by May 10, 2013 • 2:11 pm
A couple years ago, when I was going through a pretty bad time, I sat on my front stoop, in ratty sweatpants, in the fog, smoking a cigarette (which I always do during Pretty Bad Times, even though it just makes things worse), worried about the effect of my feelings of utter disconnection on my four-year-old daughter, Esme. I texted this to my sister-in-law, mother of my two darling nieces: “Esme loves me so much, and I just don’t feel like I deserve that kind of love.”
She wrote back: “You don’t.”
I knew it.
Then she wrote: “None of us does. That kind of love is a gift. It’s not about deserving it or not. It’s just there for you to accept, if you want to.”
Well, I’d like to say that was the moment (like in a Made-for-Lifetime movie) when the clouds parted, I defiantly crushed out my cigarette and pulled out of the emotional nosedive I’d been taking. It wasn’t. But I did eventually recover, and I returned to that message, over and over. It became, and has remained, a guiding principle for how I view being a parent. My child’s love for me, which is inextricable from all the ways in which she makes me wonder sometimes why I ever decided to get on this particular crazy train, is simply a gift. A complicated one, but a gift nonetheless. I didn’t do anything to deserve it except help bring her to earth.
Because Mother’s Day is around the corner, I’ve been thinking more than usual about how what I do with this gift, how I really take it into my heart, has everything to do with whatever sense of purpose I’m developing for my life (and it is a work in progress, believe me). Because let’s face it—motherhood is a gift that comes with an awful lot of responsibility attached. Sometimes more than we can bear.
As I prepared (read: packing lots of lounge clothes and magazines) for our now annual tradition (thanks to my thoughtful husband) of the three of us going away together for a night, to do nothing but hang out, I began to wonder where Mother’s Day came from. Some deride it as a “Hallmark holiday,” but hell, I’ll take it! I’ve never turned down brunch. Especially in bed. But what I found out when I started digging surprised me. Turns out, the holiday didn’t begin as a way to honor our mothers (or be honored). It was a call to action to make the world better for our children.
In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and an activist for social justice, published the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a stirring reaction to the Civil War carnage she saw firsthand. Here’s an excerpt:
“We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says ‘Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’
“In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”
Well. This certainly puts a different spin on the “Let’s clean the house for mom and make her pancakes shaped liked hearts” approach. My first reaction on reading Howe’s gripping call was to feel a little ashamed of how nuts mothering can make me. About how often I don’t see the gift in front of me, and instead see an interminable to-do list. One more late permission slip. One more tantrum. One more argument about how it just should not take 47 minutes to put on a pair of pants. Punctuated, of course, by moments like the one pictured above, when while impatiently rifling through my wallet during what felt like a catastrophically bad day at work, I came across this treasure from my daughter. And felt momentarily eased, then ashamed again. How could I lose perspective so easily? Doesn’t appreciating the gift mean not taking it for granted, ever?
Then I looked again at Howe’s words. Justice. Peace. Humanity. Humanity. Humanity is flawed, impatient, selfish. All of us. And we’ve been given a great gift—that of being alive. And in some cases, of teaching someone else what it means to live in the world, too. The way I see it, there’s plenty of room in there for rants against the drudgery of motherhood, too. Thank goodness for all the bloggers and writers and Facebookers out there, truly, who share their struggles, their wit, their snark. Their imperfections. To remind me, and all of us, that we’re not alone. And then, to balance it, the other gift—the reminder that our children love us, whether we deserve it or not. They’re the universe’s gift to us, and what we do with that love, how we let it re-center us when we need to and change our perspective when it’s skewed, is our gift back to the world.
Happy Mother’s Day to us all.
Here are some of my favorite recent posts about this whole deal of being (and having) a mom: the good, the bad, the outrageously funny, the complexly sad. I picked seven. Seems like a nice number. Enjoy.
When to Talk About Adoption, and When to Let it Go, by writer and blogger extraordinaire Sarah Buttenwieser, from the New York Times’s Motherlode blog.
The Great Big Lie About Mother’s Day, by the wicked smart Jill Smokler (aka Scary Mommy), from The Huffington Post.
A Love List: What your mama really wants for Mother’s Day, by the multi-talented Andrea Scher, from the Superhero Life blog.
My Kids and I Made a Crafty Mother’s Day Gift from “Dad’s Books of Awesome Projects,” by superhero-cleverly-disguised-as-dad Andy Hinds (aka Beta Dadblog).
Moms Are One of a Kind, by the smartly smart-alecky Adrian Kulp, on his Dad or Alive blog.
Real Moms Magazine: Mother’s Day Edition, by the somehow simultaneously tender and irreverent Kim Bongiorno, on her blog, Let Me Start By Saying.
Dear Less-Than-Perfect Mom, by the brave and honest Lea Grover (aka Becoming SuperMommy).