Love Idol 2

For the next few Wednesdays in Lent, I’ll be talking about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which releases on April 1, 2014.

Take a minute and look at this photo Mark Osler took and posted for Ash Wednesday:

I adore this photo — so much that it’s the subject of my post.

Through the windows, we see winter. (Osler lives in Minnesota.) Jennifer Dukes Lee, who lives in Iowa, wrote on her blog on Ash Wednesday, “I won’t be able to look at my reflection until the snow melts, until the daffodils bloom.”

Our Ash Wednesday did not include snow, but it was cold and gray. With Lent so late this year, we may be past the bluebonnets by the time Easter comes. It all depends. You never can tell with wildflowers.

Osler’s photo features three people: a man, a  preteen-ish boy and a teenager-ish girl. I don’t know if they’re a family, but let’s pretend they are.

We can’t see their faces well. The dad has his back to us, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He’s looking out at winter, probably waiting for the Ash Wednesday service to begin. The teenage girl — I’m sure she’s a teenager because of her hair and because she’s wearing a sleeveless shirt on a snowy day — is looking down. You can see the boy’s face a little. He looks very middle-school-ish, when the body grows tall faster than it can keep on weight, so all the clothes look huge, especially sweatshirts, like he is wearing. He seems to fiddling with the railing. No cellphones in sight.

The scene is quiet. We don’t know anything about how these three people feel about each other. They could be filled with love, yet bored, or filled with hatred. Who knows? They are together, waiting.

Someone somewhere told me to look at the center of any piece of art. With the rectangular windows, the center of this photo almost but not quite narrows on the boy. He’s standing slightly apart from the dad and the girl but not so much apart that you’d notice.

Where is the mom?

Is she on her way and they’re waiting for her? Is she working during the service? Is she working in the service? Is she sick in bed? Is she gone?

Even when a mother is not present, her absence is its own kind of presence. If you have a family without a father, you have America. If you have a family without a mother, you have a Disney movie.

For Jennifer’s Love Idol movement, I’m contemplating parenting as an idol. Frankly, an idol is too small for what motherhood is. I am part of my family’s picture whether I’m in the actual picture or not, whether I’m doing a good job or not, whether I’m down with a migraine or doing an interview in Waco or sitting in the audience at the theater. Motherhood is so big that it’s there even when it isn’t.

“If someone challenges our parenting today, what does it mean?” Jennifer writes in Love Idol, “Very little.”

She’s right. But I needed this photo to believe her.


  1. Fayma Drummond says

    Such a great piece of writing as always, Megan, from the first sentence to the last. But you nailed in at the end. “Motherhood is so big that it’s there even when it isn’t.” That’s lovely and scary at the same time. The reason it is scary to me is that being less than 5 years from being octogenarian, it’s still true for me. And the big reality is that it is still true of my mother who has been in heaven almost 18 years. That’s comforting.

  2. You’ve got a keen eye.

    “Even when a mother is not present, her absence is its own kind of presence.” And it strikes me that sometimes her presence can be its own kind of absence as well.

  3. Quieted, once again, by your words … your eyes … your wisdom.

  4. I made cabbage roll the night before last. My husband took a few bites, said, “I miss my mother.” She’s been gone twenty years but had dinner with us on Tuesday.

    Wonder about the hands in the pockets?

  5. i took my daughter in for oral surgery yesterday. the nurse came into the waiting room as i was reading and said “okay, mom, you can come in” and i looked up. she said “sorry, i didn’t get your name. i just grabbed my stuff while saying ” that’s okay, i answer to mom.”

  6. Megan, my children are grown and they have their own children and I am (obviously) not in their picture(s). Wow, how you captured the impact we have whether we are present or not. “Motherhood is so big that it’s there even when it isn’t.”
    I appreciate your vulnerability and for sharing it with us.

  7. “…it’s there even when it isn’t.” Pondering this.

  8. Oh, golly, yes! Sometimes an absence is a huge presence. I still carry around some layers of anguish about my mothering – or lack of same. But, as my son-the-doctor (who has always had a philosophical bent) would say, “It is what it is, Mom. It is what it is.” And sometimes that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it?

  9. Megan–

    I love what you wrote. I hope it doesn’t ruin it if I tell you what was going on there– your instincts were exactly right.

    My town, Edina, has one high school, which has an outstanding music program. The highlight of the year for that program is the annual pops concert. It features, among other things over three hours, a tribute to the seniors.

    The first night, Thursday, was designated for the families of people in the concert. On that day, though, a massive snowstorm was headed our way (it ended up dropping a foot of snow on top of that which you see in the picture). The school moved the concert up from 7 pm to 3 pm, to beat the storm. Because of the shift, lots of parents missed the show.

    At intermission, I looked over to see the three people in the picture talking to a fourth, a tall senior girl with long brown hair and a beautiful blue dress. She was the oldest sibling, the hero-child, and she was upset that her mother hadn’t gotten away from work. The dad defended his wife; she couldn’t help it.

    Two of the senior girl’s friends came to console her, and they moved away from the rest of the family, leaving them to stand awkwardly until intermission was over, all of them hoping the mother would sweep through the big metal doors, shaking snow off of her coat.

    By chance, I also took a picture of the senior girl and her two friends, which I have now posted on my blog at the link you provided. The two pictures are such a contrast: At the center of this second one is one of the friends, leaning in, listening, concerned, engaged. There is no awkwardness. In the paired photos, we see both the dad and the senior daughter looking out at the snowscape beyond, over the nordic ski team practicing in the woods and the storm gathering. The mother is out there, they both know. They are only a dozen feet apart from one another, each in their own sphere.

    Taken together, it is about a lot of things– about parenting, mostly. I took the pictures because of the dad, and what I saw in him… the unbearable grief of knowing that soon this daughter will be gone, and perhaps she is already.

  10. Ah, yes, that motherhood thing is so, so big….I have a Love Idol post about worry as a mom simmering on the back burner of my mind.

  11. Oh, Megan,

    You nailed it. Especially right here: ” If you have a family without a father, you have America. If you have a family without a mother, you have a Disney movie.”

    My daughter spent the vast majority of her childhood under Dad’s roof and visiting Mom on weekends. Disney movie, yup.