The Case for Mother’s Day

Surely we don’t need a commercialized holiday like Mother’s Day to tell us when to celebrate the mothers in our lives. No need to buy into this forced appreciation nonsense, right? We should celebrate and appreciate mothers every day!

Uh huh.

We should eat five servings of vegetables, floss and take 10,000 steps every day too. And sure, every now and again we remember and go on a kick. Spinach for all! Fit Bits to the ready! Where was that floss again??? Then life gets in the way or things go back to normal or we just, simply, can’t be bothered.

The same thing happens with celebrating mothers.**

To be sure, the notion of Mother’s Day has been pumped up like Arnold Schwarzenegger on steroids pushed through a Denny’s All You Can Eat Breakfast Buffet sieve. Super-sized and monopolized by florist and pedicurists all over the world.

You should still acknowledge it.

Why? Because being a mother sucks thankless ass is hard, especially if you’re trying to do it well. And 90% of that hard work goes on behind the scenes where no one else can see. Invisible Mom Syndrome.

Hey kids! Remember me? The one who remembers which of you little tyrants darlings likes your apples sliced and which one doesn’t? The one who doesn’t argue with your ridiculous quirky insistence you don’t like cheese– except when it’s shredded?

Or that mother over there schlepping her kid’s cello, which is as big as she is. Or that one, getting up at 5 am to drive her kid to hockey practice. Or the swimming pool. Oh, there’s that mother over there who clocks seventy kilometers a day taking her kids to and from karate.

Mothers, the silent, invisible army making sure kids eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, get to bed at a reasonable hour, and make it to adulthood.

Hey kids! Remember me? The one meets you after school each day with a smile and a snack despite your pissy attitude tired complaints? The one who nods and says “Oh, really?” in all the right places when you’re blathering incessantly talking about Pokemon–because even though I’m bored senseless, I’m still mostly listening?

Yeah, me over here, standing on the pedestal of motherhood. Which is really more of a sewer cover at street level threatening to give way at any moment.

No, no mother has to do any of this. Some don’t. But a lot of mothers do, because it is making life just a little bit more enjoyable and easier for their kids to walk the walk to adulthood. Because growing up, when you take away the rose-tinted glasses of adulthood, sucks is hard work. This is what good moms do.

But just because it’s our job doesn’t mean it’s not nice to feel appreciated.

Have you ever busted your ass at work to get something done? Is it nice to have that work acknowledged? Of course it is. Now imagine your boss walking by and saying, “Well, I don’t really believe in telling my employees I appreciate them. After all, it’s their job. They get a paycheck every week, that should be appreciation enough.”

That’s what its like being a mother. Except we’re not getting paid. And there’s no overtime. Or vacation.

So, forget the we should celebrate mothers everyday bullshit. We all know it’s not true. The bigger question is, why the hell wouldn’t you take advantage of a ready-made day like Mother’s Day??? Why wouldn’t you take advantage of a day set aside and marked on your calendar (automatically for crying out loud!), to celebrate your mother, or your child’s mother? I mean seriously, it’s going to kill you to buy a damn card?

Yes, yes, there are plenty of mothers who don’t want a fuss made, who don’t buy into the commercialized falsehoods, who may feel lessened by the idea it took Hallmark and The Olive Garden to point out that what most mothers do on a daily basis should be acknowledged.

But I’ve yet to meet a single person in my life, ever, who doesn’t appreciate a word or token of appreciation, tangible acknowledgment that what they do is valued.

Sometimes I hear a fellow mother’s lament her family doesn’t ‘buy into’ the idea of Mother’s Day.

Horse shit.

I don’t particularly enjoy standing in the pissing down rain to watch my son’s football team get creamed every week, but it’s important to him that he knows I am there, that I value his commitment, that I support him. What if I said, well, I don’t believe in watching your games because it comes from a false place and I feel like I’d be betraying my shockingly selfish principles if I stood there week after week?

If your wife, if your mother, if you grandmother or baby mama celebrates or wants to celebrate Mother’s Day, get your ass down to the store and buy a card. Or make one. Or bring her coffee in bed, or list all the things she does that you appreciate on a piece of paper. You don’t have to spend money to show someone your appreciation. You don’t have to go the commercial route if that’s what is bothering you.

And fathers? Don’t give me this bullshit excuse about how your wife isn’t your mother –it’s up to you to corral your kids to do something. You’re the adult here, Dad. Stop trying to find opt-out clauses in the handbook of grown-up-ness. If the mother or mothers in your life want a show of appreciation, get off your butt and stop hiding behind some lame excuse. This is not about your own feelings about Hallmark or The Olive Garden. If it’s important to someone in your life, you do it. Stop making it about you.

