I wonder - How many times have I broken my mother’s heart?
Was the first time a slow uncertain break, lasting over the course of several weeks of anxious anticipation? Did it crack a little more each time she went to the bathroom and saw that her underwear were still clean? And what did it feel like to get the news at 19, that her life was no longer hers exclusively?
When she was pregnant with me, she had a nightmare about a blue-baby, wrapped up in a bag in the corner. I broke her heart even before I was born.
And I bet I broke it again on the day I was born – or maybe the day after, when she woke up from anesthesia and was finally allowed to hold the fat, hungry baby she made.
Did her heart break with every smile? With every cry? With every burp? And how much did it hurt when she had to hand me back to the doctors to put me under the knife for a hernia repair? Did it hurt less the second time 2 months later?
Did it break in the car on the way to my first day of pre-school? Did it break even more when I screamed and cried in a fit of abandonment? How much did it break when I presented her with my first macaroni-and-popsicle-stick sculpture?
And how much breaking in the decision to leave Ohio and move to California, to “take me away” from grandparents in order to give me a new world of ideas, experiences, and tolerance? How many times did her heart break daily as she watched, helpless to protect me, as I learned the painful lessons that roll childhood into adultness…lessons on sunburn, bullying, honesty, accountability? Lessons about sex and danger and responsibility? Did it hurt to watch me shift towards independence, no longer seeking nor needing her counsel on trivial matters? And when I made BIG life decisions without consultation or discourse?
And yet, her heart beats on. How can this be?
This heartbreak of which I speak is different from the type explored most often in poem and song. It does not arise from dissolution or longing or futility. It is not steeped in agony, nor in remorse, nor grief. This type of heartbreak is caused by love...by a love that is strong, deep, and unremitting. By a love I will never know – save for being on the receiving end of it.
Romantic Love breaks a heart by fracturing it, smashing it into pieces which slowly regenerate under a layer of scar tissue. A romantic heartbreak hardens the heart. But Mother Love breaks a heart by causing it to swell. Mother Love expands the heart until it crushes the spine and smashes the lungs against the ribs. Mother Love swells the heart such that it feels like it will explode.
But it doesn’t. It just gets bigger. And bigger. With the capacity for more love and more swelling and more heartbreak. That is the magic of Mother Love.
I love you. Happy Birthday.