My parents didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day either. Hallmark holidays, they scoffed when I brought home construction paper cards and tissue paper flowers from school. They were good parents with no patience for false sentiment.
My husband is the youngest of seven children in a family that did celebrate Mother’s Day. It would make him happy, he said, if we did too.
I draw upon my late mother-in-law for inspiration on how to behave on the occasion. We visited her house on the second Sunday in May in the last years of her life, sharing potluck suppers with our enormous family. When I sat with her on Mother’s Day and shared time with her, there was nothing false about our sentiments. I knew I was being held in a loving, quiet, special holiday space that I would soon lose forever.
As for my own Mother’s Day honorings, one year my husband and oldest daughter put on a puppet show she wrote featuring her plastic animals. I forget the plot, but the sets were elaborate and I remember being entertained by the giraffe. My daughters give me bouquets of flowers from the garden, homemade breakfast, handwritten notes, line drawings. Sometimes they give me my favorite perfume, or something stylish to wear in the springtime.
We are in a moment in the dominant culture where sarcasm reigns. It isn’t cool to like a cultural construct as unhipster as Mother’s Day. Meanwhile, offensive commercials hawking diamond jewelry as the ideal gift flood the airwaves. We are a society that is stingy with public education and health resources for mothers and children. No amount of brunch in the world can cover for the way we collectively leave the most vulnerable in our midst to fend for themselves.
Anne Lamont’s Salon post today decries a holiday that “celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings.” I do not quibble with her point that the biological fact of maternity does not magically imbue women with superior virtue. I believe she is correct. Horrible parents are as ubiquitous as viruses, and similarly destructive. It is of course common for some individuals to be loving to their own kids, yet spread hate everywhere else. Such is the definition of the archetypal monster, manifested in real life in every day’s bad news. Ms. Lamont is also correct that the holiday excludes people who are not parents, or who have lost their mothers, or for whom the very topic of motherhood is painful. A concept as loaded as mother carries agonizing baggage, probably for everyone at one point or another.
I lost a pregnancy with a child who would have been seventeen this year if he or she had lived. It was an early miscarriage, but I still love that baby I had such a brief time to mother.
I deeply mourned my husband’s mother. We miss her all the time anyway, but on Mother’s Day we are doubly reminded of just how much.
I do not begrudge a day to revisit the pain of loss. Such is the price of loving.
Still, I love Mother’s Day because it isn’t really for me. It isn’t for diamonds, brunches, and ruined expectations. It isn’t for false sentiment, tissue flowers, and a cultural pedestal that cares more about the symbol of motherhood than it does for actual mothers.
Mother’s Day is for my daughters, one who isn’t around because she is grown and lives two hundred miles away, and one who is around because she is only eleven. It’s for hilarious line drawings and whatever flowers are growing in the backyard. It’s for scrambled eggs and coffee and sitting outside while the garden does its spring blooming.
It’s for my students who allow me to walk with them during important moments in their lives as they decide what kind of men and women they are going to be. It’s for the friends who love me and I couldn’t even say why but it doesn’t matter because they just do and always will. It’s for remembering my lost ones. It’s for vowing to do better for the ones I have.
It’s for holding a quiet space, just for one moment, to honor how deeply I have been given to love.