Mary Beth Writes

This was first published May 10, 2002

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking with our kids about the best and worst jobs we have had. I said picking asparagus was pretty boring. My husband didn't like the day he was a taxi driver. We both love writing when it goes well, we get a lot done, people tell us what clever people we are, and we earn lots of money from it. These aspects of writing come together about once a, well … I'm sure it's right around the corner.

My daughter prodded, "Come on, Mom. What's the best job of your life?"

I swear, I had to think about this for a while. Finally, it dawned on me that the job I've loved most fiercely is...

"I have loved being a mom."

Yup. My kids all chorused, "Aww.."

They assume the reason I like this job is because they are so perfect and lovable. To that I say, with many other mothers across this county, "Gah!"

Being a mother is work about which any sane woman is ambivalent. The pay is lousy -- I don't care how many hugs a toddler gives you; a paycheck is also immensely satisfying. That sleep-deprived, on-call, 24/7 stuff? Well, if you've done it, you know why thugs use it for torture. And then there's the oceans of hours spent sorting laundry, while half-listening to a rambling and witless preschooler, while figuring out what to cook for dinner, while noticing the dog's dish is empty and the baby's diaper is full.

It's so easy to make fun of this career. Any woman who has nursed a tiny-nosed kid through a big cold is fully qualified to write either comedy or tragedy.

But that's not the whole story. There are subtle and more curious layers of life that a person gets to see when they take on this business of raising children. I think it's something like riding rubber rafts through the Grand Canyon. You don't have to do it. It's wildly expensive. You'll wear yourself out being both hyper-alert and terrified as you careen through the untamed white water even though much of success of the trip is a matter of routine good luck.

But if you do it you get to see the beauty and mystery that still rest in the crevices of creation. You see before your eyes the stratum from which this very earth was built.

Parenting teaches us love without condition. It's a kind of vulnerability we never dreamed existed. When my first baby was six months old she choked extra hard on a piece of dust. I didn't have a car so in seconds flat I was banging on the door of a neighbor I'd never met who was Jamaican who corralled his friend who was visiting him right then who was Serbian. (I loved living in Chicago.) That man raced my child and me to an emergency room. She was pink again within minutes. I'm not sure if I've recovered yet.

Before we had kids so many of us were run-of-the-mill shy and unconfident women. Becoming mothers taught us that on behalf of our kids we will dare to look foolish, be brazen, and fake a confidence that will fool many.

Maybe we still don't know how to fix our hair, but boy, we know how to call school principals. We have gone nose to nose with coaches. We have addressed committees, argued with bus drivers, pulled small children from escalators in slashing moods. We discovered amazing strengths in ourselves and no one was more surprised than we were.

Being a mother is also like going on a twenty-year weekend retreat. You know those mini conferences that invite us to "delve our spiritual depths," explore our weaknesses, celebrate our strengths?

Well, when you stand there shaking with rage at a little kid while telling them things like "lighten up", "be less stubborn", and "control your anger" -- you have met the enemy and it isn't the four-year old. Any neurosis you can't name, figure out, and try to overcome is a neurosis you'll likely be passing on to those children you love so dearly. It's scary to deal with this. It's even scarier not to.

This one really surprised me. Being a mother taught me where peace on earth begins.

When the kids were little they'd often fight. When the situation seemed to warrant it I’d haul the mini perps to the kitchen one by one, make them sit on little plastic chairs, and we'd deal. "Okay, tell me your part of the story."

The kid would meander through some cockamamie story that I'd barely understand. I'd nod my head, try to figure out what they were lisping, wait till they wound down. Then the next kid would get a turn.

By then, even if I did have some equitable solution, they rarely needed it. They were back at play. I learned from raising kids that peace doesn't begin in solutions, peace finds roots in stories told and heard. I am still moved by this.

Happy Mother's Day to all the women and all the men who have given their very best selves to their children. Wasn't it astonishing when we understood that our very best selves were what we might get back?


FYI: I found some of my mothers' day columns from when I wrote weekly newspaper columns in Racine. I'm going to reprint some of them this week since we are at the letter M. 



I love this, Mary Beth! Thank you for saying what many of us feel in our hearts.
Mary Beth's picture


The best. Patricia

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A-Z M is for Aunts


Reprint of old column from 5/22/2004 

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who raised us! 

This was my all-time favorite moment from the "Friends" TV show. It's a few hours after the birth of Ross's son (not with Rachel) and all the friends are meeting the baby for the first time. Monica, Ross's sister, holds her newborn nephew tenderly, tears in her eyes with awe for this new life in her family.

Dark River

The photo is the Platte River in Nebraska. This post was a newspaper column for the Racine Journal Times in 2003.


Dark River

"I think us here to wonder."  (From "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.)

The day was one of those glorious October days when the sun blazed through gold and crimson trees; the incense of burning leaves perfumed the air. It seemed a shame to go inside simply because night was coming on.

"Let's take the canoe out on the river tonight."

Where Heritage is Found

Last week I spoke with a woman who  is working to support MayaWorks.

I sent her this writing I did back in 2006.


I stayed several days with the Sepet family, a very cash-poor Maya family that lives in the altiplano, the mountains of Guatemala.  These people were so intelligent, gracious, strong, and hospitable.  

This adventure happened during my second day with them.

Quarantine Dairy #669 A Rerun


I have a lot of projects to get through today. I wrote this in 2006 when I worked at Target for six months. I still like it.


This week I saw an inspiring sight.  I saw a little kid completely lost in his imagination. 

Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


When History isn't in Museums

I stayed twice for several days with a Maya family in Guatemala’s altiplano. This adventure happened during my second day of my second stay with them.

Senor Jorge, the 50ish father of the family, asked if I would like to take a walk to see a Mayan antiquity. It took a minute to understand his question since my high school Spanish was a long time ago.

Yes, I would!

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