When Mother’s Day Doesn’t Quite Fit, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

When Mother’s Day Doesn’t Quite Fit

 

By

 

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

As I was reminded at church today, Mother’s Day may be hard for some people. Some, like me, have lost their mother’s–in my case, six years ago. And while I can still celebrate her life she isn’t physically present to go out to lunch with or something like that. Others never had a mother–in the sense of one being present in their lives. Others couldn’t have children and desperately wanted to. Others have lost their children to miscarriages or other tragedies. Still others have had mothers who were abusive or negligent. And still others have a strained relationship with their mothers, and some mothers have a strained relationship with their children.

There are also people like me–people who lived most of their parenting lives as “Dad.” I will always be Dad to my kids–I know I was a father to them and I am glad for that. I am also their mother. So, for me, Mother’s Day is very special. I get to parent in a whole new way and in the same ways I did before coming out. Luckily for me my kids are amazingly supportive and I have already received Mother’s Day greetings from them. However, I am also one of those people who has always (even before coming out as trans) ached to be able to have children—I was always deeply envious of pregnant mothers. I have always ached to be able to nurse a child. I have come to accept neither of these things will ever happen–and I am no less a mother. So, to all the non-binary “Moms” or people who act as mothers to others–regardless of their gender. Happy Parent’s Day to you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the people out there who mother other people’s children—teachers, nurses, doctors, librarians.  Blessings to all the foster moms and moms who have adopted children from around the world or their own communities.

And to all the grandmothers and aunts who have taken on the role of mother again because of special circumstances.  Blessings to all the grandmothers who simply get to grandmother grandchildren, and do so with wisdom.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the single Dads who serve as mothers all day, everyday.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the people who have consciously chosen to not bear or raise children.  I am willing to bet there is someone or something in your life that you mother, and do so with grace, dignity, and love–be that a pet, a plant, a poem, or a person.

And of course, Happy Mother’s Day to ourselves–no matter who we are–for we all, one day, must begin, and never stop, mothering ourselves. It is just the way that it is–we all become our own mother’s one day–giving birth over and over again to ourselves.

To wrap up I would like to lift up all those for whom Mother’s Day is a hard day. Your soul and spirits are Mothers. You have been mothered by the world. You are Mothers of the world.

And also grieve, or be angry. Seek safe support to be with you today as you move through any difficult or challenging feelings and memories.

You are loved. You are special. And you are held in the hands of Mother Gaia.

 

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Reflections on My First Official Mother’s Day, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Some Thoughts on My First Official Mother’s Day

by

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

yellow rose

 

 

Being assigned the wrong gender when I was born had three wonderful unforeseen consequences much later in life: my three sons.  No matter how unsettled I was inside I loved being a dad.  I sang Van Morrison songs to the kids when they were still in the womb.  When they were born I placed them on my chest and sang them to sleep as I rocked them in the rocking chair.  I prayed over them, blessed them, and wrote them songs.  I took them on wagon rides and to play grounds and parks.  When they were older I took them bug hunting, snake hunting, puppy hunting, and ice cream truck hunting.  I remember one day chasing an ice cream truck around the neighborhood after school until we were able to get close enough to run after it.  We went fishing.  I dragged them to used bookstores.  I taught them the love of nachos, Mr. Bean, and baseball.  When we went to Michigan I bought them enough candy to last them on a drive to Idaho.  I drew with them.  I drew for them.  I taught them guitar chords.  I bought them guitars, drums, mandolins, trombones, keyboards, amps, and drums.  Of course, these are things any mother could do.  That isn’t my point.  My point is I did those because I loved being a parent—a parent who thought they were a dad doing what they thought, at the time, were dad things.  As it turns out, I did all these things as a mother—they were both motherly and fatherly.

