MOM Upside-Down is WOW

MOM upside-down is WOW. Or WoWoWoWoWoWoW.

But what DOES that mean, other than sounding awesome?

For me, the WOW is all about mother energy. Mother energy is like sunlight, and it fills the green leaves of our lives with joy, and we are filled with the juice of joy, and all we can do in response is grow. We grow, and it feels right. We grow in confidence and there is no apology. We are soothed in our pains, we are increased in our gladness. We know who we are, because the sunlight has streamed through our green leaves and it has known us more intimately than anything else and we are shining together, we shine together, we shine together, we shine.

That’s what I call WOW. WoWoWoWoWoWoW.

Some of us got this in full measure while growing up. If we had a biological mother, maybe we got it from her. This sunlight. Or maybe it was a father who loved you like this, with maternal affection. Maybe you have two dads. Maybe it is a mom, but she adopted you at some point, or she’s a stepmom. Fact is, mother love is not tied to any specific biology or family structure. No one owns sunlight. Sunlight shines free. And if you got this in full measure growing up, today’s a day you want to stand up and cheer.

Unless you’re grieving. She or he is lost to you somehow, through death or dementia or in some other way.

Or perhaps the one you imprinted as “mother” was not sunlight to you. She was a complex mixture of sun and shadow, or perhaps nothing at all but shadows….

There is a picture on the wall of my older brother’s home, of me smiling, and one of my teeth is missing because I’m six, and my hair is blond, and it’s carefully combed. Unless you are me, you would never know how deeply that boy in the picture felt like an orphan, felt awkward in his life, had gotten used to grim sadness and loneliness. You would never know that he lived a compromised life in which a part of him still hoped to be cherished by his mom but another part of him, a harder part, knew he needed to be practical and needed to acknowledge reality. So he went to school every day, he went through the motions, he allowed himself to get caught up in his life, and gradually, over the years, he lost his feeling for the other part of him that was soft and soaring and never stopped hoping for cherishment and was full of tears, tears like an ocean….

She was all shadow to him. To me.

Mom died in 2007, while I was interviewing for my job here. Lots of grieving, lots of healing since then. I have come to know directly how deeply a child yearns for mother love—perhaps the only mystical experience I have ever had. To realize that an infant’s body may be tiny, but inside that tiny body is an entire universe of need for sunlight because otherwise it is all complete darkness and despair and the feeling that you are being annihilated.

But mother love saves.

I have also come to know how fragile real moms are, as channels of WOW. My mother. Sexual abuse, mental illness, drug addiction. She wanted to stand up in her life but could never see a way to get up off of her knees.

Some of us today just don’t want to cheer. We want to boo. I completely get that. But I don’t want to boo. I feel gratitude that my mom was the door through which my spirit and my body entered this world, and she has been a profound teacher to me. Hard lessons.

Maybe all this is why my colleague the Rev. Becky Edminston-Lange says that “the minister who thinks she or he can deliver the perfect Mothers Day sermon probably needs their medications adjusted.” The issue of mothers is complex. Cheers. Boos. And everything in between.

And moms themselves know it. Do they ever.

From almost 4000 years ago–ancient Egypt–we hear this ode to mothers: “Thou shalt never forget thy mother and what she has done for thee… For She carried thee long beneath her heart as a heavy burden, and after thy months were accomplished she bore thee. Three long years she carried thee upon her shoulder and gave thee her breast to thy mouth, and as thy size increased her heart never once allowed her to say, ‘Why should I do this?’” Clearly a man wrote that. Because, yes, mothers can feel ambivalent about mothering. You get pregnant and it’s like an alien force has taken over your body and it’s upsetting, at the very least. And then you feel guilty for feeling upset, because a “good mother” would never have anything but good feelings about her kid, no matter what.

Above all, mothers know full well the profound need for mother love and how fragile a vessel they are for that.

Listen to this story that comes from blogger Renee Trudeau. “I have a visceral recollection,” she says, “of the day, ten years ago, when my husband returned to work after being home with me and our newborn for two weeks. Sitting in our dark, quiet kitchen, holding my baby boy, listening to the kitchen clock tick, and blanketed in a postpartum haze, I thought, ‘This is it. I’m all alone.’  It was a frightening and devastating realization, and I have never felt the absence of maternal nurturing more than I did then. But then, I heard a comforting voice whisper from within, ‘Renee, it’s time to start mothering yourself.’ That moment was a catalyst for me and the beginning of my journey to learning to both nurture and nourish myself.”

This is why, today, we are turning MOM upside-down to get to the WOW. Whatever your history has been, however full of shadows, whether or not you are yourself a mom, we all need mother love.

Green leaves never stop yearning for the sun.

And while an infant experiences the vast universe inside its skin as devoid of light and cries out to be nourished by a mother’s closeness, as adults, our experience can be totally different. Inside each of us is our own sun. The infant does not know that but we can know that. We can generate mother love for ourselves. We can nourish ourselves.

At first, when I realized this, it made me sad. It just felt like more of having to slog through my lonely life. More of always having to work so hard because all I got from my mom was shadows.

