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.
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To All the Moms I’ve Loved Before

thumb_P1100053_1024First was the mother who cradled me, belly then arms; the one who checked for breath in the middle of the night and stayed up until dawn slaying fevers, the one who documented first teeth and words, who started a living record in her memory. The mother who held out her arms to catch my first tentative steps.

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The childhood mother who encouraged her shy seven-year-old to go out and make friends, a clutch of birthday party invitations in hand, the one who had a secret word with the teacher to make sure her daughter wasn’t friendless on her first day at a new school, the one who sat outside ballet classes and applauded a hundred thousand handstands in the pool, quick with a kiss and a band-aid (an occasional I told you so) whenever I fell.

20160508_100015There was the mother who hung further back while I dove in and started the long, hard swim upstream toward adolescence,the one who took a backseat while friendships got more intense, when independence took the form of kissing boys under porches and coming home when the street lights blinked on, still ready to catch me, but from a little further away.

There’s the mother of the teenager, who saw past the aqua-net and the eyeliner, who bit her 20160508_100031tongue over the outlandish, the one who let me cry when a best friend broke my heart, when a boy broke my spirit, when I was still wiggly with who I was, giraffe legs wobbly on the ground. That mother didn’t argue when I petulantly insisted that who I was was the same as who I would be (and refrained from I told you so), the one who let me choose my own road less taken, even though that road led me away from her.

There was the mother during my first few years away from home, tripping and faltering into young adulthood in New York City, a voice at the end of the phone line, the one who let me think I didn’t need her to catch me if  I stumbled and bruised my soul.

IMG_3261The mother at the end of the very same phone line when I got sucked feet first into a black hole I couldn’t see a way out of, the one who got into her car in the middle of a weekday night to shine a light for me to follow out; because of course she was close enough to catch me, no matter how far away she was.

There was the mother who bit her tongue through boyfriends who weren’t right, men who didn’t break my heart as much as they broke the person I thought I was, the one who let me figure out how glue the pieces back together to make a different, stronger version of myself.1378644_10151967016719066_787144188_n

There was the mother who took the last boyfriend aside and thanked him for bringing a smile back to her daughter’s life, the one who thanked him again at our wedding a few years later.

20160508_100001There was the mother who cried with me all those months when my own hopes of motherhood got flushed away like so much waste, the who patiently tried to understand all the needles and the blood tests, the new-fangled methods, the one who cried with me when those new-fangled methods didn’t work. And then cried harder when they did.

There was the mother who stood back looking on while I took more shaky first steps, this time down the road of motherhood myself, who resisted giving advice or an I told you so, who let me find my own footing, who watched me gain my balance and climb higher than I thought I could.thumb_IMG_7725_1024

There is the mother to my adult, the one who shares a bottle of wine and stories, the one who can tell me, now that I am old enough and experienced enough to understand, about all the times she stood behind me, ready to catch me if I fell, even when I didn’t know she was there.

thumb_IMG_0146_1024Time keeps marching and dragging us both with it. Eventually it will be she who is taking steps which are shaky, slightly wobbly on her feet.

And I’ll be behind her, ready to catch her if she falls.

A Tribe of Mothers

celtic_knotI been a part of many wholes in my life. Some have been more important than others, yet none of those groups or demographics I’ve been party to or part of have been as defining as the one which embraced me as a mother.

Motherhood is not the sole definition of my life. It is not my sole aspiration, nor my sole reason for being. At the same time, it is a single book end, a beginning, but no end. Once you are a mother, you are always a mother. Whether your children are cooing infants, raging toddlers, or adults with children of their own. Motherhood, once realized, is a constant, a tattoo inked upon your soul.

The collective name for a group of mothers should be tribe. Fierce and protective, tight as any clan, recognizing the bond which holds you together as one.

The tribe of motherhood does not demand a certain type of birth or a certain type of child. Whether you welcomed your child through adoption or fostering, c-section, home water birth or surrogacy. Whether you lost your child in the womb or to disease or accident, whether your child has already left home. The tribe welcomes you. Whether your child is white or black or autistic or gifted, brown-eyed, blue or blind. It doesn’t matter if you child conforms to norms or redefines them. In the tribe, we are one in the same. We are mothers.

The tribe does not care whether you work or spend days making your own play dough, run the PTA or sit out. Whether you shop organic or with food stamps. Whether you home-school or boarding school, believe in God or shun religion entirely. The tribe does not decree whether you wear your baby or swear by your stroller, breast feed or bottle feed, make your own puree or buy it in a jar. You are part of the tribe regardless.

We are mothers.

The tribe will swallow you at times, it will engulf all you thought you had been. But when you come back up for air you will realize you are stronger, can dive longer. Your skin is thicker. The tribe did that.

The tribe will test you, make you doubt yourself, but in the end you will know your heart better. You will learn to trust your own instincts. The tribe will teach you that motherhood is multi-faceted.

The tribe will force you to endure rites of passage, not because it wants to break you, but because it will teach you just how much you can bear. The tribe will teach you the art of bending with the wind rather than breaking under it.

The tribe are the ones who watch over your children while you are not there, whether it is on the playground, in their swimming pools, when you are ill, or just running late. The tribe will comfort a child who is hurt or lost or in need of help, even though that child is not their own. The tribe will cry collective tears over children who are hurt, who are dying, who are in need of the most basic of things: love, family, food, shelter. At those times the tribe’s heart beats as one living mass.

