1971. My parents bring me home from the hospital. 3 months before her first mother’s day. My momma is small. My dad has hair. My dad looks like Luke.
This week three things happened that got me thinking about Mother’s Day. I am writing this from a filthy table at yet another volleyball tournament in Aurora, Illinois. I am sitting next to a bandaid, a dirty, abandoned sock, and a braces rubber band. It is black and there is food on it. I am plugged into headphones, which I put on over an hour ago to block out the uber tan and blond mom who would not stop shouting, “SIDE OUT SIDE OUT NOW,” at the top of her lungs every time our girls served. I put headphones on so that I would not punch her in her face-lifted jaw.
Anyway, three things. Over a week ago I walked out of a department store and overheard a dad talking to his son, who must have been about eight. He said, “Well, your mom is expecting breakfast in bed on Sunday, so we will definitely have to plan on that.” This did not sit well with me. First, it made me roll my eyes, because no way in hell has my husband given Mother’s Day the slightest thought and he certainly has not planned a breakfast a week in advance. I did not marry that man (which is totally cool with me). Secondly, the words, “your mother is expecting breakfast,” irritated me. Mother’s Day, it seems, should not be a day to demand special treatment. It seems to be more about honoring the ginormous and bittersweet task of being one.
That brings me to nubmer two, which is that one of my former students re-posted Anne Lamott’s 2010 bitter rant about Mother’s Day (http://www.salon.com/2010/05/08/hate_mothers_day_anne_lamott/) and as much as I love Lamott (and I do … so, so much), her words here saddened me. Trust me, I have witnessed my share of lousy mothers. I have held sobbing girls in my arms at school … because their mothers have abandoned them or abused them or kicked them out or called them whores, or who simply stopped caring because of an addiction or a should or a new love of the week. I have seen a lot and I guess that if you were “that girl,” maybe Mother’s Day feels like a lie to you too. A mother, we all know, can do a lot of damage, but I don’t think that because there is truth in that, or that because Mother’s Day is a “Hallmark holiday,” that we should abandon its underlying intent.
Thing three: A second former student’s mother died unexpectedly this week, at fifty-three.
Lamott writes, “… Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path.” I am pretty sure that is not what Hallmark intended.
I have known, always, that I wanted to be a mom. Always. Even though I hated babysitting and I never played with dolls, “motherhood,” for me has been a natural and expected and wanted fit. I do not want breakfast in bed for that. I will be in a shit hotel in Aurora anyway. All I want for mother’s day is the gift of still getting to be one. I don’t think that makes me superior, nor does it make me a victim. Sitting here, full of empathy for my grieving student, that is all I really want.
It is not a crime to take one day a year to reflect upon and honor what it means to be a mother, to have a mother, or to have lost a mother. So, like Lamott, I do not want my children to ever feel pressured to have to buy flowers and take me to brunch, but I do hope that they will grow to honor my choice and appreciate who I am as a person. I do hope, in fact, that one day they will actually want to brunch with me. Telling someone that you love that you appreciate them (even if the gesture is prompted by a Hallmark commercial) is an okay thing to do,and it does not make Mother’s Day the martyr of all holidays.
At this point in my life I am the mother of a boy who likes to listen to musical theater in the car. The mother of a girl who plays volleyball, writes stories, and makes friends easier than Oprah does. The mother of a boy who is anxious about my ignored medical bills, piling up on the dining room mirror, because one of them “has his name on it and it has lot of late fees on it.” At twelve, he is worried that I am ruining his credit. I am the mother of a soft, sweet, little toddler who loves to cuddle and is an expert dirt digger, who thinks that I am the best thing ever. I am a mother who worries about how it might feel when they are all out of the house and concerned that the sound of silence might be paralyzing.
I am not asking that anyone honor me on Sunday. I am asking to be allowed to feel grateful and to bask in the generosity that motherhood has shown me, and I am asking to honor these moms:
The mom’s in the NICU who just lost their child, the mom’s who are in the hospital watching their child fight to survive, the mothers who were brave enough to hold their stillborn child, the hundreds of mothers whose girls were just stolen, sleepless mothers, full of worry and panic and fear. Mother’s who go to every game, the mother’s who can’t make even one, the mother, who just last night, broke into tears because she got up for water in the middle of the night and stepped on a lego and it was just her last goddamned straw. I would like to honor the mother’s who are struggling to breastfeed, who are distraught over homework, who are not yet confidant to say “no” to volunteer work. Honor the mother’s who have had to give their children up for another mother to raise, honor the mother’s who accepted the gift. Honor the momma’s whose children are fighting wars, literally and imagined. I would like to honor the ones who have the flu, but are caring for three kids with the flu, while their husband sleeps. Honor the step-mothers who are feeling unsure of themselves and “new at this,” as well as the ones who have it down pat. I would like to honor the mom who is stuck in traffic and still has no idea what to make for dinner. Honor the mothers who don’t know whether or not they should still say they are a mother because their child has died.
I would like to honor my own mother, who has showed me how to make the perfect apple pie and is the only person in the world that I can call after I have done something dumb, who will actually make me feel better. I honor my husband’s mother, who created such a beautiful and talented man. My second mother-in-law, who sent me a lovely note and flowers that reminded her of my wedding, and who has never, ever missed a birthday and has driven thousands of miles, just to watch Luke on stage and Elizabeth on the court. My grandmothers, who I miss, and who I think of often, especially now, with Quinn, who will never know them. My aunt Shirley, whom Q calls Shuggy, who steps in for me, while I am at work, and who loves my son like he is her own. For someone that was raised without a mother of her own, she sure hasn’t missed a beat on how to do it flawlessly.
I do not think anyone of these women are superior to those who are spending their mother’s day childless. I do not think by naming their work that I am putting them on any sort of pedestal, and even if I am, who cares? I do think that their tasks carry with them insurmountable energy and commitment, and as I close this laptop to head out to the parking lot, I am aware of the previously mentioned items that are still lingering here on my table. Happy Mother’s Day to the mom who remembered to bring bandaids, to the mom who paid the orthodontist, and to the one who will now have to buy another sock. Your wonderful, coveted work is endless and you are a treasure.
You really need to gather all of these posts into a collection of essays, Kelly. You are an amazing woman, so perceptive, so full of empathy, and so wonderfully capable of finding the words to share your take on the world with anyone lucky enough to find them.