Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Other Mothers

I've always been irritated with people who are quick to dismiss Mother's Day as a greeting card holiday.  Holidays are what you choose to make them.  The commercialization of certain holidays can indeed get out of hand to the point where the real sentiments get lost, but that's the fault of capitalism and the juvenile insistence of the average person in this country that everything be fun or dramatic rather than meaningful.

Major Christian holidays in this country get a lot of attention, and I know members of minority faiths who resent how little the mainstream knows about other holidays when they come around, but I've often felt they should be a bit grateful that the relative obscurity shields them from some of the nonsense, and they don't see important traditions reduced to another excuse to buy unnecessary things.  My kids were surprised to learn Easter was a religious holiday at all, because they've only known it as egg hunts and candy.  For us that works, again, because we can make holidays what we like, and for some of them that means making them silly.

But even secular holidays aren't immune from further secularization.  Mother's Day in this country was eventually denounced by its creator who found its reduction from something meaningful to something used as a marketing ploy to be deplorable.  However, we can pick what we like and reject the rest, just as we can on any other day.  The tricky part is navigating the larger context and being prepared for the various meanings any holiday has for others.  We can't assume it's the same for everyone.

Mother's Day can be complicated because mothers are complicated.

There are people with loving, wonderful mothers, for whom this holiday is simply a matter of remembering to acknowledge them.  There are people who have terrible mothers for whom this is just a reminder of what they lacked.  There are mothers who are unfairly labelled as terrible who are not.  There are women who are uncomfortable about Mother's Day because they themselves are not mothers and feel unfairly judged.  There are women who desperately want to be mothers who cannot be and this holiday feels like a twist of the knife.

If you have lost your mother I am sure this day is especially hard.  I am incredibly grateful to still have my own mother.  There are moments I take her for granted even though I know better, but that's not always a bad thing.  I can take my mother for granted a little because I know she doesn't mind.  I know, because I don't really mind when my kids take me for granted.  I want my love for my children to be such a given that it's not in question.  It should be a basic truth that lets them function in a way that only comes with that kind of safety net.  I appreciate gravity, but it shouldn't occupy my thoughts the whole time it's helping keep my feet on the ground.  Taking some things for granted means being free.  Days like this where my children are reminded to stop and be appreciative are nice, but I'm good with my love for my children being so reliable it doesn't cross their minds to acknowledge it much.

I can't imagine the pain of this holiday if you've lost a child.  My miscarriages were as close to that as my mind can go, and they don't even scratch the surface.

My thoughts today go out to the other mothers who don't fit neatly into how the masses want to celebrate.  People are quick to wish you a Happy Mother's Day and offer a smile and become confused if you don't immediately smile back.  Some of us are struggling.  Some of us are having trouble finding joy in that role today, as much as we may still find parenting profound.  Meaning doesn't always lend itself to happiness.

When I started this post I was of a mind to opt out of Mother's Day for myself.  I was not feeling up to it.  I have felt inadequate to the task of late, and there have been more tears than laughter.  Usually my kids make me breakfast in bed.  My daughter asked if I still wanted that this year, and I told her not to go to the trouble.  But last night before bed my son came to me and wanted to know why.  I told him it just didn't feel right because it wasn't whole in a way it used to be.  Quinn said he still wanted to do it.  He didn't want Mother's Day to be cancelled, and that the breakfast in bed tradition felt "important."  I hugged him and told him that was lovely and of course he could do what felt right to him.

So this morning I heard him banging around in the kitchen and going outside and all on his own he put together a crazy breakfast on a makeshift tray with flowers he's used to gathering with his sisters this time of year from all the same spots around the block to make a little bouquet.  He made the food first and then gathered flowers, so the cereal got soggy and the eggs got cold, but I had a bit of everything (and when he wasn't looking I shared a piece of mushy bread with the dog).  It was the best breakfast I've ever had.  It came with a little ceramic dish he made in school and the world's best letter.  (I've read it a dozen times already and each time it makes me burst into tears.)
Happy Mother's Day for all those who can enjoy it.  Hugs to all the other mothers for whom this holiday is hard for whatever reason.  I'm grateful that I've had so many years to enjoy it blissfully.  I'm even more grateful that now that it's complicated there are still lilacs to enjoy and a sunny day ahead to do with as I choose.


  1. I'm sorry it wasn't an entirely happy mother's day for you. Thinking of you!!! And hoping for more laughter and less tears ahead for you. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  2. This was lovely and meaningful and I smiled at your soggy toast. Thank you.