It was my 27th Mother’s Day last month, and many thoughts ran through my mind. (Although those who know me realize that it could have been a Tuesday afternoon with nothing going on, and many thoughts would probably be running through my mind, but I digress.) First and foremost was that I was indeed happy to have been a mom to three wonderful young adults, and also thrilled that we have recently added two more wonderful daughters. For those who have been reading our adoption story/saga, you know that my road to motherhood was not exactly a smooth or predictable path. So…I am not complaining…but…some thoughts about the holiday follow.
A close friend of mine recently commented “I hate Mother’s Day!” to which I quickly responded, “Thank you!” even before I realized it had come out of my mouth. It is not that I don’t like recognition, sweet cards, restaurant dining, or gift certificates, but there are somethings that trouble me each year on Mother’s Day.
But first a bit of history… (or as my children refer to it, a brief nap…zzz). Tracing the holiday’s history is a great lesson in unintended consequences. If you are a keen observer of earthly events, you will see that unintended consequences and its kissin’ cousin, accidental discoveries, make up quite a chunk of the world’s more interesting history. For example, kudzu, the vine imported from China to tackle soil erosion, did keep the soil in place, but is now much more famous here in the South for taking over entire forests and killing the trees. A number of other good examples are available on this site: Museum of Unintended Consequences. Mother’s Day is not listed there, but maybe it should be.
The tradition of honoring goddesses of fertility by the Greeks and Romans seems to be the root of the current celebration. After that the Christian church adopted the celebration to honor the church where one was baptized (one’s Mother church), and then in the 1600’s an English clerical decree suggested Mothering Day (a title I rather like) as a day to honor real mothers. This day allowed the working class to travel home to be with their families and give gifts to their mothers.
Later Julia Ward Howe, (author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) wished to have a day to honor mothers and peace, as a result of the trauma of the U.S. Civil War. June 2, 1870 was the designated day, but for some reason it did not remain popular and sort of fell by the wayside until West Virginia’s Anna Jarvis brought it back to life and worked tirelessly to make sure that eventually Mother’s Day would be an official day, and it was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.
Anna Jarvis however became upset at the commercialism attached to the holiday and was even arrested in the 1930’s for protesting a group selling flowers to honor the day (talk about your unintended consequences.) So the holiday evolved from pagan fertility gods-> your Mother church-> Mothering Day-> Mothers for Peace Day-> Mother’s Day-> Flowers/Restaurant/Retail Day. It has a tortuous history, doesn’t it? No, I didn’t mean tortorous, but maybe that applies as well.
Sappy Mother’s Day
Most likely your kids won’t buy you a diamond necklace, as is suggested in TV ads, and there is nothing wrong with that. However now that the retailers have gotten hold of Mother’s Day, there is a huge push to “make Mom feel special.” Don’t get me wrong; I love a gift card as much as anyone else. But the sweet notes I have received from my kids and their spouses mean more to me than any gift card. If my kids did not have the financial means to take me out to dinner or purchase a gift, I would be just fine with a visit or a note or a phone call. When living in an consumer environment, one always has to keep in mind that the amount of money spent is not a measure of devotion.
And getting back to my friend’s comment, we agreed that we like being appreciated without retailers, or calendars, or societal pressure telling our kids to do it. An out of the blue note of appreciation is always welcome.
Crappy Mother’s Day
We all know people who have either lost their moms, lost a baby, cannot conceive, have a suffering child, gave up a baby, never married but wanted to, or have a prodigal who is not speaking to them. Imagine how difficult it is for these women to sit in church watching the white or red carnations being passed out. We know that there will never be a Lost Your Mother/Baby/Contact with your Child Day. Those TV commercials would be too hard to watch. For me, I would be okay to forego my carnation if it would alleviate the pain of those around me.
I suppose my readers who are good at math, and/or who have been following our infertility/adoption story may reasonably assume that four sad Mother’s Days do not seem too bad in light of the 27 happy ones. As I have often explained to those I have counseled with, I no longer feel the pain, but I do remember it. Think of a trip to the dentist when you had a cavity, or some other painful event. It could be as simple as having had your tangled hair brushed by your determined mom. Do you still feel the pain? Of course not. However you may remember it vividly. And what good can come from such memories? Why, empathy of course, the emotional capital that we earn from our pain and give to others in need.
How to be Happy While Aware of Others’ Sorrow
This is tricky stuff; being a wordster, I find that a short hand-written note is a small but kind gesture. I have been both the sender and the recipient of such notes; you know the ones; they find a sensitive way to say that I am aware of your sorrow, and will be thinking of and praying for you this day.
In closing, perhaps you are wondering if my Italian/Irish roots have left me unable to simply celebrate any holiday without a trace of melancholy. Sometimes it is nice to be oblivious to the feelings of others, and in many cases I am (just ask my family). However on Mother’s Day in particular, my own history leaves me unable to do so. For me, Mother’s Day will always be a day of wonder at how so many pieces came together for my three children to have me as their mom, gratitude to God for allowing me to experience what I desired all my life, and empathy for those who may be hurting that day. And those three qualities, wonder, gratitude and empathy, perhaps more than others, seem to be the ones that mothers and their children particularly need as they experience life together.
Happy Mother’s Day, 2012