It’s the third biggest holiday of the year, generating over $21 billion this year. It’s the number 1 holiday for restaurants across most of the United States. We spend so much time and effort to honor and bestow gifts upon our mothers on this one day. I’m not a fan of this day. I don’t remember a time when I ever was. The main reason why has changed as my life has changed over the years. But, it’s never been a day I looked forward to.
Mother’s Day began as a day of gathering and support for mothers who had lost sons in the Civil War. That’s a Mother’s Day I could get behind. I would wear my finest dress to humbly serve hot tea and scones to the women who have buried their children – not just in wars, in any form. I would hold their hands, listen to their stories, and remind them that they are always a mother even if they can no longer hold their child. They deserve at least that.
My grandmother died on Mother’s Day. She was just 55 years old. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with her in my first seven and half years. She was a safe place for me, a comfort. Because of life challenges, she was not an overly affectionate woman. But I could always count on her. She never suffocated me with kisses or praise, but she was always present with me. She never offered to braid my long hair or make me a new dress, but I could crawl up next to her in my dirty denim jeans and unkempt hair and tuck myself under her arm and she would stay. I never remember a ‘not now’ from her. She never told me I sat too close. I don’t remember ever hearing “I love you” from her – but I always knew it. I felt it. She was home to me. And then – she was gone.
My grandmother died on Mother’s Day. I was too young to understand the impact that had on my mother. I didn’t even realize it was on Mother’s Day until my own mother mentioned it to me as an adult. At 7, your world revolves around other things. I just knew my grandmother – my home – was gone. I don’t remember if we ever celebrated my own mother that year. And every year after that, as I handed over homemade cards and poorly made crafts with a big smile, she graciously said thank you while her heart was breaking at the reminder of the loss of her own mother. I remember my mother’s 56th birthday was difficult for her. She survived 40, was okay with 50. But 56 made her want to crawl into a hole. She looked at me and said “I’m older than my mother ever got to be. I don’t know how to do this now. I’ve had no one to watch.” How does Mother’s Day feel when you are overjoyed to be a mother, but grieving the loss of your own mom much too young?
My own mother and I get along fine. But, it’s not the relationship she was hoping for. I don’t call her every day. I don’t seek her advice for every decision. I don’t ask her to join every adventure I plan. She was/is a good mother, although she often thinks she wasn’t. We’re simply very different people at our core. She would always hope for a sappy card, gushing with accolades for what a wonderful mother she was. I would always pick out a simple ‘thank you for all you’ve done’ plain card. I would try to find meaningful gifts – a necklace I knew she’d commented on, a book she wanted to read. But we never seemed as connected as some of her friends with their daughters. I was the lone wolf that left her pack too young and never figured out how to assimilate back in. Mother’s Day was hard for me. I wanted to give her what I knew she wanted, but it would be a falsehood from me. Trying to balance between what I truly felt, and what I knew she wanted (and probably deserved) was a struggle. I dreaded Mother’s Day every year.
My first miscarriage came quickly. We barely had time to process the fact I was pregnant. It was sad, but better for us. We were young and hadn’t planned on starting a family yet. It wasn’t the right time and things sorted themselves out. I did celebrate that child’s 21st birthday when it came along. Quietly, by myself. That was the first chance I had to be a mom. Those things stay in your heart. Mother’s Day was a bit tough for me each year after that – as the mind goes to ‘what if.’ Many years later, as I was trying to become an adoptive mother, I was told I didn’t measure up. That was a sting worse than the miscarriage. My last letter of denial came in mid-April. Mother’s Day that year was met with a lot of anger and hurt. It would be many, many years of loneliness and heartache before I had my chance again to be a mom. And it wouldn’t come easily. I detested Mother’s Day every year.
Friends got pregnant. Family got pregnant. With every one it became harder and harder to fake joy. It was truly fake. I was so hurt and angry over my own struggles that I couldn’t even feel happiness for those I loved. I was selfish, and I’ve apologized to them. Years came and went as I tried and tried to become a mom – it’s all I truly wanted in life. My next miscarriage was a little harder – my first real positive pregnancy test after almost a year of trying. But it wasn’t meant to be. I grieved. I shouted at the universe. And I vowed to try again and again and again. Then I found out I was pregnant on my birthday. The best birthday ever! And then came the ultrasound that changed everything. There was no longer a heartbeat. That day nearly crushed me. I gave up on my dream to be a mom after that. I stopped caring, I shut off my heart. Or, it hardened beyond repair. Thankfully, my mother did not live close to me at that time and I was able to spend the next Mother’s Day with the covers pulled over my head. I could not face life. I could not deal with Mother’s Day.
My son was born at the end of April. Mother’s Day that year was the most glorious day. I don’t know what the weather was like. I have no idea who I spent it with, or what my cards looked like. I was a mom. I’d spent nearly 40 years being a mom on the inside, now I was really a mom. And it was perfect. For one year.
The next year, as we struggled with missed milestones and a fussy personality, I was back to not really liking Mother’s Day. I had nothing particularly against it, I just wasn’t a fan. It felt like a chore added on to my list of things to do. Find a present for my mother. Find something for my mother-in-law. Remember to call, text, email all my friends and family. And then smile sweetly at the idea to go out to dinner (with my baby who didn’t like loud spaces) and try to enjoy what I didn’t want to do. Does it have to be Mother’s Day??
I have so many friends now who have lost their mothers. Some have been without her for their entire adult life. Some are spending their first Mother’s Day holiday without her. I want to reach out to each of them. I want to hold their hands. I want to listen. I want to shut out the world for them.
I also have too many mom friends who grieve for a child no longer with us. I want to shelter them. I want to honor them. I want to cry with them. I want to listen. I want to shut out the world for them.
I have friends who have no children of their own. Some by choice. Some by chance. I want to hold their hands. I want to be sure they don’t feel ‘less than’ on this day. I want to listen. I want to shut out the world for them.
I honestly wish Mother’s Day didn’t exist. I’m sad that this is the only way some mother’s get any recognition for all they do. But, truly, most don’t do it for the recognition. So, I’m not sure how many would care. I don’t like all the holidays pushed at us, forcing us to create or augment our personal relationships. The pressure to honor a mother who was abusive, just because she was your mother, is unfair. The expectation to bestow gratitude on a distant father is unwarranted. The prevailing belief that Valentine’s Day must be celebrated if you love someone is arbitrary. I think there is too much social pressure to make our personal lives conform to some ideal that may no longer exist.
I will celebrate my mother today. I will thank my son for the breakfast he made me. I will smile through the crowded, over-priced lunch my father takes us on because he thinks he should (even though my mother and I have both said we’d rather spend a quiet day at home). But, if the day ever comes when some brave soul says “Enough! No more holidays!” I will dust off my soapbox and cheer along side them. It’s not that I don’t believe moms (or dads or couples) deserve thanks and adoration – my goodness, I DO! I just don’t believe it’s society’s job to tell us what that should look like, or to judge us on how it looks in our own families.
To all of you who are mothers, by birth or by choice or by proximity – I wish you a day of joy! To all of you who grieve a mother or a child on this day – I wish you peace! To all of you who live a life without children – I wish you strength, for any battle (internal or external) you must face today. It’s a difficult day for so many. Can it please be just another day?
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