I had wondered how I would feel about the first Mother’s Day since Mom died last year, and honestly, it doesn’t make me miss her any more than I normally do. Of course, that may have something to do with her decline toward the end of her life–it almost felt like she wasn’t here in those last few months.
More than that, I’ve been hyper-aware of the way that Mother’s Day and other holidays are marketed as consumer-driven events. It used to seem that Hallmark had a card for every occasion, but merchants far beyond stationary stores have figured out a way to make us feel that we must spend, spend, spend in order to express our love and gratitude for those who shape our lives. Even non-profits have jumped on the bandwagon, as my email inbox was filled with “Show your mother that you love her by giving [fill-in-the-blank] $50.”
The assumption is that we all want to celebrate this date–that it has a sentimental value for everyone–and that we are better people if we spend money showing our appreciation. But what about those who don’t want to be reminded of Mother’s Day? What about those who are members of “The Dead Mothers Club”? When is our holiday?
Mother’s Day affects people in different ways. The vast majority of my friends experience it as a joyous occasion. Those who are mothers might get to sleep late, have breakfast in bed, be treated to lunch, receive flowers and chocolate, plus the handmade (or store-bought) cards and gifts from their children. This is a fun day to recognize the value of mothers who give so much to their families all year long. Then there are the sons and daughters who call home…or text…or Skype…to say “Thanks for putting up with me all these years and not kicking me out when I dyed my hair purple, totaled your car, and dated that guy/girl who almost convinced me to quit college and join a commune.” Ah, yes, mothers have a lot of patience when it comes to rebellious kiddos.
That’s the standard narrative for mothers on this annual date. It doesn’t tell the full story, though, or even acknowledge the political origins of Mother’s Day. There are plenty of alternative experiences that aren’t included in the pre-Mother’s Day commercials. Hallmark never reminds us of the mothers who have abused their kids or abandoned their families. Politicians don’t seem to want to talk about homelessness among gay teens who are kicked out of the house by mothers (and fathers) who refuse to accept the child’s sexuality. But these women are out there, and some of my friends have been directly impacted by such mothers. Then there are the mothers serving time in prison. This beautifully moving photo collage reminds us that mothers in prison are humans who are capable of loving their children.
I also think of those mothers who have had to say goodbye to a child too soon. Employees who worked with Trayvon Martin’s mother collectively donated vacation time to give her what she needs: time to grieve the murder of her son. A friend of mine suffered a miscarriage this past week and is grieving in her own way about a loss that not everyone understands. And then there are those women who dream of becoming mothers but are infertile, including some who were forcibly sterilized.
The common thread among these various scenarios is the difference between “inside” and “outside.” Mother’s Day (as well as most other holidays) call attention to those who have shared identities and experiences while marginalizing those whose stories don’t fit neatly onto a greeting card. I would like to invite you all to engage in a discussion here about your own observations on this issue, especially:
What does it feel like not to fit in?
Even if you feel like you might not “belong” anywhere else today, please know that you are welcome here. Your truth matters.
I’d like to give a shout-out to my own mother, who more than anyone made me the person I am today. There is not enough space on the internet to convey the unconditional love that she showed for my sister and me. She was a warm, gentle spirit who touched countless lives. To know her was to love her. But I’ve also had other mother-figures in my life, and they deserve some recognition as well. Back in college, I dubbed my flute teacher Sally Turk as my “mom away from mom,” and she continues to inspire me to this day. I also think of my good friend Sadie Emery’s mother Donna (whom I also count as a friend), a woman who welcomed me into her home when a family crisis required my mother to be away from home for an extended period of time. And, of course, there are my grandmothers as well as my aunts who have taught me so much.
Finally, I dedicated today to another mother, a woman I met in Haiti whose greatest hope is that she can provide enough food for her children that they won’t continue to starve. I’ve thought as I’ve gone about my day and tried to imagine what it’s like to be an abjectly impoverished mother in a developing country. I’m pleased that her situation has improved since I met her in March, but she also stands as a symbol for the countless others who watch their children die of malnutrition, malaria, cholera, landmine explosions, genocide, and so many other atrocities. Let’s do what we can to honor all the mothers in this world, not just by boosting the sales performance of greeting card companies but by raising awareness of the diversity of experiences that contribute to this notion of “motherhood.”