The Rumi quote, “The beauty you see in me is a reflection of you,” appeared in one of my social media feeds, and it gave me pause to remember the beauty of this quote and further contemplate its meaning.
It wasn’t long after I came across this when I experienced a moment that perfectly illustrated this idea. We often go to the zoo that is less than thirty minutes away, and I find the weekday walk a good way to get all of us out of the house and into the fresh air.
A week or so ago I plopped our little crew down on a bench after the giraffe exhibit. I nursed the baby and shared fresh cherries with Toddler Girl. During this resting phase, I saw another woman whom I feel compelled to reach out to—so here it is.
Dear Beautiful Mama,
I had a false sense of invisibility as I sat on the bench watching the other zoo-goers pass us by. My six-month-old was nursing with a lot of… pizazz, let’s call it. My toddler was really loving the juicy, runny cherries we had just picked up from the market, and she devoured them with the messy nature of a two year old. I was grateful to be sitting, mostly. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything above and beyond… in fact, maybe I felt a little bit lazy, a little bit of a cop out, because I was just letting my kids meander through a zoo so I could avoid the monotony of dishes and housework at home. I wasn’t there to explicitly enrich my kids’ lives—I wanted to wear my two year old out GOOD so that I could get a decent night’s sleep. Learning about monkeys or enjoying the up-close-and-personal magic of peacocks? That’s just a bonus, really.
So when you walked by us and said, “Good job, Mama,” I didn’t realize you were talking to me at first. What was I doing that was such a good job? I was sitting on a bench with my fat rolls exposed as my six month old writhed about like a slightly crazed imp. My toddler was staining her dress, and I could already tell I wasn’t going to be exerting myself over those stains to make them imperceptible the next time she wore the dress.
No, I didn’t realize you were talking to me—and really, I was thinking of you, what a good job you were doing. It was obvious how you were an amazing leader and teacher of these children. You were engaging the tweens and bigger kids with fun but challenging trivia questions. You guided them through the exhibit incorporating storytelling and fact-sharing, with an infectious enthusiasm that was obviously making the day a great one for your kids.
Maybe these kids are your nieces and nephews. Maybe one or more are your own and some belong to friends or family. I don’t know—maybe you are a mother-spirit and none of these are your biological offspring. it doesn’t matter. It was so apparent that these kids love you, and that was a strikingly beautiful thing to witness.
Your kind spirit was a magnetic field of energy around you. I was drawn to your maternal grace and absolute talent for teaching and lifting up these children. And I felt blessed to see you, to witness your maternal magic.
So when you looked at me and said, “Good job, Mama,” I didn’t understand.
But then I did. Yeah, I’m a mother with maternal magic, too, sure. Aren’t we all? But we downplay ourselves and take it for granted. We feel we aren’t enough, or that we are not doing enough. We put ourselves down and minimize the amazing stuff we do. We complain about being taken for granted, but we don’t even offer ourselves the love and respect we deserve.
I was watching you, Mama, and admiring the way you mothered. I was awestruck by the way you led and guided, entertained and taught—and you were, perhaps, feeling the same about the mom who was unabashedly nursing her flailing infant and sharing cherries with her toddler. Maybe you were, for whatever reason, impressed by my conversation about the fighting, pooping, showering river hogs. Maybe you really admired the way I made fart jokes with my two year old so her red-stained smile smooshed against my cheek and stained my sweaty face. Maybe you really thought I was being a patient, kind mama when I hugged her tight and made her laugh with some silly impression of a farting pig. Maybe you mistook my clumsy failure to hide my sagging boob and exposed nipple as an act of bold bravery: I am mother, here me roar.
But I’m not a magical mother, right? I’m too lazy to pump and bother with bottles, let’s be honest. I’m a total wimp and hate the heat, so I’ll use about any excuse to sit in the shade and eat. And making my toddler laugh with fart jokes is… well, it is the exact level of accomplishment that it sounds, I suppose.
So what of it?
Indeed. The magic and beauty I saw in you let me gift myself the truth: this was the beauty you saw in me. Maybe you didn’t feel beautiful or commanding in that moment. Maybe you were worrying about something else or secretly dreading the next leg of the hike through the mountainous zoo. Maybe your patience was paper-thin—or maybe not. Either way, it wouldn’t matter.
We get so much right, every day. Our efforts, our actions—our priorities and goals are made because of our families. We build our lives for the lives of others, and it is enough. It is more than enough. To let go of the criticisms we punish ourselves with would be the greatest gift of all—a gift we certainly deserve.
If I could look at myself the way I looked at you—and if you could look at yourself as you looked at me—I’m sure our lives would begin to feel so much better. To know that we are awesome, we are all Good Job, Mamas.
Blessings and love,