 

I longed (and still do long) to be pregnant and carry a child. I am well aware that will never happen.  I deeply wanted to breast feed a child.  I am well aware that will never happen either.  And while these are saddnesses I will carry always to one degree or another, I have accepted the facts.  On the eve of my Mother’s Day, I find myself feeling strange, and in sort of a limbo.  I did my usual texting to the kids today to remind them to get something for their mom—Mom Number One.  I told them not to get me anything.  Part of me wants them to always think and remember me as dad, and yet, speaking of facts, I am a mom—a mom who gave birth to herself while she was still parenting her own children.  Mother and matter are related in their Latin roots.  They mean source—the stuff of the world—the feminine force of things.  I have been, without knowing it, motherly giver and the source of origin for many things in the lives of my children.  Father, in Latin (Dutch, vader—now you know what the “Vader” means in Darth Vader.), means paternal and Supreme Being; I have not been a supreme being except for when they were infants and in my arms or in my care in the woods, or when they were young and I made up stories for them stories until they fell asleep.  I have been paternal to my children.  I have cared for them when they were sick.  I have laid down with them when they had nightmares.

 

Being motherly and fatherly makes me a genderqueer parent.  And as the physical symptoms/manifestations of being wrongly assigned male at birth are slowly kneaded and shaped into the female parts I have always wanted, the fatherly form will fade, yet the fatherly spirit will always remain.  And as the physical form of my real gender identity is fashioned, the motherly spirit will grow.  I am a two-spirit parent who has untied things that have always been, from the beginning of time, united.

 

On this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my three children.  I am grateful for my own mother.  Many of my relatives believe she is turning over in her grave at her “Joey,” being a “Jennifer,” and these are difficult fears for me to shake.  I want to believe she would be happy and only care if I was happy.  She would be worried sick about my impending future—no doubt about that—she would be telling me of all the teaching jobs open in Michigan, but she would be happy I am happy.   I am also grateful to Mandy—the one who physically carried the kids and gave birth to them.  She has been, and is, a wonderful mom.  And on this, my first Mother’s Day, I am grateful for me and this wild, miraculous journey I am on.

 

So Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mom’s Out there—no matter what gender you are or aren’t.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to me.

 

 


 

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Searching For A Center

Many of you know my mother crossed over to the other side

on February 18th.  Poems and songs still appear in my heart, 

needing to be shared. 

This one came on Sunday, July 3.

Searching For a Center

 

After my brother and I watched them lower

our mother’s casket into the cold, February ground,

with a back-hoe no less, the funeral director gave us each

 white roses he had saved from the viewing.

 

That night, alone, I held one of the roses,

and let the fragrant mass unravel carefully in my hands.

The petals fell in a heap, like silken snowflakes,

 and as I wept, searching for a center, I understood:

 

The center of things is nearer to the thorns

than to the blossom, nearer to the ending

than to the beginning, and nearer to the unraveling of yourself

than to the trying to hold on for dear life.

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog


The Promise of Mother’s Day

 

Yesterday, as I was driving to Barnes and Noble to write a little bit about Your Heart’s Desire, I realized today is Mother’s Day.  As some of you know my mom passed away three months ago.  And as the knowledge of this day dawned, as if on cue, rain began to fall.  It was a soft, gentle spring rain.  On the left side of the road, however, the sun shined through billowing clouds.   And as thoughts of my mother branched through my mind, my heart thrummed with grief.  Yet I knew, any second: “She’ll send a rainbow.”  And sure enough, just when the pangs of hurt swelled into tears, a rainbow– low, and shimmering, bloomed across the sky.  It was full—with the purple particularly radiant.  I hurried to park the car to get out and stare.  My heart leapt with gratitude. 

The rainbow, that Promise of eternal life–of ever unfolding creation in spite of darkness and tears, spanned an iridescent bridge across the sky connecting Heaven and Earth.  And it was beyond beautiful.  It was my mother’s love stretching down in a gesture of flowering luminosity.

And then, after about ten minutes, it began to dissolve, and the backdrop of the dark, late afternoon sky stood steely grey.  But the dark clouds had been touched.  The colors were still there announcing themselves through the many rooms of those drifting castles, kissing the faces of any silken-clad angels sleeping on downy beds. 

And I can keep moving.  She sent a rainbow, and so I, in turn, send it to you. Obviously my Blackberry’s camera does not capture the brilliance of the rainbow’s triumphant gateway, but you get the idea. 