One day. ONE. They put it in the same month every year! They made it a Sunday! You can’t turn sideways without some sort of reminder! I mean it literally could not get any easier….

So no more excuses. Use the damn day for what it’s there for. Feel free to skip The Olive Garden, but at the very least, let her know you appreciate what she does every day, behind the scenes.

 

**I write about motherhood a lot, and I always receive comments from readers about their own relationships with toxic family members, including mothers. Not all mothers are good or kind. Not all women should be mothers, and I know many of you, both personally and through these pages, who have been harmed, in ways big and small, by relationships with those mothers. When you’re writing a piece like this, it’s easy to use the collective idea (ideal) of motherhood to make a point. To those of you with mothers not worth celebrating (and there are plenty), buy yourself a card. Appreciate yourself, and the fact that you survived in spite of, rather than because of, your mother. Don’t got to the Olive Garden though–unless you really like bread sticks.
D

Nine Dads You’ll Meet at the Playground

Danny_Thomas_Angela_CartwrightDon’t worry Moms, I wasn’t going to let the Dads off the hook.

My firstborn was a NYC kid until the age of four. Tiny apartments and no backyards = a lot of time spent in the playground. A LOT. Things didn’t change much when we moved abroad. The playgrounds in Cyprus were dusty, the ones in Denmark are designer, but the Dad archetypes are the same wherever you go.

Paul the PC Pusher

Paul makes sure you know how comfortable he is with his son pushing a doll stroller and wearing hot pink. He buys his daughter light sabers and Spiderman water bottles, even though she screams for Barbie. Paul is so hyper attuned to gender neutrality he brings a tutu to the playground just in case his son wants to wear it one day. Almost exclusively caucasian, Paul’s kids often have names like Mandela or She Who Flies with the Moon. Somehow he manages to get the words gay, transgender, multi-cultural and race into just about every conversation. He means well but…

Hal the Hot Mess 

Hal shows up at the playground wearing mismatched socks and stained cargo shorts. He’s forgotten snacks, water bottles, and toys for the sandbox. His diaper bag is held together with duct tape. Hal looks like he’s five minutes away from a social services visit at any given time. Fellow moms are constantly ‘rescuing’ Hal. No Goldfish? No problem, share ours. Messy diaper and no baby wipes? Here, don’t worry, I’ve got plenty. Hot Mess Hal is such a mess he gets mothered more than the kids he’s responsible for.

Gorgeous Geoff

You know who I’m talking about. The model/actor/sports star Dad, or the one who just looks like one. Geoff may have an exotic accent but wherever he’s from he manages to make sweats look….good. He strolls into the playground looking like he’s just done a GQ cover shoot. He has a posse of moms who follow him around, fawning over his every word and an anti-posse who refuse to have anything to do with him; not because he’s not a nice guy, simply because they don’t want to be seen as groupies.

Malcolm the Mr. Mom

Malcolm is so readily and easily absorbed into the group of moms that he talks about labor pains and episiotomies with gusto. Sleep schedules, sore nipples, division of household labor–Malcolm doesn’t shy away from any of it. He is invited out for drinks with the girls, feels right at home in Mommy and Me classes and can bitch about how his spouse doesn’t appreciate what he does with the best of them.

horsey

Ed the Enthused

Ed throws himself down the slide, runs through the sprinkler, plays ball with a group of three years olds and draws to scale chalk roads for racing. He spends hours pushing swings, spotting sliders and organizing group games of tag. Among the playground mothers he is generally mistrusted because well…no one really likes doing that stuff, so why does he appear to enjoy it so much? Ed cheerfully spends hours doing what the rest of us feel like we should be doing….but aren’t.

Too Cool For School Raul

Raul shows ups at the playground in skinny jeans and a retro band tee-shirt, looking like he just rolled out of bed. Don’t be fooled, it took him hours. Raul’s child is named Arlo or Patsy or Zepplin or Skynard. He is constantly rubbing his head and yawning and telling everyone who will listen about the amazing band he saw last night. Raul is clinging to the last vestige of cool with his bitten fingernails. He lives in fear of Dad shorts, a braided leather belt and a colonial in Connecticut.

50s-dad-baby

iPhone Ian

Ian is constantly on the phone while at the playground. Pushing swings, catching a ball, refereeing a sandbox scuffle. He’s got half an eye on his kids and half an eye on his phone the entire time, texting, scrolling, reading, talking. Though he’s mastered a diaper change with a phone tucked under his chin, it’s only a matter of time until little Isabella wanders out of the gates or brains another toddler in the sandbox with her shovel while Daddy’s checking the game score or sealing the deal.

