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Mother’s Day Redux

2010 May 9

I was raised by a first generation American (my father) and the daughter of lefty socialists (my mother), and the mix created an apathetic confusion regarding commercial holidays. On Christmas we fled; on Valentines Day my mother would purchase and hide a few foiled-wrapped chocolate hearts – sometimes so well, they were never to be found again. Mother’s Day was marked by sweet, temporal cut and paste school crafts, slipped into the garbage after the requisite week on the fridge.

So, you may think that I’m passing on Mother’s Day. But no; I am a sentimental fool who swoons over the least proclamation of love from my children, including Col’s cryptic and recent utterance “Mama, I love you as much as you.”  I have a folder marked “kid’s art” in which Rose’s chaotic, streaky watercolor titled “It’s our house” resides along with Col’s multi-piece series: “Mama cow with babies: I, II, III, IV and V.”

And it’s not even like that much pampering took place today. I mean qualifying to celebrate Mother’s Day is the result of having children. I had to defend the bouquet of flowers Dan bought me against Col’s pleading for his own few blossoms. I eventually set Col up with a mini bouquet–divided from mine–which delighted him almost as much as discovering the floral name “baby’s breath,” which seemed like a hilarious thing to call a nice flower. The children “helped” me prepare our potato garden bed, simply by allowing me to weed and swirl in compost with only minimal interruptions, and in a weird sort of way, that was special.

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This holiday was originally envisioned by social activist Julia Ward Howe after the horrors of the Civil War. Howe intended to unite women against war and in 1870 wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation, a treatise for peace and disarmament. However, the holiday didn’t receive formal recognition until 1908 when Anna Jarvis adopted the cause, altering it as a day to simply honor one’s very own Ma. Jarvis saw Mother’s Day as a private affair, and later went bankrupt fighting the viral commercialization of the holiday. A greeting card is a sorry excuse for a handwritten letter, Jarvis insisted.

Maybe it’s fortunate that Jarvis didn’t live to see the e-card, but one thing that hasn’t changed in one hundred years is how motherhood cracks open your heart with the subtlety of a hammer. No sooner are we fingering the eerie, gumby-like skulls of our newborns and swimming in their inkwell eyes, than we’re transformed forever. It’s like your brain gets remodeled. Your self gets tucked back behind the shabby sofa, jockeying for space with marital relations and sleep, while all remaining brain function is funneled into keeping this tiny, gassy human alive.

You may watch, slightly bewildered, as your former identity is whisked away in a speedy curtain change and the set crew replaces the former tools of your trade with a rocking chair and nursing pillow. But you’ll soon notice how that little one fits like a puzzle piece in your arms, so seamlessly, you may wonder what occupied that space before.

We mothers become giants, imbued with the strength to hoist literal and figurative automobiles off our children when we sense danger. And yet, with the locks on our hearts picked open by small, sticky fingers, we shatter to a million pieces when confronted with the suffering of others. Because when you gaze into your infant’s depthless eyes, your shell cracks and the whole world stares back at you.

The joys of motherhood are like pebbles on the river’s shore, ordinary, ubiquitous and continually shifting. So are the burdens. If you try to grab hold to either, they will slide through your fingers, just as your children someday will too. There’s no prestige in mothering, certainly no money. It’s not the path to a tranquil, stress-free life, or an orderly house. But the feel of this small, tender-skinned hand in yours is enough.

You don’t need a Hallmark card to tell you motherhood is a blessing. Nor do you need a chorus of grannies to tell you it goes by so very fast. These things you’ve noticed.

Maybe someday, as Howe and Jarvis hoped, both peace and handwritten love notes to our mothers will be fashionable. Until then Mamas, the rivers of child-raising are deep and wide; there is no shore, just an occasional slippery rock to grab hold of, watching, as your gorgeous children splash and play.

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23 Responses leave one →
  1. May 9, 2010

    What a lovely description of motherhood. Happy Mother’s Day!

  2. Ami permalink
    May 9, 2010

    Thank you! You are an amazing writer! I am going to forward this to a pregnant friend! :)

  3. May 9, 2010

    “But the feel of this small, tender-skinned hand in yours is enough.”….
    so true. thank you so much and happy mother’s day!