But then I thought about the literal kind of eating. As a baby, your arms just aren’t capable of lifting spoon to mouth. You really do need someone to feed you. But physical growth always takes a baby beyond this to a place where they can feed themselves and so they become responsible for monitoring their own hunger and then satisfying it. It’s a good thing. Who knows us best but ourselves? So if this is the case with our physical hungers, why not our emotional hungers? There is no shame, I said to myself, in taking care of one’s own heart. It’s not a sign of abandonment, in the same way that feeding yourself is not a sign of abandonment.

And so yesterday I was trying to get to my daughter’s college graduation, held at the Georgia Dome. I’m on 285 and running late and it’s Saturday morning, you’d think traffic on a Saturday morning is going to go smoothly, but no, we’re slowing down, now I see the sign, the two left lanes are closed ahead for construction, and now I see another sign saying that the far right lane is closed for construction too, and I need to get to the Avondale Estates Marta station and I’m coming in all the way from Dunwoody, and I’m supposed to meet up with everyone at 11:30am, and I don’t know if I’m going to make it, and my heart is pumping like crazy in my chest because I’m silly like that, and I’m starting to think and say un-pastor-like things to the people in the other cars, and it’s not pretty. But then I stop myself. Suddenly I see how I’m just like a child about to have a temper tantrum. I need some mother love to comfort me, calm me down. I put my hand on my heart, rub it for a while. Take some big deep breaths. It felt good. And the rest of the story is that I had hurried up—risked life and limb–only so that I could be at the Marta station with the family, milling about, waiting an hour for the train to arrive…

Such is life. So it goes.

But it goes better if you know how to tap into the inner sun, experience some of that WOW power for yourself.

Do it yourself. Feed yourself. Learn how to soothe difficult feelings without relying on anything that’s destructive, like alcohol, or shopaholism, or workaholism, or other kinds of addictions that distract you, take away the pain, yes, but they steal from you too. Self-mothering soothes without stealing anything. It’s just sunlight on green leaves…

Other ways of self-soothing come from life coach Cheryl Richardson:

  • You give yourself a nap or put yourself to bed before you feel overtired.
  • You prevent stomachaches (and negative self-talk) by stopping yourself from overeating when you feel full.
  • You take a “time out” when you feel frustrated, angry, or impatient so you can settle down and think clearly.
  • You speak gently to yourself when you’ve made a mistake.
  • You reassure yourself that everything will be okay when you get scared or when you feel lonely.
  • You remind yourself to be kind, not only to others, but also more importantly, to yourself.


Somehow, many of us got the idea that self-criticism is an effective motivator. It was BAD mothering. BAD fathering. So we come to believe that harshness towards ourselves gets the job done. Really?

Fearing failure and losing faith in yourself: YAY!

Maybe you do accomplish great things, but you feel completely miserable. HOORAY!

Self-compassion is the better way.

That’s part of what self-mothering is all about. Another part is learning how to generate good feelings for oneself. It’s about having a life, doing things that give you rich experiences, being OK in yourself no matter what else might be happening in your world.

“In my own worst seasons,” writes Barbara Kingsolver, “I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window.  And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.”

This is what I mean by good self-mothering, in the mode of generating good feelings for yourself. Not waiting for it to be done unto you. Do it yourself.

And, yes, at times we have to force ourselves to look hard at a single glorious thing. There are so many ways to get caught up in suffering. A classic newspaper cartoon suggests one way that families well know. “For Better or for Worse.” In one episode, the first three segments show a mother tossing and turning in her bed, worrying about her ten-year-old son, Michael. She says, “Are we too tough on Michael? Are we not tough enough? Do we give in too often? Too seldom? Do we listen? Do we understand? Maybe I nag too much. Am I a good parent? Where are the answers? How does one know what to do?” In the last segment, there is the child that the mother has been angsting over. He lies in his bed and he’s awake too. Except this is what’s going through his mind: “The trouble with grown-ups is they think they know everything.”

FACT! Water can be chemically synthesized by burning rocket fuel!

FACT! Water is one of the primary ingredients in herbicides and pesticides.

FACT! Over consumption of water can cause excessive sweating, urination and even death.

FACT! Water is the leading cause of drowning.

FACT! 100 percent of all serial killers, rapist and drug dealers have admitted to drinking water.

FACT! 100 percent of all people exposed to water will die.

What is your focus today? Because of your focus, do you make a perfectly innocent thing like water guilty?

But it can be otherwise. Just as Barbara Kingsolver says, “Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.” We can do that too. Send yourself outside to play in the fresh air and sunshine on a regular basis. Give yourself regular treats like an afternoon movie or a game with friends. Pay attention to what inspires your enthusiasm and generates vitality, and do more of that.

Play in the water, rather than blame it.

Whatever your history has been, however full of shadows, whether or not you are yourself a mom, we all need mother love. We all need to feel soothed in our pains and increased in our gladness. And we can do it ourselves.

Sunlight streaming through our green leaves.

Sunlight, that knows us more intimately than anything else.

We shine together, we shine together, we shine together, we shine.