George the Grandpa Dad

George is on his second family. George is tired, and gray, and constantly mistaken for little Georgina’s granddad. From the slight hitch of his mildly arthritic knee to the artful silver hue of his hair, George has nothing in common with the younger, more energetic Dads around him. But George has accepted it’s easier just to do what his much younger second wife has told him to do. Publicly he talks about how great it is to have a second chance, how he never got to spend quality time with his older kids. But anyone who is paying attention can hear him inwardly screaming, “I thought it would be different and now it’s exactly the same… only I’m paying alimony to boot.”

10106Dave the Drill Sergeant 

Dave is constantly putting his toddlers through mini-boot camps, barking “encouragement” at them from every piece of play equipment. You can hear Dave’s stentorian shouts of “You can do it! Don’t give up! One more rung to go, don’t quit on me now!” from across the park. Other famous Dave-isms include “Walk it off”, “No child of mine” and “Stitches are for wimps.” Dave’s kids usually have a look of mild terror in their eyes while they swallow their fears and plunge into the abyss of the covered slide.

I’ve come across them all in my decade plus of playground attendance. I’m sure you have too.

Special mention to RB who sent along some truly inspired Dad-types. I wasn’t able to include them here, but I got a huge laugh out of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Otherwise Ordinary Day

butterfly 3
Mourning Cloak Butterfly

My father died in the early hours of an otherwise ordinary, August day.

As his body lay still, no longer hostage to late summer stickiness or mosquito whine, I was three states and a thousand thoughts and moments away. As the last thread binding him to me, to us, to this place and time finally tore free, I was stumbling to my son’s bedroom. My ten-month old was standing at attention, awake. Alert. I must have comforted him, laid him down and smoothed his hair, damp with the sweet sweat of baby dreams. Surely I shushed him, stroking my finger down the length of his nose before falling back into the expanse of my own bed, the expanse of my own oblivion. The truth is, I don’t remember. I remember only that he woke. I remember because it was unusual.

An expected death, a waited for death, a death which comes uninvited but not wholly unwelcome, drags behind it a range of emotions demanding admission. There are the tight contractions of your heart still beating like a traitor inside your ribcage. There is the leaden realization that nothing, not one single thing, will be the same. There is a sense of relief and a deluge of guilt and, if you are lucky, a quiet, enveloping numbness. There is a small pocket of air in which to breathe again.

Two weeks before that otherwise ordinary day, I said good-bye. My father knew he was loved; that his laughter, his stubbornness, his simply being would be missed. I needed him to know I was happy. A happy that went beyond the sickness, beyond the grief. A happy that waited, patient and quiet, to be reclaimed.

In our family, happiness is not a given. It is not a trait passed down like blue eyes and long legs, like heart disease or depression. There are several boughs of our family tree crumbling with rot. There is a real danger of breaking your neck on the way down. I wanted my father to know I had found my footing, my counterbalance: despite rotten branches and a dying parent, I had found a place of happiness.

My father was wasted away from the cancer. He had tumors you could see and touch pressing through his skin. Yet he understood. He was still, in every capacity, my father; slightly watered down, but my father nonetheless. He understood. For that small mercy, I am grateful. It is the only thing that allowed me to breathe when I got into my car to travel home. Those breaths did not come easily, but they came.

My father died in the early hours of an otherwise ordinary, August day. It was as peaceful as dying can be, the fleeting moment of time and breath that takes you from the living to the dead. The lights had flickered dim, then bright, my mother said. There were no storms, no faulty fuses, no electrical surges, simply a flicker. Dim, then bright. A small, wayward movement in the universe, a butterfly flutter between two worlds.

butterfly 2

Dim, then bright. The same time that my son had woken the night before.

That summer, I learned to look for the unexpected. What I found was my father: in the sweet night sweat of my son’s dreams, in the corners of a room that went dim, then bright, in the shiny copper of a forgotten penny. I found him in my own happiness. Though my foot sometimes slips on a rotted branch, he is always there to guide my way, his hand at my back.

First published on August 1, 2014 as the winner of Paste’s That Summer writing contest.

As August 2nd marks the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, I conintue to honor his memory by sharing this memory here.

Stop the Madness

walking to schoolThe local elementary school I attended as a child now sponsors “Walk to School Wednesdays.” If you would like your child to walk to school you merely need to sign up, pledge to have a parent or other adult chaperone, and endure the police escort. Apparently walking to school, something that we neighborhood kids did from the age of seven or eight without a thought let alone a chaperone, now requires not only a parent, but a police escort and an excel spreadsheet.

