Love Lessons

Everything you need to know about love and sex.

A Fierce and Passionate Mother's Day

Instinct to Love

Sometimes its important to write when your heart is still bounding and your emotions are raw.

I went out into the garden to do a little early morning clipping, two of my dogs with me- following as they usually do. One of the dogs, Webster, has a particularly good nose and he seemed to go off sniffing obsessively in one corner of the garden.. I didn't pay much attention. Suddenly, a blue jay came out of one of the low bushes and attacked him! He was surprised, so was I, but in a second I realized that the only thing that would make a single blue jay attack a big dog, must be babies. She must have a nest in there.

Webster, a part border collie, tried to grab her and got his mouth around her but let her go when I yelled at him--and she hopped away- I sincerely hope not internally damaged. I got the dogs out of the garden quickly-and sat there, quite unnerved, struck by at the quality and fierceness of motherly love.

You can call it instinct-but it's instinct to love, protect and if necessary, swap one's own life for the life of one's children. Almost every mother has it- and my guess is that most fathers have that gene too. It takes a lot for a sociologist to say this, but we are hard wired to protect our own- how else could any species survive?

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I then sat down and noticed tears running down my face-and I should mention, I don't cry very often.. It took me a minute to hone in on what was touching me so deeply.. I found it: it was newly stirred up grief at losing my own mother many years ago and stoked by the thought of those countless mothers who sacrifice and protect and love beyond measure their babies- however old they are.

I am so grateful to be a mom. I was a young, pretty angry feminist in the 70s and for awhile I thought of children as a burden, an end to career hopes and life dreams. I wondered if I could have children and still be a whole person- working in the world, having a life that was not reduced to domestic duties. Thankfully, the women's movement helped make having children and having a career not an either/or choice. I did have both an active commitment to work and I did have two children (and I was luck that my body complied since I was in my late thirties at the time and some of my other friends who had the same ambivalence had waited too long and were unable to conceive). At the time, I don't think how extremely fortunate I was.

So I sit here- thinking of that mother Blue Jay. I am praying she is well enough to continue her job. And I think of my mom and my kids and the bond we all share. Everyday is really mother's day. But it is interesting to me that this vignette happened on the holiday we set aside to honor our mothers. It made me think about how grateful I am to be a mother and how, for almost all mothers, there is no more passionate commitment-and pleasure- in the world.

Pepper Schwartz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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