I saw my niece Jenny this morning at her usual spot in a corner at Break Espresso, where she was hunkered over her laptop working away on one of her consulting projects. One morning a week, she steals a bit of time away from the kids to get a bunch of work done that would take much longer to accomplish at home, where she would be constantly attending to the various needs and demands of her children, Will and Iris. On this day, the baby sitter had canceled so Dad was staying home with the kids to accommodate Jenny's need for some focused work time.
Things are different these days in the lives of families. It sometimes seems like only yesterday that I was in the audience for one of Jenny's first piano recitals. And it was only a few years ago that she and husband Winsor were a young couple intent on professional careers and finding ways to squeeze in time for as much hiking, mountain climbing, fishing and river running as they could. Now, they have a mortgage, demanding work responsibilities and two beautiful kids - a lot to balance as they navigate the ever-increasing complexity of our changing world.
I chatted with Jenny for just a moment and then left her to her work. I know that every minute counts for her when she manages to get some time alone.
One thing that hasn't changed, you see, is that in addition to everything else in the life of a young, working mother, the business of motherhood is still a full-time job. What Jenny may not have thought about much, I suspect, is that this motherhood business is going to last for the rest of her days. No, she may not be worrying about where to find a good baby sitter, or whether Will and Iris have eaten their vegetables, but other things will come up.
I know this.
That's because at least once a day, I have an urge to pick up the phone and give my own mother a call to tell her about something I have heard or seen, to comment on the beauty of the day, to simply ask how she is, or to seek her opinion on some issue that has me confused or worried. My mom has been gone for almost five years now, and I still have that urge. I suppose I always will.
Sometimes I see Jenny jogging near her home up in the Rattlesnake, moving at a brisk clip, and pushing the big-wheeled stroller that harbors both of her precious children. On sunny days, they often make it all the way downtown, and I run into them as she is going about her errands. I have seen her wading across the Swan River with Iris on her back and Will safely in hand. I have encountered the whole family up at Lolo Pass, Jenny and Winsor skiing and dragging the kids along behind on a sled.
And, though I have not seen it myself, I understand that Will launched his downhill skiing career last winter and will soon be outpacing his parents on the slopes. Iris won't be far behind. I know that Jenny watches this with a mixture of apprehension, pride and a tinge of sadness at the fact that the childhood of her young kids is already so fleeting.
So today, and this week, I am thinking about my mom Helen, Jenny and all of you wonderful unsung mothers out there who tend your precious children, share with them your joy and wonder at this beautiful world, and grace them with your powerful and unconditional love.
Thanks to every mother out there.
Greg Tollefson is a freelance Missoula writer whose column appears each week in Outdoors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.