Art Davidson’s 1969 account of the first winter ascent on Denali, Minus 148°, is an incredible tale. An eight man international team, out six weeks; three men summit, and seven make it out alive. On reflection, one of the images that really stands out is when the three climbers summit. It’s night, complete darkness, and they pass an aluminum pole caught in the shine of their headlamps. What’s that doing here, out in the stark nature? Wait, that’s the summit. This is it. We did it. The expression goes, “it’s lonely at the top”, but it’s also sometimes dark and anticlimactic. You think you’re at least in part climbing the mountain for the views, or to see if it can be done. Sometimes there is no view, but it can be done.
If mothering is the mountain, maybe Mother’s Day is the summit; you’re expecting to revel in your accomplishment, take in the view, and feel appreciated. You’re climbing the mountains day-in, day-out every year, but not every mountain nor every summit is the same. Sometimes there is no view, but it can be done.
With physical and emotional strength, determination, companionship, and a whole lot of sacrifice, mountains can be climbed – even in the winter. Mothering is a lot like that.
Except once you get flown in to Kahiltna Glacier, you don’t get to decide if today is a good day to try for the summit.
Every day is a mothering day. Every day you’re trying for the summit, and when you reach your goal, sometimes there’s nothing perceptible there, just the air in front of your face and the twinkle of far-off civilization.
Then, it’s another day, a different day altogether, and you’re on your way down the mountain. There’s still pain, but the sun comes out and you feel the relative warmth and that’s heaven; that’s enough. Davidson describes how on his descent after submitting, he can’t imagine ever needing anything more than feeling the warmth of the sun on his body. A child’s smile can be that sun, and sometimes, simply… the sun is that sun. You find your own moment of meaning, of making the journey worthwhile.
In my experience, Mother’s Days tend to be Do It Yourself (DIY). For Mother’s Day this year I kept up my phenomenal mother’s tradition of gardening and weeding—getting the garden in shape after the spring rains and bursts of sunshine have woken up all the weeds but the earth is still soft and forgiving. Lady Kitty was helping me a bit. She was cheering me on. “Well done, Mama,” she kept saying. (She can say so much now, I can’t even catalogue it all.) When Lake finished playing LEGO, he wandered out to share lovely moments together in the sun. We visited our neighborhood playgrounds where we bumped into and chatted with our neighbors throughout the day.
It’s easy to say, yes, thank you, I’m having a lovely Mother’s Day. It’s harder to say, my mother’s day is hard and underwhelming. My husband is sick, working, or absent. My babysitter got sick, injured, or cancelled. The children are wild animals and I have a headache. But that was the prevalent reality.
We all seemed to be navigating some version of a DIY Monther’s Day. A true Mother’s Day— not an idealized day-off from mothering, that starts with flowers and ends with fireworks, but an actual day spent mothering. DIY Mother’s Day means celebrating the life and the family that you work so hard every day to create and maintain. It means a day spent parenting alone with your children and having it be the best day of your life.
A perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you.