Mother’s Day, Part 1: I Have Issues
“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep
with them that weep” has been so hard for me
on Mother’s Day, just starting with myself
because I always felt both the yin and yang
of the day—deep gratitude for my amazing son
and mother and grandmother and so many others,
but not that by itself, because I also felt
trace elements of the grief from all the years
we were trying to get pregnant and could not.
Then so much hurt for the motherless, the ones
who never got pregnant who wanted to, the ones
who had mothers who hurt them or children who died.
And this word: miscarriage. Or this one: miscarriages.
And then so many who are childless by choice are told
so many times that choice is the one invalid one
of all our choices. And so I hated Mother’s Day
the first few years I was one and I still
would just as soon ignore it but I won’t.
On Hating Mother’s Day (and other days)
I posted, on Facebook, for two or three years running, this diatribe against Mother’s Day by Anne Lamott. It always got such a strong response, positive and negative. The positive is relatively easy for me to understand and explain—there are a lot of us for whom Mother’s Day is not all sunshine brunch and flowers, for a lot of different reasons, and until Lamott’s piece, I don’t remember someone writing about “I hate Mother’s Day.”
In that, Mother’s Day is different from other holidays people tend to hate. Someone ambivalent about Christmas? Or angry about it? We might not agree, but we’ve seen repeated complaints about the commercialism of it, they way people who practice other faiths feel excluded, the way the war-on-Christmas-craziness asks us to pretend “happy holidays” is bad (when wishing someone a holy-day is pretty religious actually).
If someone were to write about being the adult child of an alcoholic and how Christmas was always tense when they were a child because maybe Dad would be drunk and abusive or maybe he’d just be gone, and either way, it was a relief when the day was over, we’d be sympathetic.
I think most of us are open to complaints about Christmas, even as we put up our tree and fa la la through the season.
Same with Valentine’s. If your romantic life is anything other than where you want it to be, this is probably not a great day, and we all get that.
Here are some holidays it would be harder to complain about and get general sympathy:
I imagine that if you’re a certain sort of conservative Christian who thinks demons are real, Halloween pretty much sucks. I also imagine that if you’re a pacifist, Veteran’s Day is difficult. Thanksgiving is all football and family and feasting, right? Unless you are a Native American. Or even if you’re just thinking about the way Native Americans might view the first Thanksgiving and what came pretty soon after.
In my experience Mother’s Day is more in this second group—just not something people are terribly open to hearing complaints about (especially from someone like me, with a living mother I adore, and a 9-year-old son who’s just awesome).
So that explains the positive responses—people who have ISSUES with Mother’s Day but have antipathy that dare not speak its name (a small version of saying “Voldemort” out loud).
And it explains some of the negative responses—people who just can’t imagine why someone could possibly hate such a lovely day that honors women who’ve blah blah blah.
The other negative responses have to do with the fact that Lamott is being pretty crabby and diatribey and not terribly logical (which she mostly never is, not terribly). My friend Jenny explains that well in her latest post.
She says Lamott’s “vitriol is off-putting, and I disagree passionately with parts. By the end, I feel like I’ve been served what might have been a lovely soup were it not peppered with flies.”
Rejoicing With Them That Do Rejoice Or Not
“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Ambivalent as I am about the man, I have to admit he just nailed it sometimes (am I remembering right that someone theorized he was short and ugly or did I just imagine that? I picture him that way, regardless).
Here’s why that verse is hard:
Times I’ve been unhappy with whatever portion of my life, I haven’t always done well rejoicing with those who were getting what I wanted but didn’t have.
And, I have to say, those who have so much aren’t always awesome about being sensitive to those who have less.
It’s not just a matter of holidays, either—it can be any random status update, or even that terrific practice of expressing gratitude regularly (some do it daily)—if someone’s expressing gratitude for something terrific, and I have something less than terrific, it’s hard not to snark inside my own head “well of course you’re grateful. I would be, too.”
I’m guilty of both sides of that—I don’t rejoice sometimes for those who are rejoicing.
And then sometimes when I’m rejoicing, I forget (entirely, utterly, blithely) to weep with those who weep. Or even that there are people weeping.
It’s something I’m trying to get better at, and I guess I’m writing this only to ask that we all remember both sides of Mother’s Day—that it’s wonderful and awful both.
Let’s weep with those who weep.
But also rejoice with those who rejoice.
(How can we do that all at once, every moment? I haven’t got a clue—for me it’s just the awareness and the attempt.)
On Hating Mother’s Day Less
Meanwhile, I’ve realized that part of my own ISSUE with Mother’s Day stemmed from a long list of “shoulds.”
- Since I struggled to get pregnant, but finally did, I should feel nothing but grateful on Mother’s Day.
- Since my mother’s alive and wonderful, I should feel nothing but lucky on Mother’s Day.
- Since my husband does laundry and dishes all the time, I should feel nothing but grateful on Mother’s Day.
- Since my son routinely makes me laugh and smile, I should feel nothing but lucky on Mother’s Day.
Never mind that early May is always exhausting—the end of a semester, the end of an academic year.
Never mind that every role I love (mother, daughter, wife, sibling, aunt, cousin, gardener, professor, friend, writer, colleague, community member) is a role that also conflicts at least once every freaking day with every other role I love. Sometimes I feel like the guy in Too Many Hats when the monkeys start giving him shit.
I actually enjoyed Mother’s Day last year. As I remember, it was because I told people ahead of time precisely how I wanted to spend the day, and they let me do it the way I wanted, and I went into it with very low expectations—the first few years I think I wanted the day to look like a commercial put out by Hallmark if they sold both cards AND coffee—perky and happy and everyone smiling WHICH IS NOT EVER HOW THE DAY TURNED OUT.
(When my son was still in diapers, for example, he almost never wet through—I think we had to change sheets maybe twice his whole diaper-hood from a leaky diaper. But one of those times was EARLY Mother’s Day morning.)
So my plan is again to tell people precisely how I want to spend the day, and spend it that way, and acknowledge that I will likely feel lucky and grateful and exhausted and conflicted in varying measures and times through the day, the way I do most every day.
And I will be trying, on Mother’s Day and other days, to rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.
Mother’s Day, Part 2: What I Want
To sleep a little later than I usually do.
To sit and watch my mother’s freckled hands
as they tremor just a little holding a cup
of coffee we’ve gone out for, just us two.
To snuggle with my son and watch TV.
To have someone else decide what we’re going to eat.
And then fix it or bring it or take me somewhere.
And then I want to go to bed and read.
And then I want the day to end. Amen.