So remember, when the going gets tough; when the hurt hurts; when the memories flood your chest and cast their fragrance through the rain of your tears, there is always Light; and there will always be rainbows.  Glorious, heart strumming-mixtures of rain and sun, with the rain being just as crucial to these celebrations as the light.  These Promises have been made for you, for me, for all of us.  Pursue Your Heart’s Desire, find your true place in God’s Universe; find your voice and instrument in His choir of Love and His orchestra of Service—and shine.  Let the Light catch your tears and through them proclaim rainbows of Hope to everyone you meet.

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Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog


Here and Now


                                                                                                           

I am listening to a cassette tape that’s 29 years old.  It’s of my mother and I teaching preschool catechism classes.  I was 14 and her assistant.  It was my first teaching job. 

Her voice is light and musical.  She leads the children in a prayer: “Dear God, I am your little child.  Thank You for my family.  Amen.”   

She tells the students I am her son and that I will be her helper, and that I am a good drawer. 

She tells them not to run outside after class is over.  She doesn’t want them to get hit by a car.

She tells them they will have a snack and asks me to pass out vanilla wafers and lemonade.  We sit picnic style on the floor. I hear myself whistling in the background.

While they’re eating, she shows me a house she drew that she is planning on showing them. “Oh is that what that is?”  I tease.  She laughs and says, “I know you could do better, Smarty.”

She turns on a record of Carey Landry and everyone is singing, “Oh, How I Love Jesus,” as they draw pictures of their houses and their families.  I hear myself singing.  It’s like listening to a ghost.  It’s me, I recognize the timber, but it’s so much thinner and crackly with adolescent changes.  The record begins to skip.  We laugh.  I give the needle a nudge.

At the end of class she asks the children if they were good enough to deserve lollipops.  “Yes,” I pipe up.  She gives everyone, including me, a lollipop. 

I hear us sending off the last of the children.  We are outside.  It must have been a sunny day in spring.

The tape is going to end soon.  I am dreading the moment.  The wheels carry the tape along like a little brown river.  The hazy hiss of the tape is loud as it flows, carrying memories as it goes, like a river carrying pieces of the sun. 

There’s a long quiet period.  I can just barely hear my mother in the distance talking with one of the parents.  I wish I knew what was happening.  I hear the wind blowing over the microphone.  I haven’t said a word in several minutes.  I wonder if I am just standing there watching her.

And then I hear us getting into the car.  The car door shuts.  I hear myself saying: “Oh the tape recorder is still going.”  “Oh you had it on all this time?”  She says.  Then it’s over.  The tape ends.  It just stops.  And with it my heart aches.   I feel suddenly empty.  I don’t know what I was expecting to hear—some kind of secret message?  Just more of her voice?  Part of me wishes I hadn’t turned the tape on.  My feelings are all a bit jumbled.  I feel strangely stunned as if I’ve lost her again.  But no.  It’s just more grief.  I miss her, plain and simple.  There are no regrets—even though regrets are trying to break in and smash the tenderness that exists between us. 

And it is OK.  I can let her voice go.  I can let go of teaching now if I choose.  I do not need to fear being disloyal to her (or my father, who also was a teacher) if I break away and do something else.  I can fulfill my own dreams.  What matters now is that I remember how quickly it can all end.  How suddenly the tape can stop. 

I rise up to meet the rest of the day.  There is a calm, but steady urgency.  The wheels are turning.  There are people to love, dreams to manifest, voices to listen to, here and now. 

 

 

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog


The Burial

It was oddly industrial.  My brother and I witnessed the burial, and just before it began, the representative from the funeral home warned us kindly that it involved a backhoe. 

A man from the cemetery fastened ropes to the stone box that they placed my mother’s casket in and signaled for the backhoe driver to lift it up.  As the casket rose from the ground it swayed, bumped into the arm of the backhoe, and then, as the machine began driving towards her grave, actually began to spin around.  It was bizarrely comical and tragic all at the same time.  An amusemnet park ride for the dead.  It was definitely cold and industrial. 

As her casket was lowered into the ground, a man stood atop it to steady it and center it into the hole.  And even though I know in my soul that my mom is elsewhere, happy, healthy, young again, the process seemed disrespectful to the shell that was her body.  But I know those performing the inglorious task were trying their best to make it OK, so I cannot fault them. 

