Originally published April 2017
I’ve been Facebook friendly with North Shore Chicago’s Barbara Mahany since her first book, Slowing Time, was released a few years back. I was asked to interview her for a magazine article and was immediately drawn into her orbit.
Mahany is one of those contemplative souls that, when you spend time with them, you are reminded of the better person you know you can be. She knows how to exist in the moment, which is something highly anxious people like myself can only dream of being able to do. It’s probably no small coincidence that Slowing Time came first — lessons in begin able to stop the clock and breath in the moments of the day — for it almost serves as a primer to breathing in the moments that make up motherhood.
Motherprayer is a compilation of essays drawn from Mahany’s writing while raising two boys. It’s not so much a memoir, though it certainly is personal, as it is a series of reflections loosely tied together by the participants. And she begins by describing what it is to be a mother, or in mothering mode —and that it is not indicative of just those who have given physical birth or signed adoption papers.
” … may it be mothering or the art of tender caring, coaxing life, leaving mercy in your wake, the art knows no gender bounds, no census-taker’s definition, the art of the world needs in mighty thronging masses, may it be mothering, and not just mothers, for which we stand and shout, ‘God bless you, each and every motherer.'”
Mahany’s essays range from birth to loss to birth again, the untethering that takes place as children grow, the moments of holy angst resulting from misplaced homework, or simply waiting to hear a key turn in a doorknob. This is not a sit down and skim kind of book. It’s definitely hygge — the kind of read you curl up with on the couch under a warm blanket and a cup of coffee, or out on the patio in a cool breeze with a lemonade. It’s an intentional read, with each chapter almost requiring a pause afterward to soak in her words and apply to your past, present and future.
Want to feel a sense of accomplishment that you just made it through a week with a sick kid? Consider this:
“You realize, as you add up the hours of the week and lose count of ice cubes and teaspoons of germ-killer, that these hidden-away devotions, the ones played out over sickbeds or hunched beside toilet bowls, are no less heroic than the conquests of champions, the ones that steal headlines.”
Yeah, suck on that, Bryzzo. (I don’t mean that. I love the Cubs. And if my kids had been hunched over a toilet bowl during Game 7, I would have ignored them. Mahany is soooo much better at this than me.)
As I am nearing the end of the most labor intensive years of mothering, I wish I could go back and try it again with less anxiety and more contemplation. I couldn’t love my kids more than I did or do, but I know I failed to recognize a lot of serenity in those moments. Find this book and read it. Then give it to a friend that needs a reminder of the hero she (or he) is for the tasks accomplished day in and day out mothering. We are all more deserving of praise and for the awesome work we do each and every day.