Thursday, May 15, 2008

Invisible Mothers

An "invisible mother" and her son Coop - July 2007

"It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’ Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this ? Can you tie this? Can you open this??

Some days I’m not a pair of hands ; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, she’s gone!?

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘To Charlotte , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. These builders gave
their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof, No one will ever see it. And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, ‘I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, nocupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, ‘You’re gonna love it there.’

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women."

By Nicole Johnson
My "invisible mother" and wonderful grandmother who built seven of her own cathedrals and is working on eleven grandchildren - July 2004 My other "Invisible Mother"and superb grandmother who also built seven cathedrals and is working on 19 grandchildren - July 2006


emily a. said...

That was a really nice story and so very true. That is a great picture of Debbie with the grandkids- Cooper is hilarious in it, sobbing.

Mama Nirvana said...

There was an interesting post about this story on Feminist Mormon Housewives.

Sara, you are hardly invisible to me. You are a true example of a bright, creative, and patient mother. Often in my daily life I think, what would Sara do?


Ditto Family said...

Amy, interesting that you bring up that there was something written in the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog. I did read one blog yesterday that was poo pooing the idea of being "invisible." But all the examples that were given in the article were VERY real to me...I'd say that it is more my children that would consider me "invisible" or the ghost woman that completes tasks, prepares dinner, scrubs the toilets, etc...

I really loved the analogy that I am creating a cathedral; something that takes years to complete and I may never see the final masterpiece. There certainly are times when I feel that my job as a mother is not as immediately rewarding as I would love it to be, like a project that never gets completed. I do know that God sees my work of art and that is a very comforting and sometimes a scary idea to me. Being a mom is hard work!

Anyway, the analogy worked for me but is in no way trying to diminish any woman's worth as a MOTHER!

Julie said...

If your mother was a builder of seven cathedrals, then you ARE a cathedral. A cathedral, I like to think, is a house of God and so we are all trying to build the best ones for Him. Meaning we are trying to be the best we can be in order to be a good gift to Him. Some may think this means we are trying to all be the same or alike- but aren't the prettiest buildings somehow better or different than anything we have seen before? Be different but be beautiful! Even if a temple or cathedral looks like another one though, just the shear number (or lack thereof) makes each one special. How many people in this world are really trying to build cathedrals? Most are just trying to make it through the day. Most are just building mansions to themselves- not cathedrals to God! You are a great cathedral as well as a builder!

Amanda said...

Thank you for sharing this!