After the casket was settled in the ground, my brother and I tossed down two white roses.  And for a brief instant I had the sensation to jump into the hole and make a big dramatic scene.  But I didn’t.  Thank goodness I am slowly learning that I do not have to do everything my thoughts say to do.  It reminded me of the few times I’ve someplace high and the thought comes to jump, and I don’t.  It was sort of like that. 

After we sent the roses down, the backhoe shovel began to slowly, and I will say, almost tenderly heap the heavy, February dirt into the hole.  I think the backhoe operator knew how difficult this was to watch for my brother and I and he really tried to make it as gentle as possible.

As I watched this process I was reminded of a poem my wife Amanda wrote when her dad’s mother died.  At that burial, her dad and the other pallbearers actually lowered the casket down themselves.  The poem she wrote is very moving and so I will, with her permission, end this post with it.

Pallbearer

 

Your brothers and you are lifting

your mother from the back of the hearse

as she once lifted you

from the deep shaft of nothing,

and you are thinking “she has left me behind,”

as you left her behind and learned to live

a story she had not hoped for you. 

 

Around you it is weirdly warm for January,

and you are coatless before the bare trees

and your own grown children watching

like blossoms on dark stalks

beside the waiting hole. 

 

You are holding her body that once held you,

the wet earth smell around you like a blanket,

and carrying her across the muddy graveyard

as she first carried you when you were too small

to walk, too small to bear

something as heavy as your life. 

 

The casket is so heavy,

the thing  inside so light

as you lower her,        

as she lowered you,

gently to your cradle,

covering you with kisses that fell

like flowers on your face.

 

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog


The Viewing


                                                                                                                      

My mother’s voice still rings within me, although there have been times over the last few days when I consciously forgot about it, as awful as that may sound.  I take comfort in knowing, however, that, like the resounding song of God that thrums through me and all creation, her voice is there, fragile, yet wrapped in strong, silver chords.

I hadn’t seen my mother since December.  She was frail and sickly then, but I thought she would live a few more years.  Seeing her body in the open-casket viewing this past Tuesday, was both shocking and reassuring.  For as a result of working through my amends I was able to make peace with my mom a few years ago.  Together we shared a sweet, intimate connection.  We spoke often of saints and matters of faith.  And while she still held on to the sadness that I was the child “who moved away,” she still appreciated that we could talk the way we did—openly and comfortably. 

So there she was—dressed in a red sweater, hands folded across her chest, as if, as the poet, Bill Knott* says, “she was flying into herself.”  Under her hands were her rosary and her prayer books.  And since she loved crossword puzzles and did several every day, my brother tucked the one she would have done on February 18th at her side.  She had on golden earrings, and my brother, a barber, had actually gone into the funeral home the day before and cut her hair.  How tender that image is to me of him cutting her hair.  I am not sure I could have done that.  I told him how grateful I was for his loving act.

She looked peaceful, a bit stern, almost like a royal bird lying there—light as a feather.  She looked healthier, oddly enough, than I had seen her in years.  I kept expecting her to rise up and say, “Hey, what’s going on?”  So many feelings—angry, sad, dramatically tragic, strangely silly, peaceful, happy, all swirled through me as I saw her lying there. 

A kindly old woman from my mom’s church came up to me as I stood there and said, “She looks peaceful.  I sure hope she’s in heaven.”  “Why wouldn’t she be?”  I asked.  “Oh, I’m sorry,” the old woman said, “it’s just that one never knows.” “I do,” I said, “my mom is in heaven right now, singing and dancing with the other angels and saints.  She’s doing whatever she loves to do.”  “Oh dear,” apologized the old woman, “I didn’t know you were her son.  I’m so sorry for your loss.”  And, looking rather embarrassed, she slunk away. 

I turned back to my mother’s beautifully decorated shell and, while my heart aches to be able to speak with her again, bake bread with her again, or just sit with her in silence at the kitchen table again, I know—all dogmatic theology be damned—my mother is in heaven, happy and singing, truly, a bird on a wing.

*The Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog