Mother’s Day has come around again, and I’ve found myself pondering (as I do about every two years or so) how much I have to be thankful for in The Mother. She’s not my mother, it’s true ... in fact, she is but one of many mothers that I appreciate for their hard work and devotion. There are mothers that I rely on at work, at my chiropractor’s office, in my children’s homeschool groups, and even at my grocery store, where I go at least once a week and everyone there knows my name.* Of course, not all the women who work at those places are mothers, and many of them I have no clue whether they’re mothers or not. So I think it’s safe to say that those particular mothers I appreciate for reasons totally separate from their motherhood (although no doubt their many good qualities are informed by their motherhood).
Of course, there are still other mothers that I appreciate specifically for their maternal nature: mothers of friends, mothers of my children’s friends, even The Mother’s own mother. Perhaps especially her, as she has often been quite supportive and quite helpful throughout the years I’ve known her. But, let’s face it: the most prominent role of these women in my life is their children, and motherhood is a lot more than just giving birth. Many of these latter kinds of mothers have done nice things for me personally, and of course I owe them for the gift of raising lovely human beings—
And naturally there is my own mother, whom I’ve written about before. My mother and I have a fractious relationship, mostly revolving around me telling her how much it annoys me that every time she calls me I can’t get her off the phone, followed by her apologizing and promising to do better for the next hour or so. But that’s just the present: there are plenty of past things to appreciate my mother for. There is no doubt that my mother played a huge role in making me who I am today. And yet ... You know, I’m not sure where exactly the line is, but this is just about the point in my life where the time I’ve spent in close proximity to The Mother will surpass the amount of time I’ve spent with my mother. That’s one of those factoids that seems both weird and right at the same time.
So The Mother, out of all the mothers, is at a level all her own. There are no other mothers—
Of course, Mother’s Day is one of those holidays invented by greeting card companies, right? Just an excuse to sell more cards, so the story goes. Except that, if Wikipedia is to be believed, it was actually invented by a woman named Anna Jarvis, who wanted to honor her mother Ann, a social activist and Civil War nurse who herself had organized “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to advocate first for public health and later for peace and neutrality during the war. Ann died during the second week of May in 1905, and Anna began her campaign to establish Mother’s Day that same year. The first official Mother’s Day celebration was in 1908, in Anna’s hometown of Grafton, West Virginia; by 1914, she had convinced both Congress and President Wilson, and the holiday was official. Granted, the commercialization (by Hallmark, among others) was not far behind: by 1923, Anna was organizing boycotts of her own holiday, threatening lawsuits against greeting card companies, and crashing candymakers conventions. She (supposedly) said:
A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—
and then eat most of it yourself. A petty sentiment.
So railing against the commercialization of the holiday is only a decade younger than the holiday itself, and both were initiated by the same individual. But the point is, the commercialization is newer: not by much perhaps, but, no, Mother’s Day wasn’t invented as an excuse to sell greeting cards. It was invented by a daughter, to honor her mother, who in turn had organized other mothers. So, as it turns out, celebrating the many reasons we have to appreciate the various mothers in our life is what Mother’s Day is all about after all.
Right now there are potentially some difficult times ahead for our family. Oh, there’s plenty of good things going on in our lives too: we’ve got season passes to Disney again this year, we’ve got a decent amount of money in the bank at the moment, and summer camp is coming up for 2 of our 3 human children. But I’m particularly glad for The Mother right now, because I don’t think we could make it through the tough times without her, and we’d have none of those good things without her because she’s the one who organizes all that. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to express how much we need her. Sometimes when you try to say it, it comes out sounding insufficient. “I really appreciate you, you know.” “Yeah, yeah ...” State it too simply and it sounds perfunctory. Belabor the point too much and it sounds overblown, as if you’re trying too hard.
But perhaps this is the one day of the year when we can say—
It is my hope that I can convey to her how much she is loved and appreciated, but I fear that is beyond me. We may have to content ourselves with these feeble annual attempts, fall short as they inevitably will, and know that we fail, year after year, but keep trying anyway, because it’s the best we can do. I suppose we could just assume that she knows. But it seems poor enough thanks as it is.
One day it’s possible that the right words will just fall out of the sky. Not likely, perhaps, but possible. Until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with a simple “thank you.” It may be inadequate, but it’s earnest, and it’s the best we’ve got, for now. For now, please accept our thanks, and know that our appreciation and amazement at all you do runs deeper than we can properly express. Even when we don’t bother to try.
* In a bizarre way, I suppose my local Trader Joe’s is like my own personal Cheers.