The Habit of a Mother Who Changes The World
Houses may be bought, built, or borrowed.
But homes can only be made.
And only with bits of ourselves.
The kids and I sit together close in a house with dishes on the counter and read about painters and artists and look at a flock of ducks, preened and nestled, a painting, oil on canvas.
The children press in close for a better look at the open book, at Alexander Koester’s “Ducks“, and I read aloud the caption under the painting.
“Mother ducks pick feathers from their chests to line their nests.”
I look around at the house. I pause.
And the children gaze thoughtfully at a clutch of plump white, blizzard of feathers fallen down.
But it’s those words that mesmerize me: “Mother ducks pick feathers from their chests, to line their nests.”
I lay my hand on the page, on a duck breast puffed, mother plunging beak in deep, and I say it out loud: “How else did you think nests were lined?”
That’s what I thought.
With feathers discarded, the molted, the not-so-necessary feathers.
I thought mother ducks picked feathers up from what was laying about, scraps, lining nests with what simply could be mustered after the fact.
But no. No, a mother duck plucks each feather out from the heart of her bosom.
She lines the nest with bits of herself — the best of herself.
A mother cups her brood not with leftovers — but with her own sacrifice.
The kids pull at the corner of the page, anxious to see the next painting.
Reluctantly, I turn the page. But for weeks, I’m the one turned.
For weeks, part of me lives among Koester’s ducks.
I scrub out the arches of muffin tins after breakfast on a misty morning, the clock ticking insufferably loud in my ears, time running down.
Children need books and learning, and I’m tuned for the expected chime of the doorbell, a service personnel’s scheduled visit.
And the words rise like this lava, “I don’t have time for this! No muffins tomorrow morning!”
It’s like I can feel it.
Like I can feel this tugging.
The service man meets me with muffin tins still in the sink. He meets happy kids. Could I meet needs with a bit more of me?
There are times, too many, when they call, “Read me a story?” “Wanna play a game with me?” “Can you come help me?”
And this mother refuses to pluck.
Something, some task, someone (me?), rates as more pressing, more important. I deem our nest acceptable just as it is. I don’t want to sacrifice more of me.
Then it comes: the pecking, the scratching, the squawking. When the feather lining of the nest wears thin, the nest chafes hard. We feel it. We hurt. Life gets hard.
Nests need feathers deep.
Someone must pluck.
When will I learn: The down we sacrifice from ourselves — this is what settles and soothes.
Scraps won’t suffice.
Not mere snippets of time, leftover me, a trinket, a diversion, tossed.
Mother ducks don’t line nests with feathers, dirty and trampled, the molted and unnecessary. Why would I? Nests need feathers fresh, warm with mother’s life.
The pain of the plucking can linger long.
The parts of oneself sacrificed, this can hurt.
But was it really sacrifice? Or was my skin just too tender? It’s done, it was necessary, and it was for something better.
Some nights, when all sleep, I feel along the hidden bald patches.
Come evening, I ask a boy to vacuum up popcorn and paper remnants and bits of the day.
Dinner needs making, laundry needs rescuing, math needs marking. My head aches. Popcorn crunches under the feet.
The boy hauls the vacuum cleaner out of the front closet. I should have noticed how his eyes had this glint. He plugs in the machine and it grumbles loud and he recalibrates that vacuum cleaner —- to fire socks.
He’s firing sock cannons across the kitchen.
His brothers dive in. Socks fly. Brothers howl and whip and it gets loud.
Caught in the cross-fire with a pot in hand — a mother can either erupt. Or Pluck.
This old mother, she tosses the pot and chases down future men, wrestles them down and pins them in tickles. It feels good, wild and alive.
We warm here in laughter.
Us close, one atop the other, nesting down into sacrifices, soft and small, a solace.
Night descends. Kids crawl into beds. I read stories, stroke hair, say prayers.
Prayers to Him who plucked hard from His own heart.
A sacrifice, staggering and true, for love of His very own.
We learn love from His laid down.
Tired heads nestle into pillows, into these pillows of down.
We rest on all these feathers plucked…
edited from the archives
This post is part of The 1000 Moms Project:
Oh, do read the posts below for all the excitement about The 1000 Moms Project!
Thank your Mom for her sacrifice?
I wrote mine for my mama here: What all the Mothers Need to Know
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The 1000 Moms Project is about 1000 people standing up and thanking their mom publicly (what mom doesn’t want a gift like this for Mother’s Day?) — and we’ll match your honoring of mothers by funding a Maternity/Child Survival Program in Haiti for a whole year. (You can read all about it here)
Thank your mother publicly — & we’ll join you in honoring her by helping a Haitian mother in need!
It’s a way of passing on the loving legacy of your Mama — her sacrificial love going on and on and on
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