Last week or so a close friend from my semesters at Utah State reached out to me and a roommate and got us together to catch up. They each have a baby and I have my 3.
As we sat at the park watching our kids bee bopping around we were laughing about the woes of motherhood. Swapping stories about the sleepless nights and the bleeding breasts from nursing. The times when you are at your wit’s end waiting by the door for your husband so that you can hand over the baby and close the door behind you. One friend made the joke that Notre Dame started on fire soon after she and her husband had their first baby and that’s what she felt like her life was like. They had this beautiful life and now it was going up in flames with the arrival of this baby. She was joking but we both knew exactly what she meant.
The conversation, and so many identical others that I have had, has left me thinking about this business of having and taking care of babies. Why do it?
Perhaps it’s on my mind because I am expecting my fourth baby or maybe stronger than that perhaps it’s on my mind because it’s on my swipe left or scroll down or turn the page or in the news or on the radio or on the lips of strangers and friends and family and next door neighbors and news anchors and in the air I breath… This message among women that maybe there are better things we as women should be doing with our lives than sitting cooped up in a little house taking care of babies and doing laundry all day. This message that women are more powerful than that. That we are meant for greater things than the old fashioned house wife, home-making-apple-pies type of woman.
The message that I want to give in return that burns in my heart and pumps my blood, that gives me daily courage and is in every breath I breathe is this:
The world swings on very small hinges. As individuals we each contribute to the great whole that is mankind. Some make a public contribution- their life is such that their acts for good are known. These people are important. They are Martin Luther King Jr., the founding Fathers, Guggenheim, Joan of Arc, Columbus, Harriet Tubman, Queen Elizabeth and I could go on and on. They are leaders of nations, carriers of the banner, voices of a cause. Their actions make a measurable difference in the world forever. But for some, their benefaction to the world is unmeasurable and unsung, quiet: pivotal. There is no ticker tape parade for them, no medal of honor at a banquet, not so much as a second glance from anyone at the grocery store.
Such was the case of a woman named Ardella Ethal Ottley Davis. Born in 1909 she was the youngest of eight children. Her father was a carpenter who struggled to make a living in parts of Utah and Idaho. Ardella was required to work hard on the family farm, like all of her siblings and had a life probably typical to those in her era.
In her 20’s she met and married Edward Davis an honest man that she admired for his quick wit and ready smile. He proved to be a good father and a hard worker for their family. They had four children: Beverly, Robert, Jeron and Annadell. They lived on Stringham Avenue in Salt Lake City. Edward worked as a telegrapher. Ardella was in the home, busy with her kids, quilting and cooking casseroles and making life a happy place for her family.
Edward died of a heart attack in his sixties. Ardella went on to live to be 90 years old - beloved of her family, and lifetime of friends and people who were a recipient of her gentle kindness and love. And it would seem that is the end of her story. Simple and good and known to comparatively few.
But that is not the end of her story. From those four children came 36 grand children. At the time of her death in 1999 it was recorded that she had 102 great-grandchildren. The number of good people that are on the earth because of her and Edward is in the hundreds and rises every year, and will possibly do so until the end of mankind.
Ardella Ethal Ottley Davis is my great-grandmother. She is someone that I carry in my heart wherever I go.
I don’t think that having children is like a game of double shot and whoever has the most the fastest wins! Every person is different and can know what their plan is. But I do believe that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass and I do wonder what my life would be like if Ardella had chosen a different path - one the voices of the world might call more wonderful.
Perhaps a career, with more money, prestige. What if she had taken more time for her? Worried less about everyone else and more about herself? What if she were more beautiful? More powerful? More admired? Better connected. What if she had focused more on her body? More on what others thought. Had a better house. Had more.
Would she have had room in her life to have kids? Would I be here? Would she have been there after school to look at homemade bumblebees? Would she have been by their bed when someone was home sick? Would she have been there to stir root beer at the school fundraiser? Or in the backyard when someone needed a band-aid?
My Mom once told me that life ends up being made up of tiny things that add up to be big things. I don’t understand every life and every child and every individual’s plan but I do know that because Ardella Davis was there for my grandfather, Jeron Davis, he was in turn there for my father, Glen Davis, who was in turn there for me. What is it that Clarence says in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life? “One life touches so many other lives.”
We as women carry within our bodies the capacity to be mothers. We have inherent in us the ability to raise and to teach and to bring a great generation to the earth. We have the ability to create life. I worry in all this talk about becoming great that we as women are talking about becoming great at the wrong things. Great scientists or great basketball players or greatly wealthy or greatly “successful” or greatly admired or great at this or that or everything except for possibly great mothers. I worry that we are fighting for nannies and day cares to take on the business of loving and teaching people right and wrong so that we are free for more important things. I wonder if this fight for equality is actually a fight for women to get out of the old ways - to get away from being married or home after school or having kids at all. I worry that we as women are reading these causes wrong and are waving the wrong banners. Campaigns that will leave us empty handed and that the men and women to come will pay the price for. I worry that we are forgetting that life is made up of tiny things that add up to be big things.
I know that what I write is not popular. It is easier to say “you do you.” To join the voices calling for whatever rights are on your feed today, or to say nothing and do nothing. But my reason in writing, even to this tiny audience, is because I do believe in powerful women. I believe in our power for good. I believe in this great fight, that only we can fight, to raise a generation of powerful sons and daughters. This great fight to make a lasting difference in the world.