Today, we have created a blog celebrating Mother’s Day…using a poem! This is one of my all-time favorite poems, by Billy Collins, that brings a tear to my eye whenever I read it. In a touching and humorous poem, Collins identifies something many children have thought at some point: that we can “repay” our mothers in some way for all that they do for us. Of course, the “worn truth” is that this is impossible. I love how all the selfless, loving acts of motherhood are answered with, “yes, I know, here’s a lanyard.” It’s often said that parenting is a thankless job, and the naivete of children when it comes to gratitude does not help! I hope you enjoy and think about selfless love as you read this poem.
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly-
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-clothes on my forehead,
and then led me out into the air light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift – not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-toned lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
For our younger readers, here are three picture books that teach about selfless love and empathy:
- Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña: CJ and his grandmother take a city bus to a soup kitchen. Along the way, CJ’s grandmother teaches him important life lessons.
- Come With Me by Holly McGhee: A little girl who is frightened by the news asks her mom and dad what she can do to change the world. Each parent says, “Come with me,” and takes her out to experience their diverse neighborhood. When she goes out to walk the dog, she invites neighbors to join her.
- Something Beautiful by Sharon Wyeth: A young girl searches her neighborhood for something beautiful. Each person she encounters shares the beauty they’ve found in everyday life.