As crisp morning air chills our toes, still firmly in flip flops, I know that fall is on the doorstep of our beach-front Maine rental. Summer is coming to a close.
The husbands have gone home. I see the mothers – some of our old childhood friends – still carrying beach bags, still watching their kids wave jump, still building sand castles and I see them growing somewhat tired after a summer full of meal and activity planning.
This week, in the local corner store, I observed a woman in a large beach hat, watching a Dad, with two little girls. The dad wiped their nose and shared a chocolate ice cream cone with them.
“You are such a good dad,” she finally said as we lined up to pay the cashier. “I can tell.” I looked at the father with a groceries in hand and at his kids. Their tanned faces were smudged with ice cream. They even looked a bit dirty, wind swept and sandy.
As I stood in line with my own perfectly clean and behaved boys, I wondered what a woman has to do to get a perfect stranger to inform her in the corner store that she is a good mom. Perhaps, an open heart surgery in aisle 3 or dislodge a gobstopper from a child’s throat. Good mothering is something that is expected. It usually goes unobserved by anyone except on mother’s day, celebrations or birthdays maybe. Fathers, in our culture, are simply held at lower standards than mothers.
So, I’d like to say to all mothers who spend many hours, without husbands, parenting: I know your daily work, tedious chores and negotiations you put into rearing your child. I know the invisible tasks of mothering. However – I’d also like to say this – as the husbands of most of the moms have ‘left the beach’ – there is another kind of intimacy in the conversations you may have with your children as they grow, in which you confess to your own failings, your fears, your mistakes, your struggles – and impart to them the kind of person you hope they will be. This intimacy over years, this contact with their bodies as you explain the difference between a hive and a rash or place the hundredth bandaid on their knee caps, is a gift.
There is luxury of ‘staying behind’ to cook the last meals of summer, clean the sheets again, sweep up the crumbs on the floor and drive the long trip home alone as the kids fight for the ear phones in the back seat. You are the ones who get to watch the last sunset, watch your kids surf the last wave, perfect the dive into the pool and get hit by the last salty wave that splashes over the break wall. These moments will stay with you forever. These are life’s gifts. This is our reward. And we don’t need anyone point it out to us for us in the grocery store.
Photo: Beth Hayhurst.
Model: Singer Songwriter Tara McLean.