Mother’s Day has always made me uncomfortable. The festivities felt hollow. Forced, maybe. Too hallmark-y. But I could never put my finger on why I felt so squirmy, so I just brushed it off as some weird Jennifer-ism.
And then last week two things happened—or, rather, I made two observations—and it clicked.
First, at my children’s mother’s day program (which involved inordinate amounts of butt wiggling, lip-synching, and flowery moms-are-awesome prose), all I could think of was our two sweet neighbor boys whose parents are in the middle of a divorce and who are living with their Grandma and aunt instead of their mama. I don’t know any details, but I sense there’s a good bit of pain. So while I watched those boys bouncing around on stage, chorusing “We love you, Mama!” with all the other kids, all I could think of was the hole in their lives.
Second, all day long on Sunday, May 12, my Facebook feed was flooded with beautiful pictures of people with their mothers. It made me sad, a little, because my mom is so far away and we’re missing each other. But that’s okay—separations are sad and sadness is life and all that.
What struck me as odd were all the posts acknowledging the children without mothers, the mothers without children, and every possible combination in between. The posts were poignant and spot-on. Mothering is painful and rich and wretched and holy. How we have been mothered, or not, and how we have mothered, or not, hits our core, hard.
I’m glad that people are acknowledging all the ways a person can mother and be mothered. The definition of mothering should be broadened. I am grateful that in my church the mothers aren’t asked to stand on Mother's Day.
In no other holiday do we spend so much time acknowledging and apologizing to the people whose hurt is extra pronounced because of that special day. The other holidays—Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year’s, Forth of July, you name it*—aren’t about us. Those holidays are broader. They’re about something beyond us. We are invited to enter in, but we aren’t the reason for the celebration. Uteruses don’t have any say in the matter.
I love being appreciated as much as the next person, maybe even more. I’m certainly not above milking the day for all it’s worth (hello ice cream maker and deck furniture!). But why not celebrate our mothers on our birthdays? Because that’s the day—the day they pushed us into the world, or laid flat on their backs while we were evacuated through the sunroof, or signed the adoption papers—that’s the day that makes the most sense, me thinks.
I expect I'm an anomaly with my squirmy idiosyncracies (am I? am I??). I don’t foresee Mother’s Day ending anytime soon. So I’ll continue to accept my children’s handmade cards and savor the opportunity to put my feet up a little extra long on that Sunday in May. And every May I'll feel awkward about all the mother honoring going on—not because mothering shouldn't be celebrated—but because it's done at the expense of highlighting other people's grief and pain.
*I lump Valentine's Day in the same boat with Mother's Day: Hallmark-y and shallow. But there's something different, more carnal, about the mother-child bond. You can pass through a string of lovers (though I don't recommend it), but not children.
Ps. Excuse the semi-weird-looking photos of my younger daughter. My mother's the one that pointed this out. She looks "a little sick there," she said. Thanks, Mom.