Have you seen the spate of articles in the media of late surrounding parents getting arrested for things that used to be as everyday as pie? Things like leaving a happy pre-schooler in a locked car for five minutes to make a quick return, letting a seven year-old walk to the park by himself, or letting a child play in the Lego store at the mall while his mother was somewhere else shopping.

If you are anything like me, you might be thinking “hmmm…bad parenting choice but they don’t deserve to be arrested.” Now take a step back and ask yourself why. Not why they don’t deserve to be arrested, but why is it bad parenting to do things that thirty years ago used to be commonplace?

What do we think is going to happen if we let our kids be…kids? If we let them get dirty, let them make mistakes, let them screw up….leave them alone?

A dad blogger laments that an arranged play date is a sorry excuse for running next door to see if Johnny can come out to play. Everyone agrees…on the surface. Maybe play dates came on the scene when both parents started working, but their continuance is partially down to the fact that we don’t allow our children the freedom to just go to someone else’s house anymore. We arrange it. We expect them to text upon arriving, upon leaving. We trace and track them to from sun up to sun down.

Another article surfaces about how important play is. But even free, spontaneous play is supervised. Kids can’t climb because they might fall. They can’t swim because they might drown. They can’t hang out in packs and roam the streets because they might get abducted. Might, may, perhaps.

swing

I was babysitting my sister at 11. I was mature for my age: not because I am special but because my mother wasn’t hovering over me every second of every day. I was allowed to make decisions  for myself. I was allowed to make mistakes. I also had neighbors that I could call if I needed help or guidance, neighbors that would drop what they were doing and help me rather than calling the police because my mother left an eleven year old at home unsupervised.

I inwardly cringe at some of the stuff I did as a kid. I’m sure my mother would too, if she knew about it. Does it terrify me to think of my own kids doing that stuff or worse? Of course it does. But I cannot wrap my kids in bubble wrap and tie it up with a pretty bow. I can’t keep them swaddled until they are young adults. I can’t do those things and then expect they will be able to function in society.

In the name of protecting our children, we are denying them the experience of living their own lives. We are holding them hostage to our own fears. we are fattening our kids for slaughter.

And the slaughter is real life.

We need to stop the madness.

Life today for kids is like a giant simulator. We put them in front of a screen that shows virtual scenes of life, but we don’t let them control the joy sticks. Then, when they are old enough, we send them off hoping that mere simulated scenarios will be enough to keep them from getting hurt.

The truth is this: in all likelihood, your child is not going to be abducted walking to the park. They are unlikely to be hit by a car when they walk to school. They are unlikely to be molested while playing in the Lego store while Mom shops nearby. I wish I could say none of those things EVER happen, but of course that is not true. What is true is that they don’t happen any more today than they did when I was a child or when my mother was a child. Though statistic after statistic shows that crime is down, we have convinced ourselves of the opposite. We have convinced ourselves that it is unsafe for our kids out there in the big, bad world.  No, it’s not the 1970s anymore.

It’s safer.

The fact is, our children have never been safer. Seat belts, bike helmets, banning of second-hand smoke and Kinder Eggs. They are coddled and protected and nanny-cammed to within an inch of their life.

Photo: Huffpost
Photo: Huffpost

Yet, instead of parenting out of common sense, we parent out of fear; fear that something bad is going to happen, fear that the unthinkable will happen, and now, increasingly, fear that someone is going to turn you in for making a choice. Because instead of living in a world where adults look out for a child walking on his or her own, they call the cops.

I want my children to be safe. I want your children to be safe. But shielding them from playground apparatus and independence is not the way to keep them safe. By creating what is essentially a never-ending infancy, we are cheating our kids out of a childhood. Childhood is when you learn how to do things; how to be friends, how to make choices, how to negotiate and how to react and how to make mistakes. Children need to succeed and they need to fail. They need to fall, even though sometimes falling means breaking an arm. Or a heart. That’s what growing up is. It is not all sunshine and roses, it’s not craft projects and organic ice cream, structured days and a false sense of fairness and security. Growing up is a dress rehearsal for life. It’s when you see what works and what needs to be changed.

If you love something, the saying goes, set it free.

If we never let our kids out of the sight of our nest, if we keep grooming their feathers for them, dropping organic, grass-fed worms into their waiting beaks, when it comes time for them to leave, they’re not going to fly. They’re going to fall.

It is time to stop the madness.

We need to set our kids free.