For my only mother, Lois Genevieve Keaton Halstead,
my only daughter, Katelyn Genevieve Kimmons,
and my only son, Christopher Stenhouse Kimmons—
By Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 10, 1981, I had been a mother for 42 days, enough time to know I was in for a wild ride as co-guardian and trainer for an entity I could already see was going to challenge much of what I thought about myself and motherhood. Katelyn Genevieve came with a set of well defined eyebrows, just like her Grandmother Genevieve’s. She seemed to have a set of opinions she was only waiting for words to express. She had my mother’s name, but as a baby, she more resembled my mother-in-law, Nancy Alexander Kimmons, our No Nonsense Nana, whose level gaze could be as fierce as my newborn’s. The newly arrived Katelyn Genevieve Kimmons met little resistance in taking me prisoner.
I grew up listening to my mother’s stories of her own growing up with a childlike parent who became a mother in 1927 at the age of seventeen. Genevieve was a mother first at the age of twenty, and again at the age of twenty-two, when I was born. She was the mom who let the neighborhood kids write on our walls with crayons before she repapered (only later to discover that the crayon would bled through), who only laughed when we turned the house upside down playing ghost in the twilight while she visited a next-door neighbor, who genuinely loved and appreciated the lively wit of the boy down the street who painted his toenails green and wore beachcomber pants. That boy had a reputation for being, you know, strange, but he was not strange to my mom. She just loved him. She enjoyed his company. And years later, when he came by to visit with his partner, she welcomed his friend with open arms, even though if you had asked her to quote what the Bible says about homosexual men, she probably could have.
My stay-at-home mother raised me to be a career woman, so I was primed and ready in the late Sixties when the Women’s Liberation Movement launched into overdrive. She was a mother a total of six times before she was finished. I helped diaper, feed, and look after the two boys who came nine and ten years after me, and in September of my senior year in high school, visited my mom in the hospital to see my newborn sister. I was a junior in college when her last boy was born, so I was gone by the time he was growing up. As a young woman, I thought my mother had done our family’s share of populating the planet. I decided I would never have children.
Then I was presented with The Choice. I chose the wild ride. Five years later, finding I had not had my fill of babies, I proposed to the man who by then had become my husband that we go for another. Presto. In nine months, Christopher Stenhouse Kimmons made his entrance. We liked to joke that we only had him because we needed to balance the kitchen table settings. He was as laid back at the moment of birth as his sister had been intense, relaxing in my arms in his first five minutes, content to be here.
At the time I birthed my first child, a friend was birthing her first published novel. When I birthed my second, there was little time to think about anything else besides managing my family, including a little girl who never knew any authority—an exercise in leading from behind—and holding down a job that demanded daily creativity and energy. The childcare choices for my infant were terribly limited, proved horrifically disappointing for my toddler, evened out in a well-run day care center, and finally came back to me when I began working from home.
I sometimes remember the story of the great-grandmother I never knew whose toddler died in the care of an older child one summer day while she worked in the garden. And of the grandmother I did know whose toddler died of cholera many years before I was born. The mothers I have known have always worked, mostly for no pay at all, much less for equal pay at an office.
I thought I was ready for the challenges of child rearing by the time I was thirty-one. What I didn’t know then was how much the process of parenting would change me. As Anna Jarvis, the complicated Appalachian woman who invented Mother’s Day predicted, no card’s pretty verse can sum up the experience, no token gift can come close to assuaging the sacrifices a conscientious mother makes for the children she bears. Anna Jarvis never wanted Mother’s Day to become yet another opportunity for commerce. She hoped it would be a solemn occasion for contemplating what women do to make life better. I don’t think it occurred to her that life ever would be easier.
My children have taught me at least as much as I ever taught them, and in most respects, what really has happened is that we have learned together as we have forged into the unknown. We’re still learning, together, even though we live with many miles between us. I still infuriate and mystify my own mother, now 85. She wonders how I can love her and not agree. I’m thankful that, to this day, she demonstrates unconditional love, forgiveness, and true acceptance and appreciation for people the mainstream often rejects as strange. How she can listen on the radio to haranguing preachers who yell about abomination, I don’t know.
I’m thankful for the lesbian woman in Chicago who has befriended Christopher, feeding him, providing work for him, and generally standing in for me as he pursues the life of a professional musician.
My mother’s loving spirit will ride with Katelyn Genevieve Kimmons June 3-9, when she bicycles several hundred miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money to end AIDS.
Mostly, I’m thankful for a mother who clings to the principle of love that allows us human beings to bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things. Because I’ve seen wonderful results from her example, I also cling, however imperfectly, to that same principle.