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And though I belong to the larger tribe on the whole, I have formed lasting bonds with the smaller groups within: the neighborhood mothers I grew up with, the mother-figures I met along the way. The mothers I met when as a initiate, the ones who eased the loneliness, the ones to whom I could complain, the ones who were honest about not only the elation, but the struggles too. Some of those mothers helped me thought specific times, some have been there for the duration. My tribe includes my fellow expat mothers, who have been through the unique challenges of raising kids far from the familiar, who understand the bittersweet distance from home and family, who understand how important fluid and strong certain bonds are.

The are all part of my tribe. And I theirs. Together we make up the whole.

A tribe of mothers.

Happy early Mother’s Day to my tribe.

The Motherhood Matrix

ironing momMothers of the world, we’ve been duped. We’ve been bamboozled. Lied to. Shafted. We have had the wool well and truly pulled over our eyes.

Riddle me this: Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew..oh wait, that’s the Candyman. The Candyman can. How about this: Who can earn a paycheck, bake delicious cakes for sixty-two annual bake sales, spend hours a day with her toddler on the floor–in a plank position, attend story times and music classes, do hot yoga, park a perky bottom in the chair for daytime assemblies, cook four course meals, clean behind the sofa and scrape off the limescale, surprise her husband with fishnets and heels, have a weekly date night and tuck her kids in every night? The answer? NO ONE. No one can do that.

So. Stop. Trying.

Years ago Alison Pearson wrote a book called I Don’t Know How She Does It. One early scene has the protagonist, a working mother, exhaustedly sifting confectionary sugar onto her store-bought mince pies so they looked homemade. Because it was important she appeared to be someone who could do it all.

You and I both know how she does it. She doesn’t. Just like I don’t, you don’t, we don’t.

By now most us realize the myth of doing it all is just that. A myth. It’s up there with glass slippers and Prince Charming and singing snowmen named Olaf. Yet we continue to perpetuate it. We pretend. We preen and posture and prevaricate, all to preserve a pipe-dream of perfection.

My Mother’s Day wish this year is for as many of you as possible to take a step back. Opt out. Opt out of the Mom Olympics, where the only prizes that await you atop a podium are exhaustion, anxiety and guilt. Opt out of the Mommy Wars. Opt out of the lies. Opt out of the myth.

No one can do it all. No one does. Unless you possess one of those nifty little timepieces Hermione uses to go back in time and save Buckbeak, or perhaps a souped up phone box a la Bill and Ted, you simply can’t be in two, three or four places at once. And being in more than one place at a time is the number one requirement for doing it all.

working mom

Recently I watched a good friend struggle with her return to work, balancing three kids, a new job, and trying to be the type of mom we associate these days with being a ‘good‘ mom. I listened as she told me how she felt like no one was getting any significant part of her–not her kids, not her job, not her husband and especially not herself. She was trying to do too much. She was trying to work and keep her house spotless and feed her kids kale. She was trying to maintain a relationship with her friends, bake twenty five cupcakes for birthday parties at school, have meaningful conversations with her husband, work out, be there for the field trips and try the kale again. Ok, the kale is an exaggeration, but you get the point. She was trying to do it all, because we’ve all been told if we do it just right, we can. That somehow running yourself ragged to do it all means you win.

It’s the Matrix of Motherhood, where everything you’ve been told is a lie. The real truth is, something’s gotta give, whether it’s cleanliness or godliness or something next to it. Maybe it’s the number of courses you put on the table or the time you eat dinner or the hours you spend volunteering at your kids’ school. Maybe it’s store-bought or donating money instead of time when the sixty-first email asking you to volunteer comes in. Maybe it’s realizing a side effect of Pinterest is making you feel lousy about your cupcakes. Maybe it’s hiring someone to clean your house or watch your kids or take them to story time at the library. Even if you manage to cram all that stuff in there, I can almost guarantee there’ll be nothing left over for your partner or your friends or here’s the kicker…yourself. Try to cram it all in and you’re going to end up resenting the kids, the job, the partner and the fact that you don’t possess a nifty little timepiece or a time traveling phone box.

baking momOpt out. Give yourself permission to buy frozen vegetables. Or prepared meals. Or take out. Go buy everyone an extra week’s worth of underwear so you don’t have to do laundry as often. Go on the all-inclusive Club Med holiday so you actually get a break. Or don’t. Stay at home. Opt not to take your kids to Disney World. They won’t die if they never ride Space Mountain (I’m still here…). Opt for the Oreos, the cleaning lady, the sandwiches for dinner. Opt for the packaged pasta instead of the quinoa. I promise, it’s ok if your kid doesn’t like quinoa or kale or if you don’t know how to pronounce quinoa. Or even what it is.

Opt out of the myth. Opt out of the matrix. You can’t do it all. You can do some. You can do most, but you can’t do it all, none of us can. It doesn’t make you a better Mom if you’re running yourself ragged trying to run a marathon when there’s a bus pulling up at the stop right next to you. The truth is you’re going to get there faster if you take the bus, and your feet are going to hurt less and maybe you’ll even be able to read a book. Or train for an actual marathon if that’s what floats your boat.

Mothers, I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.