Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Invisible Moms

A friend sent this to me in an e-mail today. I know I have been invisible, and some of you may relate to it, too. It’s long, but well worth the read.

It started to happen gradually.

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 5, but as we
crossed the street I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, 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.
Nobody 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.

Just the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We’d been there
for about three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed he was talking to
a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there was a break in the
conversation, I whispered, ‘I’m ready to go when you are.’ He just kept
right on talking.

That’s when I started to put all the pieces together. I don’t think he can
see me. I don’t think anyone can see me.

I’m invisible.

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’m thinking, ‘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, because no
one can see me at all.

I’m invisible.

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 not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a
clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What
number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that
studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now they
had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She’s going… she’s going… she’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and
she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting
there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard
not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my
out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My
unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could
actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when
Janice 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: ‘To Charlotte , with
admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would
discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which
I could pattern my work:

No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of
their names.

These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never
see finished.

They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the
eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman 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 covered by the
roof? No one will ever see it.’ And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’

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, Charlotte. 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
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.’

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a
disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own
self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one
of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to
work on something that their name will never be on. The writer 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

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 4 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 shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him
to want to come home.

And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add,
‘You’re gonna love it there.’

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re
doing it right. And 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 women.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s
Spirit lives in you?” I Cor.3:16

August 30, 2007 - Posted by | Community, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Relationships, Spiritual


  1. yes, this is often the case. We build cathedrals – parenting work is important, and not necessarily something you want or need to trumpet because its rewards are there. However, I still don’t believe that one should have to necessarily ‘feel’ invisible. This is an indictment on our society for not recognizing parenting as an important and worthwhile occupation.

    If you are going through the invisible stage, don’t despair, because there is actually a ‘coming out’ phase to look forward to.

    Comment by bindi nestor | August 30, 2007 | Reply

  2. While the story is extremely touching and send a positive message about motherhood .. I think she needs to reevaluate her position within the family; there is something wrong when her children think she is nobody, her husband ignores her and all her clothes are dirty.

    Comment by K.TheKuwaiti | August 30, 2007 | Reply

  3. Bindi nestor – I don’t know that “should” has a lot to do with it. I think that husbands get busy with their professions, and children are sort of born self-absorbed . . . and a lot of what Mothers do is drudgery, but we do it because it needs doing. I know from time to time I have felt “invisible” and I posted this because I am betting it is a fairly universal experience.

    K – As I read your message, I got a big grin. She probably doesn’t have any help in the house, takes care of the children, does all the cooking and cleaning and some days, hasn’t had time to get to the laundry. During the years the children are young, there is a LOT of work to do. I am betting your Mum always had household help. Am I guessing right?

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 30, 2007 | Reply

  4. Wow – do you really know anyone who really feels invisible in this way? I don’t, and other friends of mine who are also mothers would read this, squint a little, laugh, and say that not only does she need to reevaluate her position, but perhaps take some life lessons in self respect, get out of the house, do some things of her own, etc. None of us have ever felt invisible, that I’ve heard. Intrusive, maybe. Partners and leaders in our households, always. Joy in knowing our kids like to bring friends home? You bet. These friends are a mixed group of mothers working outside the home and working inside the home, with varied backgrounds, faiths and interests. And none of us have “help,” by the way. Any idea when this vignette was written?

    Comment by sparkleplenty | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  5. Some moms (and dads) maybe be physically invisible but never emotionally. The absence of any parent is always ‘felt’ in the household.

    Comment by Magical Droplets | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  6. You are right, Magical, men can feel invisible, too. It’s a major cause of mid-life crisis. I think what the author is getting at is being taken for granted, being unappreciated – and maybe married to someone who is “Big me – Little you.”

    As I see it, the work it takes to glue a family together is incremental, full of unglamorous little things – making sure everyone has clean clothes, food in their mouths, doing OK in school, a clean environment – and who stops and says “Hey thanks, Mom, for doing up those dishes?”

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  7. Hey, at least credit the source.
    “This excerpt from Nicole Johnson’s novel The Invisible Woman (W Publishing Group, 2005) is reprinted with (?) permission. For more information, check out the author’s Web site at”

    Comment by jana | January 18, 2008 | Reply

  8. Jana, as I said, a friend sent it in an e-mail. I googled it, and found no author, and if this is from Nicole Johnson’s book, then I thank you for the reference. I did find references to the book you mention. Thanks. It’s a nice website.

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 19, 2008 | Reply

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