I can’t get it out of my mind. Isn’t it powerful? This rose-cheeked mother with her hair pulled back. A child in front of her. A child behind her. One she holds tight against her chest, the other clamors up to her shoulders. A ladder is placed against her back, symbolizing a burden, a weight, maybe even a mantle. And she bears it. Using her inner and physical strength, she steadies the ladder and provides for her children, while ministering angels reach down from above.
One commentary about this painting said,
“Of course, it is impossible that babies could climb a ladder tall enough to get to their mother. But what Kershisnik captures is a mother’s abandonment of personal space when her children are young and their physical needs are great. In the every day acts of parenting, mothers provide noble and continual service for gods in embryo, being sustained in their untiring efforts by God’s help from above.”
I listened to Kershisnik give some backstory on this piece. Like most of his work, he began without knowing where it would go, or how it would look when finished. First he painted the woman by herself. She sat lonely in a corner, for some time. Then, for fun, he painted the ladder against her back. And that’s when he knew what it would be. It would be a young mother. Not the everything-is-peachy-mommy-image. But one that depicts the hard reality of raising children. Of not having time for yourself. Of children on your lap, slung round your neck, or climbing up your back. The state of literally losing yourself in the care of your children.
But here’s what’s so comforting about the painting. She is not alone.
Angels have come to her. Angels she may have prayed down, angels she may not have asked for, angels that just maybe, have never left her side. Angels. Sent to strengthen her, lift her, and endow her with power. Power to do more than she could on her own.
I have felt those angels. I have stood at the end of an incredibly difficult season and wondered how we made it through – how we survived. It stirs me to tears to think that this is my story. My own reality. And many of yours.
These years with babies and small children are so exhausting. So hard. So consuming. Too often I have heaved sobs of frustration and inadequacy. Because I felt I was carrying the weight alone.
But with every cry at the kitchen sink, every tearful prayer by my bed, I have been reminded: This is not a solo journey. Motherhood is a divine profession. And I will help you.
Most dinners I don’t make it through the meal without one of the boys climbing up the back of my chair so he can put his arms around my neck and dangle his head over my shoulder, our cheeks touching, as I eat the last of my food.
All day long someone is tugging at my shirt, hugging my legs, jumping onto my lap, grabbing my hand, or reaching up to me to be held. Abandonment of personal space simply comes with the territory. As does abandonment of personal pursuits, expectations, time for things that used to give me identity and validation.
And yet, I find it interesting that Kershisnik calls the painting Climbing Mother, not Climbing Child. Yes, they are climbing on her, up her, and over her. But she is also climbing. Spiritually and emotionally. Progressing, as she learns things she couldn’t learn any other way.
Motherhood reveals a person inside you didn’t know was there. One that scares you some days. But mostly, one that is stronger, steadier, more compassionate. One that knows sacrifice. One that knows real needs. One that knows a love impossible to describe.
So, after celebrating all the devoted mothers in our lives last Sunday, I wanted to celebrate you. Your constant effort. Your bent backs, your arms full of babies, your sloped shoulders, your tired feet at day’s end.
On Mother’s Day Instagram imploded with photos of mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. Women who abandoned personal space, personal desires, and in some cases, attainable dreams, to give their children a life. Nothing, I believe, is more noble.
And this sweet sketch by my talented friend, Stephanie Hock. To see more of her work, follow her on Instagram: @stephaniehockart. (She’s currently accepting commissions for paintings and sketches.)