I have some problems with Mother’s Day.
Even though it had radical feminist religious beginnings (which I’m so in favor of since those are three words I love to see in combination, considering myself somewhat in that camp, “somewhat” because I’m not nearly as radical, feminist, or religious as I feel I should be), conceived by several women in the late 1800s and early 1900s who were peace activists, working for the poor and oppressed, fighting for women’s and children’s rights and education, and women who were, in general, working to make the world a better place – Mother’s Day has been so co-opted by commercialism and the idolizing of motherhood, that its original intent has pretty much gotten lost in the shuffle.
Now it’s mostly a day for overly large flower purchases, schmaltzy greeting cards, brunches, phone calls and “trying to do right by Mom.” We spend $14.6 billion on Mother’s Day every year, $1.9 billion on flowers, $671 million on Mother’s Day cards (making it the third largest greeting card buying day, just behind Christmas and Valentine’s Day) and 80 million Americans will be taking Moms out for a meal at one of her favorite-ish restaurants.
It’s hard not to cringe a little when you think about what could be done in this country and around the world to better the lives of mothers and children with $14.6 billion.
And then there’s the whole “motherhood is sacred” ideology going on behind many celebrations of Mother’s Day, which I have big issues with. That whole “you can’t be fulfilled as a woman unless you have a child,” “a mother’s love is special and amazing and pure,” “motherhood is a woman’s true calling from God,” thinking which I so do not agree with. And which makes Mother’s Day painful for so many people. Don’t have a child? Well then clearly you’re missing out on one of life’s greatest gifts, clearly you’re broken in some deep way, clearly you’re not in God’s will. Didn’t feel like you got much love from your own mother, especially nothing “amazing and pure?” Clearly you got ripped off. Or maybe there was just something wrong with you. Maybe you were a bad child. Maybe you were not…you guessed it… doing God’s will. Not finding motherhood all that special? Finding it really hard or completely confusing or mind-numbingly boring, or challenging, but not in a good way, or simply just wonderful sometimes, and awful sometimes, and pretty ordinary most times? Finding yourself to be…oh what’s the official term for it? Oh yeah… a sucky mom? Or at least not as perfect a mom as other moms you see at the tot lot, school pick up line, or on Facebook seem to be? (How is it that their kids can keep pretty little bows in their hair? Have a perfect GPA, be a star soccer goalie and play the violin so well, all at the same time? How is it that their children have such good manners, don’t seem like they would benefit from anti-depressants, actually enjoy wearing nylons and dress up shoes?) Then clearly you must not be doing it right, clearly you must be somehow missing the perfect motherhood gene, clearly you are not…wait for it.. in God’s will.
But here’s my biggest problem of all with Mother’s Day.
I don’t want to give it up.
Even though in my heart of hearts I believe it’s not a good thing on so many levels, I still want to receive a card or a phone call from my kids telling me how much they love and value and cherish me, how I am such an amazing Mom and how they can’t imagine living without me. I want them to take me to my favorite restaurant and maybe toss a few well-wrapped gifts my way, gifts that manage to communicate that they know me, they “get me,” gifts that somehow are enough to convince me that I’ve been doing the whole mothering thing relatively well. Or at least, well enough. And my dear husband Gary, yeah, I would love something from him too. And heck if anyone else wanted to acknowledge me tomorrow, thank me for the impact I’ve had on their lives, tell me I’ve done some wonderful, meaningful things, been like a mother to them, possibly even better than their real moms…yeah, sure bring it on, I’ll take it.
Because here’s the thing. I am basically a very needy person.
And I don’t feel I get nearly enough appreciation on a daily basis.
And you know how sometimes people say, I can’t thank you enough? In my case, they’re right.
I’m not happy to confess this. I’m ashamed, in fact.
But the truth is, in this sorta secret place inside me, I feel a lot like Garrison Keeler, who, when once asked by a journalist if he was happy about all the accolades he’d been receiving lately, reportedly said, “No, it’s never enough… What I really want is for people to bow down and worship me for the god I truly am.”
So yeah…the depths of my neediness…it’s kind of astounding.
But sometimes I wonder, especially if the $14.6 billion price tag on Mother’s Day every year is any indication, if I might not be alone in this.
I wonder if it might be…I don’t know…a symptom of the human condition.
Last night Gary was working, so I ended up going out to dinner with Hannah, my 19-year-old, just recently home from her freshman year in college. We were having fun, just the two of us, breaking into our British accents occasionally, as we sometimes do, simply to amuse ourselves. It was all very easy, very relaxed, until the conversation took a slight turn. I was asking about her songwriting plans/goals for the summer…she’s a wonderful songwriter, who’s won a number of accolades already, and that’s what she’s majoring in at college. And she suddenly got serious and told me the truth…that it’s been very hard for her to write at home recently, because she hasn’t felt like her dad and I have been very supportive.
