the surgery. These re-admissions were not planned. Which meant that the lists had not been made in advance.

But you know what that’s like. You are mothers. Planning is what happens in your date book. Not in your actual life when you are raising children. Making the next plan and the next plan and the next is what happens in real life.

Marjorie S. Rosenthal: "But you know what that’s like. You are mothers." (Harli Marten/Unsplash)
Marjorie S. Rosenthal: "But you know what that’s like. You are mothers." (Harli Marten/Unsplash)

So that’s what Margot and her band of minions did. While I was home vomiting (or getting a fever or in extreme pain or passing out), your children were hatching a plan to get me to the hospital and figure out who would stay with me there. Another plan was in the works for who would have my daughters for sleepovers, organize driver’s ed and drive to high school shadowing.

Other plans were made to shuttle your children to and from airports and train stations. Because, just like you, your children traveled across the country to mother. And just like you, they did it at the drop of a hat. Regardless of what deadline or proposal was looming, your children — who are no slouches in the work world — came to care for me.

Thank you for modeling grace and patience for well beyond the first 18 years. Thank you for deeply loving your children even when they weren’t sure they were lovable. Because when I was grouchy or angry or sad, your children stayed with me and continued to care for me, just as you have done for them.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all. Please know that, even on those days when you felt you were falling down on the job, those pebbles of gracious mothering that you dropped into the pond have had ripple effects far beyond what you may have imagined. Please pick up your virtual chocolate Oscar. You are all superstars in my heart.

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Related:

Marjorie S. Rosenthal Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Marjorie S. Rosenthal is an associate professor of pediatrics at the Yale University School of Medicine.

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