Sunday, May 14, 2023

A Few Thoughts This Mother's Day

When I was a child, Mother's Day didn't appear complicated.

Teachers gave us assignments that would provide us with handmade gifts to take home that weekend. Those teachers instructing us to make cute little paper flower projects and tracings of our hands seemed to assume that everyone had both a mom and a dad at home. I wasn't aware of any kids from divorced homes when I was small. Back then in our tiny Detroit suburb there were no visible variations on what a family was expected to be--with the exception of single mothers, who by the 80s I noticed were generally considered lacking at best, and the source of all of society's ills at worst.

I'm sure whatever cards or acknowledgments my brothers and I made for our mom on Mother's Day were woefully inadequate. How could they not be? My mom was (and is) amazing, and I don't understand looking back at how she did everything she did. I really don't. I'm a pale imitation of her on my best day when it comes to mothering, and there are never enough words to convey what we've been given by having her as our mom.

But time and age cast us in new roles, and a range of different families have finally become visible. For a variety of reasons, Mother's Day is no longer uncomplicated.

Let's start with loss. My husband's mother died a year ago. He tried to call her last Mother's Day and she didn't answer. He figured out a day or so later that she had passed away at home in her bed. He has no one to call today. I don't know how to help him with that, other than to hug him and hope he's okay. 

For the mothers I know who have lost children... I can't imagine they brush this day off as another greeting card holiday. I can't dwell on that thought very long without coming undone.

I know people who have dysfunctional mothers. That's a whole different struggle, and a loss in its own way.

Then there are the welcome variations that change the shape of Mother's Day when it comes to those school projects. I didn't know any gay couples with children when I was growing up. I'm glad my children can't say the same, because we know some lovely families with two moms, or two dads, and they are wonderful role models for my kids as well a their own. I'm mystified by people who fear their children knowing such families exist, because whatever harm they're concerned about is only in their minds. 

I know people whose lives were enriched by being part of a blended family. I don't know how single moms manage, and they deserve support and respect. I think every Mother's Day about families coping with separations like we lived through when Ian was deployed.

The composition of a family isn't as important as compassion, support and love. That's the difference between a family that's good and one that isn't, not anything to do with race, religion, or gender.

So I do not take for granted on this particular Mother's Day, that I was able to give my mom a call, and that all three of my children happen to be home. They brought me breakfast in bed, got Indian food for dinner, and picked me flowers. I loved all of it.

I will admit, I kind of miss the assigned school projects. I loved all the little ceramic dishes and bead bracelets and heart necklaces. But the finest idea any of the teachers ever had in my children's elementary school was the one who had my youngest write me a letter on pretty stationery.

A few years ago, things were so fraught between me and one of my kids that I gave up on Mother's Day. I didn't see the point if I was failing at my role so badly. I declared it "just a day" and told everyone not to worry about it. The baby of the family ignored that. She brought me breakfast in bed, and when I asked why, she said it "felt important." And she gave me her school assignment letter which listed all the things I do that matter, and she ended it with, "I love you. We all do." Which to this day makes me cry because I needed it so much in that moment.

Now we are in a different moment. Mother's Day is back to being a sweet excuse to defer to me all day for decisions about what to eat and do on a quiet Sunday at home. It's peaceful again. But not ordinary. And richer for the ubderstanding of how complicated it could be.