When the snowball bushes bloom in May, I am once again a 5-year-old in long brown braids and a gingham dress. Tucked away in my childhood backyard, I seek the shelter of the flowering bush. Buds explode in a riot of white, each orb faintly tinged with apple green. I crawl under its benevolent branches, spread a blanket, and find the perfect shelter for my doll. She fusses a little, so I hold her close to my heart. I sway and sing, sooth and whisper; my doll falls asleep, pacified beneath the generous branches of the snowball bush.
In this vibrant, blossoming month that so fittingly celebrates motherhood, I want to take a few moments to expand the traditional definition, to look at the word “mother,” not as a noun, but as a verb. When I was 5, I was not a noun, “mother,” but I knew how to embrace the action of mothering; I knew how to employ some very basic tools in order to “mother,” even if I was simply singing to and swaying with a doll.
Mothering is nurturing, giving, sacrificing. By one definition, it is the act of “bringing forth.” Guess what? This means you don’t have to be a mother in order to mother. Yet even if we find the traditional act of “nurturing” to feel foreign or uncomfortable, we all have special ways in which we can “bring forth” life in those around us, ways that branch out beyond the traditional. Author Shannan Martin writes,
We are life givers, each of us, in ways both wild and vast . . . . Mothering is the thing all women do, with the small and big kids under our care, the neighbor boys up the street, our students, our grown nieces . . . . none of us is off the hook here. Humanity is crying out to be nurtured.
If humanity is crying out to be nurtured—and I believe it is—we all have a job to do. This month, let’s seek out ways to mother, both at home and in our community.