This Sunday, May 12 will be my third Mother’s Day, and this whole time I’ve been trying to figure out what I think about having one day sum up my work the other 364 days of the year. As a rule, we don’t celebrate what we call “Hallmark Holidays” in our house, but I’m still surprised to find myself so conflicted about this particular holiday. My first Mother’s Day I was a brand-new mother, and the Skype calls from family around the country left me exhausted and weepy by the end of the day. “Why don’t they know how miserable it is to change the call time by 30 minutes?” Looking back, I can’t help but think that experience was my first introduction to what our cultural attitude towards motherhood really is:
“What’s the big deal? Our reservation ran late. You’re home all day. Who gets enough sleep anyway?”
My second Mother’s Day I invited people to our house and a few stayed the weekend. It’s true, I slept in and took a long shower – I distinctly remember having time to wash my hair, shave both legs, and emerge with no cuts or soap bubbles. In fact, while I conjured this memory, I’m pretty sure I was completely dry when I got dressed. By 3 p.m. everyone had departed, and I had about two hours of dishes and two days of laundry ahead of me. Yay, Mother’s Day.
This will be my third Mother’s Day. I now understand the desire for flowers and gifts, despite how much I despise consumer-driven holidays. I’ve made no sense to myself this past week as I debate my secret desire for a material token while I wrestle with what I am sure is my value system.
Do I want to be taken out for brunch?
“No, I guess not really,” as I flash forward and see myself in a light-colored spring-inspired outfit, fresh and jubilant at the outset. The wait for a table will go on and on. We will become cranky and hungry while we stave off toddler boredom in too-small spaces. Before the food comes I will have at least one beverage spilled on me. Berry jam of some sort will color my single “I-can-look-like-I can-get-it-together” blouse, and my “special, me-day latte” will be cold before I get more than a few sips. Halfway through the meal I will be visibly pissy and cross. Toddler will be fussy and defiant. Husband will be weary and confused; “but this is what she wanted to do…” will be all over his face.
“Oh my God who are you?!?!?” A voice screeches in my head. “You would be the only mother out for brunch by herself on Mother’s Day. Why would you even want that? What’s wrong with you?”
Devil on my shoulder says, “Actually, you would be the only mother eating her brunch and reading a book without pictures.”
It has to be deeper than brunch though—this conflict over the sacredness of my chosen vocation. Being alone is not really what I’m looking for. I love spending every day with my daughter, and she is my heart’s delight. I know I’m feeling the pang of wanting something, but I can’t quite name it, and it baffles me that Mother’s Day brings it all up. I’ve been trying to dig in and find out what I thought the card, the flowers, the gift, the “thing” could be and I felt like I was also trying to face something about myself.
A commercial was loading on my laptop, so I started mindlessly thumbing through tabs when I heard a child’s voice singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” I ignored it the first, second, and third time, but eventually I had to see what they were selling me.
Three generations of women. All loving each other, all having quality time together, all singing the same song, and then crescendo!!! Grandmother says goodbye, mother and granddaughter embark on special card-making project… “OMG I REMEMBER HOW LITTLE NUT’S EYES WOULD GET SO BIG BECAUSE IT ALMOST FREAKED HER OUT THAT EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE WORLD KNEW THE WORDS TO THAT SONG AND WOULD SING IT TO HER!!!!”
In fewer than 20 seconds I went through this weird waterfall of emotional experiences. Everything from, “I should do that for my mom!” to “Oh, what a great mother-daughter experience it would be for me to put that special card together,” to “Oh, wow. I am so not that mom.”
“I don’t even know where I would find that card, much less get it mailed on time”.
And finally: “I suck.”
Then, like the stages of grief, except veering away from acceptance and moving backwards towards anger, I think about how doing art projects with a young child doesn’t look anything like that commercial. Even sending thank-you cards has me breaking a sweat by the end – have the envelopes been torn to pieces? Are the stamps all over the walls like stickers? Where are the cards? Oh! Oh, OK. You wanted to make “card-soup.” OK. The cards are in the crockpot. Awesome.
In the end, dinner is saved and the cards are re-written, but no one understands why all the other things that didn’t (won’t) get done. That’s when it dawns on me what I want for Mother’s Day.
I want Hallmark to make a commercial of a mom in a pant suit splattered with oatmeal on her cell phone explaining to someone she will be there ASAP, while she is handed mud soup from a stick spoon. She is simultaneously making lunch, packing snacks, getting back-up outfits ready, washing her hands, doing a mental inventory of clean clothes (for herself), and convincing a toddler that this next outing will be the VERY best adventure of the day, while soothing a terrified dog that is as equally new to toddlerhood as the rest of the family.
I want every store owner to know that the impulse purchases you place at the check out line are at your own risk. I don’t care if it’s a $1 shiny pretty thing or a $12 piece of chocolate – seller beware. I’m not buying it, even if it’s half-eaten by the time you ring me up. Arrest me. Please. I could use the afternoon off.
I want to know that everyone knows I work 24 hours a day, seven days a week – rain or shine, sick or healthy, vibrant or grumpy, by choice. I work without pay, lunch breaks, or vacation. I choose this work because I know it is my vocation, and that it is the single most important work I will ever do – even if no one else knows that – even my child.
I want everyone to know that I love motherhood beyond my wildest dreams but it is also the hardest job I have ever signed up for.
I want everyone to know that the only difference between a corporate CEO and me is that I can’t fire people for insubordination.
I want it known that no one else can do what I do, as well as I do it for my family– mistakes and all, and as far from perfect as it is. So please hold your judgment if the first time you meet me I am dragging a screaming, tiny hurricane out from under a picnic table because she doesn’t want her diaper changed.
I want to know it’s understood that most people choose a field of expertise – chef, secretary, dog-walker, dish-washer, baby-sitter, preschool teacher, artist, maid, letter-writer, party-planner, travel coordinator, lover, partner, landscaper, tailor, toy mender, crafter, story-teller, song-writer. Mothers do all of these things. Even if they don’t do them all well, it’s a testament to their character that it is demanded of them and that they rise to the occasion – every day.
I want to hear that even though I will never have the body my husband fell in love with 15 years ago, I’m still beautiful – even when I have spit-up in my hair and poop on my jeans. Especially then.
Speaking of my old life – I never once had to pick boogers out of another person’s nose. If anyone had ever asked me to do it, they probably would have been reported to Human Resources.
I want everyone to understand that the intensity, stamina, and determination required to raise children is so raw and demanding that every woman should have the opportunity to choose motherhood, or not.
I want everyone to respect the work of motherhood enough to make sure that every mother has health insurance, and that she does not have to worry about how to feed her children.
We comfort ourselves with a single day of celebrating motherhood, when the reality is that we should be in awe of the day-to-day of what is required to raise children. Motherhood is magical, rewarding, demanding, and messy, and there is no gift, no thing, no manufactured product that can capture what it is we are all trying to feel or manifest about it. There is simply no way to express our gratitude towards motherhood except to take a deep breath into spring, and to truly savor it. Let it sink in and feel the wonder of it deeply enough so that it sits in our core from season to season. Maybe that’s the way we should go forward in my house, and how I will resolve this Hallmark angst. A simple breakfast of fruit and tea in the yard. A gentle walk among spring flowers and budding trees, talk of blessings and gratitude…and some sleeping in…
By Maria Murphy