My mother is strong, fierce—and fragile

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Outside the Box, a column by Cheryl Hatch/copyright 2016

I am not a mother.

I have not known the joy of bringing a life into this world or the pain of watching my child leave it.

As a photographer, I have witnessed a birth in a home on a farm in Ohio. I stood in that scared, translucent space where love and new life mingle, as a child slipped from his mother’s womb into his father’s waiting hands.

In a hospital in Somalia, I have been in that equally sacred space where life slips away on one last breath. In Iraq, I watched a Kurdish mother caress the dirt over her infant’s grave, running her fingers through the soil the way she might have one day run her fingers through her daughter’s curls.

My mother’s mother did not want her to marry my father. She feared she’d waste the college education purchased so dearly just a few decades after the Great Depression. My mother, usually the good girl, defied her mother and married my father. “I love him,” she said.

Dad graduated a year ahead of my mother with a commission in the U.S. Army. He flew back from overseas for their June wedding. There would be no honeymoon. Dad had to be at his station and the Army wouldn’t pay for Mom’s ticket. They saved their quarters, literally, so the bride could purchase a plane ticket and accompany her husband to their new home.

Mom got settled in a room above the barn in a German farmhouse and Dad promptly left for the field. At 21, my mother was alone; an ocean away from the small island where she’d lived her entire life. No friends. No family. And no German language skills.

Soon mom was pregnant with me.

There would be five children—one who did not survive. 26 moves. Twenty-six times my mother would pack and unpack an entire household, usually alone. Dad was either already at his next post, in the field or away at war.

When my father left for his second tour in Vietnam, my mother was still in her twenties, with four children, my youngest brother not yet 1 year old.

When I look back, I marvel at how my mother held it all together. I think sometimes she didn’t.

My mother did not have a home of her own again until she was nearly 50. But she made do and made a home each and every day for my often-absent soldier father and their four children.

Mom grew up at a time when women had two career choices: teacher or nurse. My mom wanted to be a physical education teacher. That course of studies would have cost more money, so my mother became an elementary school teacher.

My mom is athletic and as competitive as they come. She played basketball and volleyball in high school. She came of age before Title IX and the opportunities it offered girls and women, so she set sports aside in college.

She played tennis when she could, until her back had other plans. She took up golf at 50. She’s had a couple hole-in-ones. And even now, when she’s putting well, she can score in the mid-40s for nine holes.

She started piano lessons in her late 60s. She writes poems. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night and put pen to paper. Every once in a while, I’ll get an envelope in the mail with a poem my mom wrote for me.

My mother is smart and tough and gifted with languages. She’s athletic and adventurous. She has an artist’s soul. She’s thoughtful and kind—to a degree that can leave her wounded by the thoughtlessness of others.

I have discovered that I am my mother’s daughter.

I rowed crew at a Division I university and earned a Pac-10 championship. I am a writer and photographer. I have traveled the world.

It’s no accident that in my work I have quietly raged against the patriarchal systems that suppress, stifle and dismiss women. The military. Journalism. Now academia.

Early in my career, I focused my camera and energy on women and children who had been displaced, caught in the crossfire of the men who made war and made the decisions.

Like my mother, I have been too nice. Too polite. Unfailingly thoughtful and long-suffering. To the detriment of my spirit and health.

Like my mother, later in my life, I have found my voice. I have given myself permission to speak my mind and my truth. Now, as an educator, I encourage other women to find and use their voices and talents.

When someone asks me where I’m from, I’m always challenged to find an accurate answer. One of my brothers says planet earth.

I have no home in the traditional sense. There’s the place I was born. The place I live now. The place I’ve lived the longest.

There has been one constant in my peripatetic life, my mother. The one fixed point in my moving life. She has held it—and us—together these many years.

My mother is strong, fierce—and fragile. I suspect all mothers are.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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The hardest part of leaving is letting go

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

Long before 9/11 and the TSA, I would stand at the departure gate at the airport.

I’d watch my friend, family member or beloved, walk down the gangplank to the plane. I’d wave until he disappeared from sight. I’d shift to the giant windows and press my face against the glass, trying to find his face among the oval windows on the plane. I’d stand and wait until the plane backed out. I’d watch until it took off and disappeared from sight.

I didn’t want to leave.

As an Army BRAT, I moved with my family more than 20 times before I graduated from high school. It’s a pattern I continued as an adult in my work as a foreign correspondent. While I have a lot of experience with leaving, it’s never been easy for me.

In truth, we are all leaving from the moment we draw our first breath.

In The Campus newsroom a couple weeks ago, Amanda Spadaro said she had a moment. A graduating senior and co-editor-in-chief, she looked around the newsroom where she’d spent countless hours of her four years at Allegheny. She remembered the late nights, the laughter, the good times and the tough times. She looked at the students she’d shared so much with and those who would carry on in her absence next year. She realized she was leaving.

Spadaro left her hometown in Washington, Pennsylvania four years ago. On Saturday, she’ll graduate with a major in biology and a minor in English. She has no immediate plans after graduation, though she’s in the running for an internship at The Meadville Tribune.

Her career plans: “Pipe dream is to be the next Ida Tarbell, so. We’ll see how that goes. “

Elliott Bartels, The Campus Web manager, left his hometown in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, four years ago. Bartels will graduate with an ecology major and a graphic design minor. Immediately after graduation, Bartels will work in Charlotte, North Carolina for Wildlands Engineering, a bio/environmental engineering firm that specializes in water remediation and mitigation.

His career plans: “Working for a while as an environmental engineer/scientist to pay off loans and to afford a new project Jaguar, then maybe back to grad school to increase $$$ and get a degree in upper management/business.”

The Campus features editor Claire Teague left her hometown in Chatham, N.J. for Allegheny. Saturday she’ll graduate with an English major and economics minor. This summer she’ll be working for the Presbyterian Church of New Providence where she’ll be the assistant director to the youth program, working with hundreds of high school and middle school students.

Sam Stephenson, The Campus co-editor-in-chief, left his hometown in Portland, Oregon, four years ago. He’ll graduate with an English major with a focus in journalism and an economics minor. He’ll head home and teach summer tennis camps, work out and get ready for the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.

His career plans: “Join the Marine Corps as an officer and stay in as long as my heart is content. Eventually though, I’d like to have a career in journalism or communications, but that might not start for a while!”

At Allegheny’s bicentennial commencement today, parents will watch their children cross the stage and collect a diploma. They’ll shout and wave and snap photos. They’ll also wonder where the time went. They can remember when their children left home for college. Now they’ll watch as they leave their college home for new adventures.

When my folks take me to the airport now, I linger by the curb. I hug my mom. I hug my dad. I don’t want to leave. My father insists on taking my luggage to the check-in counter. Usually, I’ll leave the cart and run back outside and stop my parents before they leave. One more hug. One more “I love you.”

The hardest thing about leaving is letting go.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/outside-the-box-the-hardest-thing-about-leaving-is-letting/article_86b87cd4-f511-11e4-adf0-270d6b767289.html

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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