Print   |   Back
July 23, 2012
We the Parents
The Pioneering Spirit
by Melissa Howell

In the wee hours of the morning on the Fourth of July, my family embarked on the first leg of a two-day road trip from Colorado to Minnesota. What better day, thought we, to spend driving across the heart of our wonderful nation, than Independence Day.

I always enjoy the drive eastward (which eventually turns due north). The brown, often barren low hills and prairie of eastern Colorado and western Nebraska slowly give way to an increasing number of trees. Steadily, the color green intensifies, spreading across the horizon in varying shades. The hills become softer and at times larger as Nebraska folds into Iowa, where the hills roll into one another in a most pleasing way, dotted here and there by neat farmhouses and aesthetically appealing rows of corn and various crops.

Along the drive, as the stunning peaks of the Rocky Mountains dwindle to nothing in our rearview mirror and we are enveloped in the heart of the Midwest, are constant reminders of some of the groups that have shaped our nation’s history. I love to point these out to the children.

Signs and landmarks in the first part of the drive pay tribute to those early western settlers: Pony Express riders, homesteaders, pioneers, even the infamous Buffalo Bill. In Omaha, I reminded the children that the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials we had just watched the previous week had been held in that city, where dreams and unimaginable hard work culminated for some athletes in qualifying to represent our nation on that great international sporting stage.

“And look! Now we are crossing the Missouri River, where Lewis and Clark and their team of explorers journeyed!” I excitedly explained as we crossed from Nebraska into Council Bluffs, Iowa. And as we slipped into the heart of that great farming state, abundant reminders nodded to the importance of farmers.

So many groups of people, I thought, within just a few states that represent what has made our nation.

But it was at our stop at Mormon Island State Recreation Area, in Grand Island, Nebraska, where my thoughts turned to another group that has made our nation what it is, and continues to shape it: mothers.

As we hauled out our festive, patriotic tablecloth and picnicked on the shores of a small lake, one child complaining about the heat and another about the lack of mustard on his sandwich, I thought about the sacrifice of those pioneer mothers who had traveled west on foot along this route we were retracing in the opposite direction in a nice, speedy, air-conditioned automobile.

I tried to get my children to walk with me and sing, “Pioneer children sang as they walked, and walked, and walked and walked and walked.” I’d like to say it was a lovely bonding experience, but I shan’t lie. So I reflected silently, on the sacrifice of those pioneer mothers who had to leave children behind as they pressed on for the promise of a better life, something that lay ahead that was bigger than each of them, something that would shape the plight of future generations. And I realized I am surrounded by modern-day pioneer mothers: women who make sacrifices for the betterment of others.

My friend Paula had gone in to awaken her 5-month-old daughter Katherine from her morning nap in order to take her 4-year-old twin daughters to dance class. Upon entering Katherine’s room, she discovered that her sweet baby girl had suddenly and inexplicably returned to her Heavenly Father, from whom she had so recently come.

After Katherine’s death, Paula found herself at the beginning of the grief process, then in the middle, and eventually, she came through it, her daughter always remembered and her resolve strong. Before long, she sacrificed some of the feelings that accompany the loss of a child, and instead put her efforts into helping others.

She launched a parent grief group at a prominent local children’s hospital, and has shared her experiences with many, helping them delicately bridge that gap between losing a child and moving forward with life, which I can’t even remotely pretend to understand, but which I tremendously admire.

My sister-in-law Kelley, thrilled in anticipation of becoming a mother, went into extreme pre-term labor, eventually delivering twins – a boy and a girl – at 25 weeks gestation. Ressa and Cameron weighed just 1 pound 9 ounces, and 1 pound 7 ounces, respectively. After just three short weeks, Ressa succumbed to a fatal infection common in premature babies.

Kelley, still caring for a fragile Cameron who would spend more than four months in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, decided to make a sacrifice of self and commit to helping other babies in fragile circumstances. She pumped breast milk for 15 months, donating all of her extra milk to a milk bank after Cameron’s needs had been met. In all, she donated 100 gallons of milk, a record-setting amount.

After the loss of her own, she went on to save other babies’ lives, babies like the infant boy whose mother had to stop breastfeeding immediately when she was diagnosed with cancer, but because he was allergic to formula, he needed breast milk in order for him to reach 20 pounds in and be eligible for the life-saving heart transplant he desperately needed.

Perhaps not all mothers make such extreme sacrifices. But in our own ways, mothers sacrifice. Many sacrifice time, body and sleep. Some sacrifice career, schooling or interests. Others make the sacrifice of adoption, of placing their children in a home better suited to care for them, thus bringing joy to the lives of others.

I am humbled and inspired by all mothers who put others above self, and it calls to mind my favorite line from the hymn, “Praise to the Man:”

“Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”

Thus, as I drove across this great nation on the celebration of its birth, I thought about how very much I love and am grateful for this nation, my motherland.

It is great, largely because it is a land of amazing mothers.


Copyright © 2021 by Melissa Howell Printed from NauvooTimes.com