It’s Mother’s Day. Restaurants are packed, because the very first thing on people’s minds is to relieve mothers of the classic burden of cooking for their families today. Yesterday and earlier this week, stores were packed with desperate shoppers trying to find a gift that in some way measures up to all their mothers have given to them. It can’t be done.
Girls and women dream of romance and of having babies and having big, happy families. If all goes well, by bearing children they become a part of the historical stream of humanity that links us physically both to the ancient past and to the far future. Of all the celebrations throughout the year, some spiritual, some completely temporal, this day is special because it’s about endless love of the human variety. Women expect to love their babies. But when they actually meet them, they fall in love with them, which is a very different thing. And it is very necessary, because the demands of motherhood are tremendous. It is love, not duty, that gets mothers through it.
I always dislike Mother’s Day greeting cards that start out talking about the mother, but end up talking about the child instead. It’s about your mother today, not you. Could you manage to say something about her? But of course it’s about this woman being your mother, not about her other life achievements. Thus we easily fall into the trap of celebrating our mothers by celebrating ourselves. I guess we’re trying to prove to her that all her hard work and sacrifice was worth it, because she created and nurtured a functional human being. But it’s hopeless to believe that taking her out to lunch once a year, or sending her a bouquet, will do that.
My mother hated Mother’s Day and always refused to celebrate it. Full stop. She didn’t want cards, she didn’t want gifts, and she didn’t want flowers. She said and I quote, “You should be good to your mother every day of the year, not just on Mother’s Day.” She had lost her own mother to an epidemic at a very young age, and celebrating Mother’s Day initially just made her feel her lack of a mother. But later, when she was a mother herself, she believed that the job description was far too cannibalistic. Children should not eat up their mothers’ lives. Children should learn to be unselfish, to become part of a family that pulls together, instead of being lazy and demanding and making work and worry for their mothers. Guess which kind of child I was?
Both, my mother insisted. And that’s the miracle of being a mother. You can see your children quite realistically, be annoyed by their youthful errors, and love them anyway. You always remember the first moment you met that baby, the total helplessness and purity of that child. And your own fierce determination to protect your baby from all the woes of life. It can’t be done, but as a mother you try. To the degree that you fail, you also have to acknowledge that life is not perfectible. You are not the perfect mother and your child is not the perfect child. But close.
As a child, the embrace from your mother is the one embrace in the world that demands nothing and accepts all. It is both hope and tolerance. When we look for adult love, in part we are looking for that same kind of all-encompassing acceptance we found in our mother’s embrace. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we find it. Sometimes we don’t. For various reasons, some women don’t become mothers. And for some children, mothers are the treacherous enemy. It happens. Still, the impulses of motherhood can be replicated in situations that aren’t directly maternal, such as mentoring, or creating art, or any number of other achievements. But today we celebrate a classic womanly achievement. Since I do listen to my mother, I try to celebrate Mother’s Day every day. I hope you do, too.