The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 21, 2010

Misty Hook, guest columnist: These mothers truly inspire

By Misty Hook
Special to The Globe

ALLEN, Tex. — Editor’s note: Misty Hook is a former Joplin resident and graduated from Joplin High School. She submitted the following essay to the Dallas Morning News that has a “Mom’s Panel” after the paper requested a submission on the month’s topic: “Moms Who Inspire Us.”

Before I became a mother myself, I never really appreciated how difficult it is to be one. The role was not one I’d thought much about. Of course, I saw mothers everywhere doing their “mommy” stuff … everything from feeding and changing diapers to instilling manners, teaching life skills and trying to keep their kids safe and happy. I understood what it was that mothers did but I never considered how being a mother felt.

Motherhood offers such complicated feelings — sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, sometimes both at once — as difficult to describe as the sensation of having a baby move inside of you.

For me, being a mother feels as though I will never be who I was because I never again will be just me. As Elizabeth Stone put it, “Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Because of this divided, external heart and because of the large amount of work they do, I believe mothers are the largest group of unsung heroes in the world. Plenty of mothers deserve praise … mothers who are there day in and day out, who make sacrifices in order to give their kids the best they have to offer.

While I applaud all mothers who work so hard, a different kind of mother truly inspires me. The mothers who haunt me at night are the women who use their mothering status for social justice. They wear their title of mother as a mantle that gives them permission to step outside of themselves and change the world, not just for their children but for everyone else’s children too.

Such undaunted mothers include the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of women who refused to allow the Argentinean government to abduct and murder their children without consequence. Starting in 1977, they gathered every week to protest on behalf of their children, often at great personal risk to themselves. Indeed, three of the group’s founders were murdered. However, their courage brought about change in Argentina that soon spread to other South American countries as well.

Other fearless mothers are the 150 Nigerian women who, in 2002, disrupted activity at the U.S.-owned Chevron-Texaco oil site for eight days so they could negotiate jobs for their sons, corporate investment in the local community and protection of the environment. In an area known for its violence, the mothers merely threatened to strip, a traditional sign of shaming men, if their demands were not met. While they were in no physical danger, the psychological damage of their families being shamed was a big price to pay. Still, the mothers didn’t hesitate and, like the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, their courage and persistence was rewarded.

A little closer to home, I found Cindy Sheehan’s evolution from a grieving mother to an influential anti-war activist quite inspirational. She took what began as private grief for her son Casey, a soldier killed in Iraq, into a campaign to bring all the soldiers home so that no mother would ever feel her pain. Sheehan’s work and her reasons for doing it are very similar to another mother who inspired me, Julia Ward Howe. Although she is perhaps best known for writing the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Howe also was the mother of seven children and an accomplished author, poet, linguist (she spoke seven languages!) and activist. In her later years, Howe bitterly resented that her legacy was as the author of what could be seen as the ultimate anthem for war as she was an ardent supporter of peace. In fact, she was the original advocate for Mother’s Day in the United States, a day she envisioned as the time when mothers would protest the government sending their children off to war.

Thus, just like Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Nigerian mother protesters and Cindy Sheehan, Julia Ward Howe used her role of mother as a way to promote a better world. While she was never in physical danger for her activism on behalf of her children, Howe, like the other mothers, placed her well-being as secondary to what she was trying to achieve. All of them accepted the risks because taking care of their divided, external hearts was important and because protecting other mothers’ hearts was worth the effort. If that isn’t inspirational, then I don’t know what is.

Misty Hook grew up in Joplin. She now has a PhD in counseling psychology and a private practice in Allen, Texas, near Dallas. She is the daughter of Judith and James Dixon, of Joplin.