What???!!!??? How could she possibly think that? I can’t imagine parents being any more supportive than us, any more encouraging… any bigger fans. Well, she said, you just don’t seem as excited as you used to when I write a new song. You say it’s nice and all, but you don’t make that big a deal of it.
I tried not to go into totally defensive mode. It wasn’t easy. Because she was basically telling me, on the cusp of Mother’s Day, about yet another failure in my mothering. But I tried to breathe and put myself in her shoes and listen to what she was really saying.
Which I think was: No matter how brave and strong I am, I also need some people in my life who will be awed and amazed by me. And will tell me so, loudly and clearly. They might possibly even gush over me regularly.
I get that. I really do.
And then something else happened, in that moment. I felt a rush of pride. Pride that my daughter is aware of her feelings and needs and isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants and believes she can trust me to respond well when she does. And doesn’t seem to be ashamed of them. Wow. OK, score ONE for good mothering…I mean, I think I get to take a little credit for that, right?
Maybe I can learn from it too.
Today I called my dad for his birthday and we talked a while. He’s just turned 89, and overall he’s doing really well, even though we lost my mom, his wife of 67 years, 3 years ago. A retired Baptist pastor, he still visits the elderly in nursing homes three days a week, sings in his church choir, is a regular in Sunday School. He was telling me about the calls and cards he got from folks this week, about how his choir sang him Happy Birthday, about the dinner my older sister made for him. He mentioned one note he’d received in particular in which someone wrote to him that he was such an inspiration to people, he was someone who other people got so much just from being around. And he said, “It’s good to hear that kind of thing once in a while. Because when you get to be my age, sometimes it’s hard to see that it matters that you’re still alive.”
Oh dad, I thought, I know it’s got to be hard at your age, because honestly, it’s hard to see it at my age. I think it’s hard maybe at any age, 89, 59 or 19. We all need to know we matter. We all need to hear we are contributing something unique and worthwhile to life on this planet, we all need that.
We are all needy.
Maybe some of us more than others…but still.
And somehow birthdays and anniversaries, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day…name your holiday… exist because none of us ever hear it enough, though we may be too ashamed to admit it, and few of us say it enough, or say it loud enough, clearly enough, the right words, the words we all need to hear: You’re wonderful, you’re amazing, I’m so glad you’re on this planet, in my life…you matter. And, essentially, we need a special day to force our hearts and mouths open.
Maybe we wouldn’t need to spend quite so much on the fancy flowers and jewelry and cards and meals if we could open our mouths and hearts a little wider, a little more often.
I’ve spent most of the day today at a girls’ softball tournament. Hannah is coaching a team of 10 year olds this summer and it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day – 72 and mostly sunny – and I was able to take in the glory of spring and of watching my daughter mother 15 little girls for 10 hours. She was funny but directive, encouraging but firm, very aware of what they’re capable of and expected enough from them, but not too much. And she cared. She really cares about these kids. Mostly, she’s trying to be the kind of coach she would have wanted at their age.
I don’t know if she’s doing it perfectly. But she’s doing it wonderfully.
I kept trying to put that into words to her throughout the day. Trying to say it as loudly and clearly as I could. I hope she was able to hear it. I should probably give her a mother’s day card tomorrow. For all she’s teaching and modeling for these girls. For all she teaches and models for me, too.
So yeah, not sure yet what Mother’s Day will hold for me tomorrow. I suspect my family will come through with something…dinner out with Gary and Hannah, maybe a phone call from Zoe, my oldest daughter who is still away at college…something. And possibly…just possibly… I’ll tell my family not to give me a gift this year. And we’ll use the money to do something the founders of Mother’s Day would have really appreciated…support moms and kids who need help with food and shelter and medical care and education, who need help just staying alive… I’m sort of thinking about this organization called Every Mother Counts. But a gift to the Greater Chicago Food Depository would be great too.
I know one other thing I want to do, though. Take the opportunity to thank a few people in my life, a number of people I know who are not my actual mother, but who mother me all the same. Women, men, married, single, old, young, these are people in my life who teach me, guide me, comfort me, make me laugh, help me cry.
I want to try to find a way if I can, to thank them tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then sometime soon, and tell them how much they matter to me, and how much it matters they’re alive.
Because maybe, like me, they need to hear it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.