Once upon a time, I was 8 years old, and I wanted my mom’s Mother’s Day to be perfect, so I baked her a cake. By myself. As a surprise. With 3 cups of oil, instead of 1/3 cup, because they look similar and I didn’t know my fractions yet. My mom had to fix it, and she said it was wonderful and that mistakes happen and that she adored my effort, which ruined everything, of course, especially the surprise, so I spent the rest of the day with hot tears on my face, trying to decide whether I was angry or sad or full of despair.
Once upon a time, I was in my 20’s, newly-ish married, and I wanted to be a mom but my uterus kept rejecting our efforts, and I spent Mother’s Days with hot tears on my face, trying to decide whether I was angry or sad or full of despair.
Once upon a time, I was a new mom, and I knew I’d finally arrived. Mother’s Day was MINE! But I kept thinking about the mama I used to be – a mom of the heart without a baby in hand – and I spent the day hiding the occasional hot tears on my face – tears for the me I used to be and for my friends who were still there – trying to decide whether I was angry or happy or sad or overjoyed. I didn’t know at the time that it was OK to be all of those at once.
Once upon a time, I was a more experienced mom, and I didn’t know how to split my Mother’s Day between what I wanted, what my kids wanted, and the ways I wanted our moms and grandmothers to feel honored and valued. I was ashamed of wanting anything for me when I already had the children I’d longed for, but I was also fresh up on the frustration of trying to be All the Things and failing quite well at Most of Them, and what I really wanted so desperately was a break. I didn’t know who to be or what to feel or what to do, and I was, for a time, lost.
Here’s the deal, though. The thing I finally realized after years of Mother’s Days. And the thing that finally set me free to enjoy them.
Mother’s Day is never going to work.
Just… never. Like never, ever. Except for maybe for two or three people, because there’s always someone who ruins it for the rest of us. But for most of us? Nope. Not really. Not fully, anyway. Not in all the ways we want Mother’s Day to be a day of rest and celebration and filled to overflowing with easy joy and absent exhaustion and minus hard and without any grief. As much as we want it to, it just doesn’t work that way. It turns out there are Too Many Expectations, Too Much Pressure, and Too Many People to Try to Honor Well. And there are too many Friends Who Grieve the Good Mamas Who Are Gone, and the Ones Who Still Endure the Bad Ones Who Remain… and the Mamas Who’ve Lost Their Babies… and the Mamas Who’ve Handed Theirs to Another… and the Ones Who Want So Badly Be Mothers But Can’t… and more, and more, and more, into infinity.
It’s OK, though, that Mother’s Day kind of bites. It is, ’cause – get this – Mother’s Day has pretty much been a failure from its beginnings, over 100 years ago, so it’s totally not our fault. I mean, we’re not doing this wrong. We didn’t screw it up. It’s just that Mother’s Day is a terrible idea; the same, really, as Human’s Day, if Human’s Day was a thing, because there’s WAY TOO MUCH to dump into it. Too much for one day to hold. Why, it takes a lifetime to hold all of the magic and all of the mess that is motherhood. All of the wonder and all of the woe. All of the gorgeous and all of the gunk. All of the living and all of the dying we do with every breath. So we should understand when it’s far, far too much to fit into a card with dainty flowers and watercolored butterflies and the silver glitter dust that rubs off on our hands and gets everywhere and is impossible to clean.
But here’s the thing we must remember; a Happy Mother’s Day is not the triumph of motherhood, nor the measure of a woman or her child. And being a mother is not the same as a life well lived. No. The triumph of motherhood and a life well lived is this: that we – all of us who are human, both women and men, with and without children – somehow, in spite of ourselves, learn to love and nurture one another. To sacrifice for each other and to provide safety within. To sit in the dark with each other and reach out and whisper, “I’m here,” and “You’re not alone.” And to wait for the dawn.
We are the lovers, the caretakers, the sacrificers, the chocolate-chip-cookie-makers; we’re the uplifters, the lap-holders, the tear-driers, the world-set-righters; we’re the peacemakers, the freak-sometimes-outters, the justice-bringers, the mercy-givers; we’re the might-makers, the sit-through-the-nighters, the day-breakers, and the light-bringers.
And one small day can’t contain us.
More on Motherhood Here on the 5 Kids blog:
Or click on the links in the lefthand column.