The Ascension, veterans, the deaths of Gregg Allman and Roger Moore. There was a lot to write about this last weekend in May. However, as we wrap up the month of Mary, I wanted to end May the same way we began it, with motherhood.
You wrote a few months ago about our unique feminine genius, which usually gets an eye roll from me but, you were on to something. In the Church, Saint John Paul 2 went the furthest in defining feminine genius in On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris Dignitatem) in 1988 and in his 1995 Letter to Women. Pope Francis has picked up this particular torch, too. So, what do two older gentlemen know about being a woman? (Cue Shania Twain) I kind of like to think of the Popes as Mel Gibson in the movie What Women Want – sitting with a box of “women’s products”, secretly overhearing the innermost thoughts of women around them and getting a new perspective. I am still trying to get the image of Pope Francis and pantyhose out of my head. Still, God love them for trying to figure it all out. I’m a woman and I don’t really understand what that means.
According to JP2, there are four major elements that comprise the feminine genius. Thankfully, a bathing suit competition isn’t one of them. They are: receptivity (women’s bodies, hearts, and spirits are created to receive new life), sensitivity (recognition of the humanity of each person), generosity (think the Widow’s Mite, hospitality, laughing at your spouse’s jokes), and maternity.
The Church often refers to women as both biological and spiritual mothers. Honestly, when I was trying, unsuccessfully, to conceive for 7 years, I probably would have punched someone who told me that I could be a Spiritual Mother. However, as I mellow with age, I am slowly coming around to the notion that, in many ways, we overemphasize our bodies to our own detriment. When my daughter is spilling purple glitter nail polish on my comforter, spiritual motherhood sounds pretty good. Not only do we not give physical motherhood enough credit in this world, we give even less acknowledgement to those who are our spiritual support. I wish I had thought of this earlier. I could have been a stay-at-home spiritual mom.
Another challenge is finding role models. Especially for young women today, there are so many options where do you start? What does being a spiritual mother even mean? In my former corporate life, I encountered many young women who achieved great success in their careers, hit their mid-forties, single and without issue, and thought, “Have I missed it?” Of course, men don’t feel this way. They have no feminine genius. I don’t think women should be made to feel “lesser than” if they miss out on the traditional marriage and family route. What they need is a guide for how to embrace their maternity in another way.
Enter, me and my two best friends, you and Sharon. We all provide examples of maternity, in completely different ways. Out of the three of us, you are the only biological mom. Our bridge-playing, knitting traditionalist. This is not surprising. You are the only one of us who managed to remain on the East Coast, surrounded by the history you love. You have been extremely receptive to new dog life, too, if not new gopher life. You have raised three admirable young men to adulthood, which is to be applauded. You are constantly on the road, keeping in contact with friends and family – a tremendous support.
Sharon has gone about the whole maternity thing a little differently, which you could tell at one glance. My niece used to mistake her for Barbie, literally. She has never met a Lilly print she didn’t like, stockpiles leopard rugs, and will send me a multiple pictures of palette choices for her new glasses. I am hopeless at this and turn such heady decisions over to my 8-year-old. With no human babies, she is a first-class dog and horse mom. She has trained her dogs, Swiffer and the Bear (really the Ts: Tucker and Tallulah) to be therapy dogs and this has taken her way outside her comfort zone. This entire month they have been at schools, colleges, and nursing homes around her for stress breaks. I did have to ask, “How stressed out can the students at Scottsdale Community College be?” However, I was reminded on Facebook this week of Sharon’s true maternal feminine genius, which came to light in a tribute she wrote to a young man she worked with in her capacity as a therapeutic riding instructor. Teaching a young man in a wheelchair to ride is an achievement but having him dress up as you for Halloween is genius. Young women take note: this is how to be a SMWS (spiritual mom with style).
As with most of my life, a glance in my closet shows that I fall somewhere in the middle of you two dynamos in just about every facet of my life. When my body failed me at being receptive to human life, I was blessed to become an adoptive mom. During that long journey, though, I really learned to appreciate the larger meaning of maternity; just simply being receptive to and supportive of life. I also learned that there is a lot of life out there that needs to be supported at every age and in every circumstance. I learned that true maternity is the basis for receptivity, generosity, and sensitivity.
Of course, our examples only scratch the surface of what maternity can be. I hope that young women learn to see and appreciate the maternity that they each possesses inherently. It is a unique strength. It may not be in the shape or form expected, but it is there. One day, we may all be able to paraphrase Oscar Wilde and say proudly, “I have nothing to declare but my feminine genius.”