Published on January 29th, 2015 | by Ezra Stone1
Jesus, Mommy Culture, and Advent by KRISTEN STONE
hood is sacred, put
your money where your mouth is. Only
then can you expect the coming
down to the wrecked & shimmering earth
of that miracle you sing
about, the day
when every child is a holy birth.
(Margaret Atwood, “Christmas Carols”)
It’s January, now, but I’m still thinking about Advent, the Christian time of waiting—and the first Christmas I spent as a mother.
[The year before, at Advent, I was waiting. I was waiting to believe in God and waiting to be a mother. I thought I was waiting for a baby. I prayed and cried through the Christmas service, the Latin songs that as a girl I sang at my Christian school in my neat little uniform.
Please, please, let me believe.
Please, please make me a mother.
The Advent season in the Christian year is for waiting and hoping, longing for the world to come, seeing the light in the darkness. I was weeping, longing for a baby. My sperm donor had just told me that he couldn’t, any longer, try to help me make a baby. He was sick and didn’t know if that affected his sperm count.]
Now, my partner and I are foster parents, and we have a little boy living with us. For now at least, we are someone’s mothers. With him, we cut down a Christmas tree. With him, we light candles. We honor a half-assed idea of Santa and tell, clumsily, the manger story.
Again I sob through the Christmas service, “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World,” two little girls with their furry brown hair and their hands plucking nervously at their velvet dresses as they share the microphone for a single verse, their bell-thin voices high and lovely. The boy squirms on my lap, stroking my arms heavily.
I think about grace and how, for me, the point of the Christmas story is to lift up the abject, the low and the powerless and to make a world of love, that all mothers are holy mothers, that all families are blessed families. I can think of nothing more feminist, more radical, than this.
The shimmering mother, broken in the darkness, weeping and bleeding in straw.
At a workshop on trauma an esteemed neuroscientist shows a video of a stressed mother mouse scrambling for nesting materials. She has less time to lick her pups than the mother mouse who has plenty of nesting materials. My heart races for the time-lapse mouse, now giant on the screen. The metaphor is supposed to be obvious. She wants to lick her pups, the esteemed neuroscientist stresses. She wants to be a good mom.
Not all mothers—all of us—can do that, wear our babies and stay home with them, gazing lovingly into their eyes, engineering sensory play and the right musical tones to stimulate their brains, in the hormonal afterglow of new (biological) motherhood.
The boy who lives with us now came three months ago. He’s five and a half. We sit in his room each night when he falls asleep. My partner and I lean against the door, offering containment but not touch.
Now I got two moms, he says, and I see his small hand waving like a flag in the dark, the thumb holding down, with effort, his ring finger and pinky. No, I got five moms. The other fingers pop back up. He catalogs his moms, then he catalogs the dogs he’s had, then he tells us what he did for Christmas last year, with a different family, then he falls asleep.
My faith and, I hope, my politics, are about acknowledging all the holy mothers, holding them in my heart, in my prayers, in the actions I take to be a good ally, a good mom, a writer and advocate and educator. Our boy’s first mom. His first three moms.
For my job, I lead a support group at a residential program for teenagers. So, so many of them are in trouble for assaulting a parent—usually a parent who hit them first, a parent who’s been hitting them their whole life.
My mom’s been beating me my whole life.
When I finally hit back she got me put here.
And the story gets harder to hold, harder to see all at once.
And I think about prevention, the work that I do as a domestic violence educator—the stupid yet stirring metaphor of building a bridge upstream so people stop falling in the fucking river—how daunting it seems when I am so sad and broken myself.
As I write this, a Facebook friend posts an article from some hippie magazine called “How Toxins Are Changing Childhood” and I think, I would drink flame retardant every day to take away the terrible things that have happened to our boy.
And I’m not even a real Christian but I’d like to believe in a faith that raises up the least of these, the least of us, mothers and babies, mothers with broken strollers dragging toddlers along a busy road with no sidewalk because that’s where the cheapest housing is, in the part of town near the highway.
At the heart of the Christmas story is a mom who got to be holy, by chance. She didn’t work for it, she wasn’t powerful, she wasn’t married. She was kind of homeless, or unstably housed, or insufficiently housed, or “doubled up with relatives because you do not have a permanent home of your own,” as we might say in social services. She hadn’t done the work that we demand a “good mom” do to make the right individual choices to maximize outcomes for her own individual baby, she didn’t have the social capital or social support that makes motherhood less impossible (although it is never easy). She didn’t plan her baby, she hadn’t waited until she had a degree and a good job and a husband.
And yet she was holy, her baby was holy—and through this story, as I read it at least, as a queer feminist foster mom—we can and must see each other as holy, not just the good moms, not just the moms who do things our way, but all us, all our babies, tiny and grown.