The Invisible Mother
by Nicole Johnson
One day I was walking my son Jake to school. I was holding his hand and we were about to cross the street when the crossing guard said to him, “Who is that with you, young fella?”
“Nobody,” he shrugged.
Nobody? The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only five, but as we crossed the street I thought, “Oh my goodness, I’m nobody?”
As Nobody, I would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would say something to my family, like “Turn the TV down, please.” And nothing would happen. No one would get up or even make a move for the remote. I would stand there for a minute, and then I would say again, a little louder, “Would someone turn the TV down?” Nothing.
That’s when I started putting all the pieces together. I don’t think anyone can see me.
It all began to make sense! The blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’d think, “Can't you see I'm on the phone?”
Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner. No one can see me, because I’m the Invisible Mom.
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more. Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?
Some days I’m merely a clock to ask, “What time is it?” I'm a satellite guide to answer, “What number is the Disney Channel?”
Some days I’m a crystal ball: “Where's my other sock? Where's my phone? What’s for dinner?”
Hands, a clock, a crystal ball—but always invisible.
One night, some girlfriends and I were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and was telling wonderful stories. I sat there, looking around at the others all so put-together, so visible and vibrant. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic when my friend turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package and said, “I brought you this.” It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: “With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”
In the days ahead I read—no—I devoured the book. And I discovered what would become for me, four life-changing truths:
1. No one can say who built the great cathedrals—we have no record of their names.
2. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
3. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
4. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.
In the book, there was the legend of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built. He saw a worker carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, “Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.” And the worker replied, “Because God sees.”
After reading that, I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, “I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.
“No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, no last minute errand is too small for Me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become. But I see.”
When I choose to view myself as a great builder—instead of Invisible Mom—I keep the right perspective.
When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at four in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand-bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.” That would mean I’d built a monument to myself! But I don’t want that—I just want him to want to come home with a friend and share a wonderful meal as a family.
The author of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree. I disagree.
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right—which is why we may feel invisible some days. But one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.