Finding the Mother’s Day Spirit

Going beyond the commercialization

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It’s your day, Mama! So get with the program and enjoy all that Mother’s Day is about.

I was raised to think of Mother’s Day as just a “Hallmark” holiday, a commercial ritual designed to make us all spend money and feel guilty while we were doing it. Who taught me this? None other than my own mother.

Since we didn’t really celebrate Mother’s Day, I went through childhood making raggedy cards at school and, every other year or so, teaming up with my sister to mess up the kitchen making Mom breakfast in bed (usually an inedible pile of eggs or French toast that she’d thank us for and push around on her plate, before telling us, again, though she appreciated the effort, what a horrible commercial holiday it was).

Welcome to the (Mothering) Club

It wasn’t until I was pregnant that I began to get a glimmer of the depth behind the sappy sentiment. That year on Mother’s Day, I was five months “with child” and my sister, visiting from Vermont, had just discovered her own pregnancy. She and I and our husbands and parents ate lunch at my grandmother’s retirement home and, in front of every mother’s place-setting, was a single pink carnation. (Even one for me, even one for my sister who said, “Well, I’m not really that pregnant,” ignoring the old dictum that there isn’t any such thing as a “little bit” pregnant.) That carnation—slightly wilted, was the first gift I’d received as a mother, and, despite my left-coast cynical perspective on all things culturally mainstream, it felt like a badge of honor.

That’s when I began to question Mom’s dismissal of the holiday. But I still wasn’t sure what I thought. After a lot of thought and six years of breakfast in bed, sweet cards, and houseplants as gifts, I’ve come up with this:

Mother’s Day doesn’t just exist to perpetrate an image of motherhood. It exists to honor each individual woman who is a mother, who works at being a mother, who takes a sense of pride and accomplishment for doing it well. And even if, like me, Motherhood-the-Institution scares you a little, and sometimes feels false, still, Mother’s Day is for you, too. It’s a well-established day to celebrate that mothering aspect of yourself, the part that fixes sandwiches and bottles, holds small, hurting limbs, sits up nights, lives larger than yourself.

The Meaning of Mother’s Day

I am my mother’s daughter, and I don’t expect much on Mother’s Day—don’t want much, really. Save it for my birthday, I feel. Yet a small amount of honoring the mothering part of me—say, once a year—isn’t a bad thing at all. The cards, the phone calls, the messages are nice, and very gratifying. And while we all know it’s not the outside trappings that really matter, the waffles brought by a child wobbling across the room with a laden-down tray, the tennis bracelet, or the bouquet of red roses, I’m also not prepared to say that those trappings should be thrown away.

There’s not enough appreciation for mothers—of any of us. Let’s honor good mothering whenever, wherever we can. How better than a leisurely cup of coffee amongst the pillows on one special Sunday of each year?

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