Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday. Many (including the founder of the holiday) find the commercialization distasteful, arguing that it saddles mothers and children alike with unrealistic expectations.
For those, like me, who have lost their mothers, this commercialization often serves only to punctuate an acute sense of loss (as chronicled beautifully by Ruby Dutcher and Meghan O’Rourke). One Mother’s Day a few years ago, a man making me a sandwich at a supermarket asked,”Did you call your mom yet today?” I wish I could.
Some have complicated relationships with their identity as mothers; others have complicated relationships with their mothers.
Regardless of this complexity, I like the idea of Mother’s Day. Inspired by Ann Jarvis, a social activist during the Civil War, an early form of the holiday, “Mothers Friendship Day,” involved a gathering of mothers whose sons had fought in the war (on both sides), to promote the healing process. The first Mother’s Day was held by her daughter in 1908, to honor Ann Jarvis, who had passed away three years earlier. Honoring and solidarity are definitely ideas that I can get behind. When I look around at the women who have mothered me, and the women I know who have just become mothers, or are about to, I feel deeply that they deserve to be celebrated.
The truth is, motherhood is complicated. So why not broaden our understanding of how to commemorate it? In that spirit, here are quotes about motherhood by four of my favorite writers, that I think celebrate motherhood (and all the joy, doubt, vulnerability, and love that it encompasses) – in all of its complex glory:
“It is time for the baby’s birthday party: a white cake, strawbery-marshmallow ice cream, a bottle of champagne saved from another party. In the evening, after she has gone to sleep, I kneel beside the crib and touch her face, where it is pressed against the slats, with mine. She is an open and trusting child, unprepared for and unaccustomed to the ambushes of family life, and perhaps it is just as well that I can offer her little of that life. I would like to give her more. I would like to promise her that she will grow up with a sense of her cousins and of rivers and of her great-grandmother’s teacups, would like to pledge her a picnic on a river with fried chicken and her hair uncombed, would like to give her home for her birthday, but we live differently now and I can promise her nothing like that. I give her a xylophone and a sundress from Madeira, and promise to tell her a funny story” (- Joan Didion, On Going Home, in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, pg. 167-168).
“I look up to the glow-in-the-dark stars still stuck to my ceiling all these years later and I wonder why my mom hasn’t taken them down. Or if I was supposed to remove them. My room is exactly as I left it when I moved out. Maybe in a way she doesn’t want to let go. Maybe neither of us do.
‘I used to write the names of all the boys I wanted to kiss on those stars,’ I tell her. ‘And then I would wish on them.’
‘Did your wishes come true?’ she asks.
‘Some of them,’ I say.
‘Not all wishes are supposed to come true. Only the good ones.’
‘Thank you for watching Archer while I was gone.’
‘Thank you for coming home.’
And we hold hands, two silhouettes in the window I used to climb out of in the middle of the night, plotting my escape into the adult world.
I always assumed I would outgrow my need for my mother, but I haven’t. Our relationship has changed through the years, evolved, but I still need her just as much as I always did. Sometimes mothers need their mothers too” (-Rebecca Woolf, Rockabye, pg. 225-226).
“All these people keep waxing sentimental about how fabulously well I am doing as a mother, how competent I am, but I feel inside like when you’re first learning to put nail polish on your right hand with your left. You can do it, but it doesn’t look all that great around the cuticles” (-Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, pg. 119-120).
“When I was pregnant with Abel, Archie and I used to take naps together. We spent part of the summer in Nantucket and every afternoon we would snuggle together as the breeze blew in. I was holding one baby on the inside and one on the outside. I count those naps as some of the happiest times in my life…I love my boys so much I fear my chest will explode. I wonder if this love will crack open my chest and split me in half. It is scary, this love (-Amy Poehler,Yes Please, pg. 302).
For a stunning film exploring a woman’s memories of her mother, check out Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell.
And, for Mother’s Day cards honoring the non-biological moms in your life, check out some lovely work by the talented Emily McDowell.
How do you like to celebrate Mother’s Day?
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