My beloved cousin sent me this post. It resonated with me in many ways.
Here is my annual Mother’s Day post, ONLY for those of you who dread the holiday, dread having strangers, cashiers and waiters exclaim cheerfully, mindlessly, “Happy Mother’s Day!” when it is a day that, for whatever reason, makes you feel deeply sad. I told Neal last year that I didn’t think I’d run it, because I always get so much hate mail, and he said, “It’s never stopped you before.”
This is for those of you who may feel a kind of sheet metal loneliness on Sunday, who had an awful mother, or a mother who recently died, or wanted to be a mother but didn’t get to have kids, or had kids who ended up breaking your hearts. I wrote about how I’m still getting over having had Nikki as a mother, and how I miss her, 20 years after her passing, in Dusk Night Dawn. If you love the day and have or had a great mom and happy, highly successful kids, maybe skip this:
I did not raise my son, Sam, to celebrate Mother’s Day. I didn’t want him to feel some obligation to buy me pricey lunches or flowers, some obligatory annual display of gratitude. Perhaps Mother’s Day will come to mean something to me as I grow even dottier in my dotage, and I will find myself bitter and distressed when Sam dutifully ignores the holiday. Then he will feel ambushed by my expectations, and he will retaliate by putting me away even sooner than he was planning to — which, come to think of it, would be even more reason for me to resist Mother’s Day.
But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is true. An unhealthy mother’s love is withering.
The illusion is that mothers are automatically more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be many mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping or sullen children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants or parkettes. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. They may have announced for a month that they are trying not to eat sugar. Oh well, eat up.
I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or lost children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. There is no refuge — not at the horse races, movies, malls, museums. Even the turn-off-your-cellphone announcer is going to open by saying, “Happy Mother’s Day!”
You could always hide in a nice seedy bar, I suppose. Or an ER.
It should go without saying that I also hate Valentine’s Day, even those years when I’ve had a boyfriend or some random husband.
Mothering perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents. Meanwhile, we know that many of the most evil people in the country are politicians who have weaponized parenthood.
Don’t get me wrong: There were a million times I could have literally died of love for my son, and I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me. I felt it yesterday when I was in despair. But I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent. What a crock! We talk about “loving one’s child” as if a child were a mystical unicorn. A majority of American parents secretly feel that if you have not had and raised a child, your capacity for love is somehow diminished. They secretly believe that non-parents cannot possibly know what it is to love unconditionally, to be selfless, to put yourself at risk for the gravest loss. But in my experience, it’s parents who are prone to exhibit terrible self-satisfaction and selfishness, who can raise children as adjuncts, like rooms added on in a remodel. Often their children’s value and achievements in the world are reflected glory, necessary for these parents’ self-esteem, and sometimes for the family’s survival. This is how children’s souls are destroyed.
But my main gripe with Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them, including aunties and brothers; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, who unconsciously raised me to self-destruct; and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, including my mom, even after their passing.
No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture’s bad people and behavior. You want to give me chocolate and flowers? Great. I love them both. I just don’t want them out of guilt, and I don’t want them if you’re not going to give them to all the people who helped mother children. But if you are going to include everyone, then make mine something like M&M’s, and maybe flowers you picked yourself, even from my own garden, the cut stems wrapped in wet paper towels, then tin foil and a waxed-paper bag from my kitchen drawer. I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain. Like everything else, it can fill me only if it is ordinary and available to all.
I personally had a difficult childhood. I made real peace with my mom some years before her passing. I love that I was able to do things for her out of love instead of obligation. I am grateful for her sacrifices and her trying her best, which truthfully was not enough.
I wanted children very much. One selfish reasons was that I wanted to give them the love I never received as a kid. I did the best I could with what I knew. To listen to them, I was overprotective and did not give them enough freedom. They both accuse me of favoring the other. I guess I can’t win.
Today, I don’t want any “things”, nor do I need any. I want them to know how much I love them always. I don’t have to agree with all their choices, to love them. I will always love them with all my heart. Now, I am the grandma. I love my grands with all my heart. I always will. I hope they know how much they mean to me.
I don’t need a Hallmark day to be celebrated. I just want my family to know I love them. That’s all I want or need.