Honoring Mothers & Grandmothers
THE FOUNTAIN IN HONOR OF MOTHERS
The Fountain in Honor of Mothers holds a central symbolic place in the Walk of the Heroines. The fountain powerfully evokes the idea of the beginning of life, with a sunburst pattern of colorful tiles encircling the pool of water that forms around surging jets of water. The expansive area around the fountain serves as a hospitable site for children to wade and splash in the water, as well as for quiet moments of reflection. In the evening, light refracted through the water creates a mood of reverie.
Supported by the Flora Family Foundation as a tribute to all mothers, the fountain expresses the educational mission of the park. Mothers bring children into the world and raise them, and mothers sustain communities. And mothers are our first teachers. Motherwork in many societies involves nurturing beyond the attachments established through kinship ties. In many societies, children have a number of “other-mothers” as maternal care is distributed among a group of women. Mothering practices vary across history and cultures, even as the vital contributions mothers make to society often go unrecognized. In paying tribute to mothers, the fountain seeks to educate on the legacy of knowledge and skills that women pass on from one generation to the next. Mothering makes possible the range of other human activities that depend on this caregiving work.
Across the curve of the earth, there are women getting up before dawn, in the blackness before the point of light, in the twilight before sunrise; there are women rising earlier than men and children to break the ice, to start the stove, to put up the coffee, the rice, to iron the pants, to braid the hair, to pull the day’s water up from the well, to boil water for tea, to wash the children for school, to pull the vegetables and start the walk to market, to run to catch the bus for the work that is paid. I don’t know when most women sleep.
- Adrienne Rich, 1984
THE WALL IN HONOR OF GRANDMOTHERS
Just as the Fountain in Honor of Mothers occupies a cherished symbolic place in the Walk of the Heroines, so, too, does the Wall in Honor of Grandmothers. Encircling the fountain, like the strong and steady arms of an older woman, the wall honoring grandmothers represents the powerful presence of the previous generation in the lives of younger women and their offspring.
Throughout much of human history, children were raised in kinship groups where many adults shared responsibility for their care. Intergenerational relations were part of the web of kinship ties that bound older and younger people together in modes of survival. The modern ideal of the nuclear family unit, however, transformed intergenerational dependencies and role obligations. Yet in cultures across the globe, the role of grandmother continues to carry authority
The Wall in Honor of Grandmothers pays tribute to these elder caregivers who hold cultural knowledge that is vital to preserve and transmit. And the wall in their honor serves as a physical reminder of the debt of gratitude that each generation carries for the mothers who went before. Many of these grand-mothers continue to hold an important position in the family, whether as mediators, confidants, or providers for their children and their grandchildren. Some grandmothers also have organized to have a political voice by speaking out on issues from war to world hunger.
For women who struggled as mothers to fulfill some aspect of that role, becoming a grandmother may represent a new beginning—a chance to revisit the dilemmas and joys of parenting.
Albin Jubitz brought the concept of the Wall in Honor of Grandmothers to the Walk project with this idea in mind. He wanted to pay tribute to his own mother, Jane Lueddemann Ehrman, and to the many women who gain their footage with age and coach the next generation.
What is it about Grandmothers? That’s it! They are “grand” mothers ... caring, coaching, encouraging ... even if it is the second time around, the next generation in time.
What mother doesn’t regret something about the first time around? What child doesn’t remember how mom made him or her angry? Yet what child doesn’t also remember how much mom kept things going? These same children grow up and often have children of their own. That child becomes a mother or father, and Mom becomes Grandmother (or Nana or Grandma). Mom gets a second chance to revisit the dilemmas and rewards of parenting.
Grandmothers have seen the life cycle turn. They have watched their “perfect” kids struggle, their mischievous offspring turn purposeful, their rebellious teens express gratitude. With wisdom earned the hard way, these mothers now help their adult children raise the next generation of children. With that position of being one generation removed, yet supportive and caring, the next generation may feel a different ease in loving their grandmothers.
Grandmothers are older, slower and grayer than a generation earlier, but that is what makes them wiser in facing the challenges of life. And through their position as older mothers, they get a chance to revisit the dilemmas and disappointments of young motherhood. And in coming to terms with the losses in life, as well as its joys, grandmothers remind everyone that the ideal of the “perfect mother,” much like the ideal of the perfect child, is an unrealizable cultural fantasy Something better than perfection is realized through the lives of grandmothers.
This wall is dedicated to my mother and to all the grandmothers who hung in there with their children and grandchildren, who spent endless hours entertaining, sitting, shopping, chauffeuring, cheering and, most importantly, loving the human beings around them. For, if there was ever an example of how to get it right, it was when God created Grandmothers.
- Albin Monroe Jubitz