Contributing writer Letty Tomlinson on ambivalence and a well-deserved nap.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” a friend greeted me with at church on the 13th. “Oh, right. Yeah. Thanks,” I replied. Then I added, “I almost forgot. … I have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day.” (Full disclosure: I have mixed feelings about many holidays.) The day to honor mom this year has already passed, but it’s still May and as this is a mother-oriented blog, I assume it might still be on some readers’ minds.
Why the mixed feelings? Or, more aptly, wariness? I can’t help but view Mother’s Day through the lenses of personal experience: life as a child of a mother, my time trying to become a biological motherhood, and life as a mother.
As a little girl, Mother’s Day was pretty easy. I didn’t have to remember the date. Inevitably, in school we’d make some sort of craft involving flowers to take home to Mom. Dad would take us shopping for cards and on Sunday, Mom would get a corsage to wear. As I got older and the burden of Mother’s Day fell on my shoulders, it began to feel a little bit like Mommy-Valentine’s day. Recognition not requested by own mother, but an obligation required by card-makers, florists and jewelers. I deeply resent being guilted by society in purchasing anything and I detest being told by vendors that the best way to express my love and appreciation for someone is to buy their product. Who is Madison Avenue to tell me I’m a good or bad daughter? Still, I always get my mother a card, usually late, though not this year. Thankfully, Mom loves me and kindly overlooks my tardiness.
Without going into personal details, I’ll just say that it took several years for us to achieve parenthood. Because Mother’s Day had never really been on my aspirational emotional radar (see above), during those trying years, the second Sunday in May would come and go with little notice from me. I really didn’t care. However, surfing the Internet during those days, it was apparent that Mother’s Day weekend was a rough one for many, many women who were trying so hard to make babies. Forums would light up with sad comments and comforting well-wishes that next year the poster would be spending Mother’s Day with her very own child. And those are just the women who feel freer talking about their feelings. There are no doubt women of child-rearing age who are not yet mothers, but want to be, but whose life situations – reproduction hurdles aside – haven’t yet allowed for parenthood. Now, each year as Mother’s Day nears, I can’t help but think of the women who aren’t mothers, but want to be and wonder what this day means to them. I want to hug the women who feel like they’re outside in the cold, looking in at a banquet. A banquet that looks like a mocking bauble “brought to you by Hallmark.”
Finally, my ambivalence towards Mother’s Day is colored by my experience as a mother. It’s kind of insulting that we set aside one day a year to honor mothers and their gifts to their families and communities. For 364 days a year, mothers of all stripes struggle to keep their children – and often the children of others’ – fed, clothed, clean, educated, entertained and functioning politely. In return, America offers them brunch, a bouquet, a card, and possibly a tennis bracelet. The next day, mom slips back into being another common tool in the drawer that we use without notice that gets us through our lives. Kind of like how no one takes notice of our military veterans until November 11 and then we go back to ignoring them on November 12. And, much like Mother’s Day, any thanks they get on that day seems to be driven more by a sense of obligation than heartfelt gratitude. (However, arguably mothers get the better end of the “acknowledgement” stick since their holiday is powered by consumer culture and Veterans’ Day is powered by sheer social duty.)
Here is where I, admittedly, take a turn for the hypocritical. I will take the one single day, if it is offered. It is better than zero days of social recognition. I’m not much one for gifts, so all I asked for was a nap. Our Mother’s Day itself was hectic and filled with visiting family, so I didn’t get it then, but I did get two hours of a silent house the day before, when my husband took the girls with him to run errands. It was just me and the dog. I was so giddy for the silence, it took me a long time to fall asleep. It was the best gift. And best of all, it’s one that I know won’t be relegated to one day a year as a paltry, guilt-prodded thanks. It’s one that will be given again and again (particularly as the baby becomes more independent) and I will be always grateful.