Mother’s Day Redux
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.
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.