Sunday, May 11, 2014

Kristen: Some 19th Century Thoughts on Mothering...

Let me begin this post by saying that I do not have children. While I have spent numerous hours babysitting younger siblings/cousins, changing diapers, and chasing around said hooligans, my experience as a mother is...non-existent. Sometimes my students accidentally call me "Mom," but that's about it.
What did you call me?

With that said, my recent travels into the 19th century ladies' magazine universe has unearthed a wealth of knowledge that must be saved. In honor of Mother's Day, I will share this research!

Godey's Ladies' Book/Leslie's magazine are a wealth of knowledge, especially for mothers. I could imagine being a young mother then, awash with the good intentions of family and expectations of nurturing a healthy child. The text validates those fears, soothing with stories of successful mothers and the fruits of their labor. Death seems to loom at the edge of the pages, with an emphasis on learning to deal with the loss of a child.
Leslie's, December 1862 

THE MOTHER'S FIRST GRIEF. She sits beside the cradle And her tears are streaming fast, For she sees the present only, While she thinks of all the past— Of the days so full of gladness, When her firstborn's answering kiss Thrilled her soul with such a rapture That it knew no other bliss. O those happy, happy moments, They but deepen her despair; For she bends above the cradle, And her baby is not there. 

There are words of comfort spoken, And the leaden-clouds of grief Wear the smiling bow of promise, And she feels a sad relief; But her wavering thoughts will wander, Till they settle on the scene Of the dark and silent chamber, And of all that might have been; For a little vacant garment, Or a shining tress of hair, Tells her heart, in tones of anguish, That her baby is not there. 

She sits beside the cradle, But her tears no longer flow; For she sees a blessed vision,    And forgets all earthly woe. Saintly eyes look down upon her, And the Voice that hushed the sea Stills her spirit with the whisper, “Suffer them to come to Me.” And while her soul is lifted On the soaring wings of prayer, Heaven's crystal gates swing inward, And she sees her baby there.
If I was a young mother, I could imagine mixed emotions from such words. And yet, how many women lost children? It must have been a small comfort to read them if a woman had experienced the loss, that she is not alone in her grief. Thus is one of the great perils of Motherhood! Yet Godey's does offer more than sadness and fear in terms of children.

Yes, the Nursery Department offers all the beauteous little bits of clothing and novelty to decorate any child! The time it must have taken for such little endeavors; the work of these women never ceases to amaze me. Having watched Becky stitch up a similar baptismal gown, I can only imagine the hours spent on each piece! Godey's remains sentimental on such matters of clothing, offering a poem to an article that even I gush about for children:
Godey's, April 1859

      OH, those little, those little blue shoes!
      Those shoes that no little feet use!
     Oh, the price were high
      That those shoes would buy,
     Those little blue unused shoes!
      For they hold the small shape of feet
      That no more their mother's eyes meet,
     That, by God's good will,
      Years since grew still,
     And ceased from their totter so sweet!
      And oh, since that baby slept,
      So hush'd, how the mother has kept,
     With a tearful pleasure,
      That little dear treasure,
     And o'er them thought and wept!
      For they mind her, forevermore,
      Of a patter along the floor,
     And blue eyes she sees
      Look up from her knees,
     With the look that in life they wore,
      As they lie before her there,
      There babbles from chair to chair
     A little sweet face,
      That's a gleam in the place,
     With its little gold curls of hair.
      Then, oh, wonder not that her heart
      From all else would rather part
     Than those tiny blue shoes,
      That no little feet us
And whose sight makes such fond tears start.

I imagine that one of the greatest triumphs as a mother is for the child to grow healthy and happy out of those little baby shoes. But what after that? Godey's addresses her fears, sympathizing with the empty-nesters. 

                                                                    Godey's, May 1864


      On of the greatest trials In a mother's life Is to give up her first-born to the caresses of another; the parting with one over whom she has watched with such anxiety and solicitude from the day he first nestled in her bosom. How that fond mother's heart swells with emotion as she witnesses her son, her almost idol take the vows that bind him to another; no more her own, and hers only! Is it any wonder that her heart burns with sorrow, when she knows that another must share with him his smiles and his tears; that another must be his confidante; that another must take the first place in that heart where she, before, reigned supreme?
      We cannot blame her that she weeps and mourns, and that she has misgivings as to her idol's future; she knows that there is adversity as well as prosperity; that her son has taken upon himself a great responsibility; yet she tries hard to make herself believe that all will surely be well, and smiles through her tears as she kisses her son and new-made daughter. Thus wavers that fond, loving heart between hope and fear as to the future happiness of her first-born, in this, his most important step in life.
      The congratulations are over; the mother, as in some strange, sad dream, has bidden them both— her darling and his bride- “good-by,” and the carriage containing them rattles away to convey them to the cars, in which they are to commence their wedding tour. A mother's blessing goes with them. She returns, sorrowful and dejected, to her now desolate home, where his cheery voice and his elastic footstep will be no longer heard, except when, at long intervals, he visits his childhood's home. She prays for their happiness, and— these are a mother's prayers.

Even today mothers cry about these moments, suffering a happy loss. I'm told that dropping a child off at college creates hours of tears, and I've seen so many mothers tear up at a wedding. Though I do think daughters and sons leave their parents differently. A daughter seeks her mother for so much after she leaves home, though possibly not for fashion advice!

After my bits of research, I have discovered...that I still know very little about mothering. I have gained more respect for the trials and triumphs of mothers, in a context I had not yet imagined. While my time in that high office has not yet occurred, I look forward to all the joys that it will one day bring. Happy Mother's Day to all of you toiling ladies, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, whatever. Your nourishing role is a sacred one!

And by the way, I totally love it when my students accidentally call me Mom...


1 comment:

  1. Happy Mother's day (a few years early!) Kristen.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...