  4. Kathy permalink
    May 9, 2010

    Thanks for reminding me of the surprises of early childhood. I’ll forward this on to my 30 year old daughter, whose son is 7 1/2; she will remember. When my 25 year old was born with Down syndrome, I felt oddly at peace with myself and the life I was to lead. Today she asked my husband to take my hand to go out to the car; they had planned a breakfast out (not my favorite thing) and we braved a public Mother’s Day repast with other families at the local breakfast venue, sticky syrup and partially hydrogenized spread (ugh) notwithstanding. But she presented me with a beautiful red construction paper card covered with small penciled clouds and odd-shaped hearts, representing 25 years of love and devotion, with love and her signature inside.
    Being a Mother is a blessing, yet the slippery rock is ever present, no matter the age.

  5. May 9, 2010

    happy day to you … so funny … have been making notes about that very set crew just today, and how well they cast these actors playing my children. more to follow. s

  6. Melissa permalink
    May 9, 2010

    so beautifully and aptly put.

    the whole self thing–loss and recovery, discovery, evolution–continues to fascinate me and i love how you write about it.

    so looking forward to digging in a little deeper once my girl is born . . . any day now. i can’t wait. meanwhile, i think the best part of my day was when avi and i napped in my bed and then (when i got out of bed before he did) i heard his sweet footsteps coming up the stairs while i sorted baby clothes . . .and he was all sweaty and tousled and just wonderful to hold. okay, i also liked when leeor biked for my favorite pastry and i got to eat it all by myself because avi was outside “driving” my mom’s car.

    happy mama’s day to you.

  7. May 9, 2010

    Children are gassy? I hadn’t noticed.

    “It’s like your brain gets remodeled.” Genius.

    Wonderful description of this path we are on.

  8. May 10, 2010

    This is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. You should try to get it published :). Thank you for sharing such wondrous wisdom and insight.

  9. May 10, 2010

    What a lovely piece to wake up and read this morning. I love the baby pics~~so sweet!

  10. May 10, 2010

    Well. Aren’t I all teary now? Yes I am. I love that picture with your babies in your arms :)

  11. May 10, 2010

    you are hilarious and beautiful and i loved what you wrote here. it softened my heart to be reminded of everything you said. and to learn how mither’s day came about. i sometimes feel like my own chorus of grannies lives in my head and sings way too often.

    we live at 6700 ish feet. so similar!

  12. abozza permalink
    May 10, 2010

    I couldn’t agree more!!!
    http://amysreallife.wordpress.com

  13. Anonymous permalink
    May 11, 2010

    I love your blog and this post was lovely. Much love to you and your family.

    Marissa

  14. May 11, 2010

    Thanks for teaching me the story of Mother’s Day and I hope you had a great day, even if it wasn’t all about pampering.

  15. May 11, 2010

    Oh, this is gorgeous.

  16. May 12, 2010

    Loved this: “The joys of motherhood are like pebbles on the river’s shore, ordinary, ubiquitous and continually shifting.”

  17. May 12, 2010

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I headed right over to check yours out. Your writing is lovely. And I love the way we all connect.

    I grew up in a non-religious Jewish family and married a nonpracticing Christian. Through our 17 year marriage (we were married by an ethical culture leader) we rarely attended any services. But we’ve recently moved and I have found a Universalist Unitarian church (through playing in the bell choir) that really resonates with me. This past weekend the minister spoke about Julia Ward Howe and her original Mothers’ Day. She envisioned mothers as a powerful political force across the world that would keep their sons from killing other mothers’ sons. Time to resurrect that idea!

  18. May 12, 2010

    “You may watch, slightly bewildered, as your former identity is whisked away in a speedy curtain change and the set crew replaces the former tools of your trade with a rocking chair and nursing pillow. But you’ll soon notice how that little one fits like a puzzle piece in your arms, so seamlessly, you may wonder what occupied that space before.”

    YOU are amazing. I loved all of this post… but especially the above quote. I can barely remember life before motherhood. Was that really me??

  19. May 12, 2010

    happy super late mama’s day! you are such a picture of utter and complete fabulousness! i lift my virtual beer to you in a toast to mamahood and alla its stinky, messy, *sweet* underpinnings.
    much love.

  20. May 13, 2010

    The fog and gloom I see outside my window dissipates with the warmth that your words spread through me. You continue to move me and inspire me with your writing.

    It’s a beautiful thing. Motherhood. Your words. The picture perfection of the three of you.

    “Because when you gaze into your infant’s depthless eyes, your shell cracks and the whole world stares back at you.” It truly does.

  21. May 14, 2010

    Well put mama :)

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