Here in the U.S., this Sunday marks the annual Mother’s Day holiday. Most nations have a specific day each year dedicated to matriarchs, and most are in the merry month of May*. It’s not a national holiday in every case, but…agreeing to give at least a passing nod to this vital community was one of the wiser decisions of the twenty-first century. A decision upon which most people agreed.
I’ve always thought it more than a tad unfair that Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day, too, for that matter) was established as a “Sunday” holiday. Sure! Here’s a holiday all your very own! But it’s going to be on a day most already perceive as the weekend, so you won’t have to miss work or anything. We’ll make all the National holidays fall on Mondays or other fluctuating weekdays, guaranteeing that Presidents’ Day, for example, will always mean a 3-day weekend for most folks. But not Mother’s Day. Moms can share that with church. And then go back to work on Monday like normal. But, back in 1914 President Wilson probably wasn’t thinking about how enormous the women’s workforce would one day become. He was probably just trying to do something really nice for his own mom. He was probably thinking, “what do you get for a woman who has everything? A real live calendar holiday? Great! Sure beats the whole corsage and brunch thing hands down.”
Executive orders are hard to top. I bet his brother and sister were miffed.
I am fortunate that my mom is still alive and kicking. Lots of folks don’t have that luxury. My own lives seven hours away, depending on traffic, and I will not get to see her this Sunday. But I will get to hear her voice and that’s a blessing I don’t take for granted. I’ve spent half my life living a distance at least across a Midwestern state from her. Plus, spending pretty much my entire employment history either in journalism or the food industry, Mother’s Day has almost always found me on the job. Mother takes it with a grain of salt, I guess, though I’m sure she’d love to have all her chickens in the nest for the holiday. Thister will be there, and she and my niece have plans to whisk Mom off for an adventure. I’m trusting the postal service to deliver some prizes in time for the weekend. I requested they have the mail carrier give her a hug and kiss from me, too, but you know. They couldn’t guarantee anything.
And that’s the rub with Mother’s Day, isn’t it? How can you possibly make the day as special as it ought to be for the woman who made your life possible? Whether you’re adopted or if the relationship is complicated or you’re not speaking or you’re best friends. Whether she’s alive or dead…. Mothers are the nexus. How do you adequately show appreciation for the person who connects you, in one way or many, to every aspect of your life?
My mother is a force to be reckoned with. To say she’s dedicated to her family is like saying August in Missouri gets a little warm: A profound understatement. She set the bar high for us. Have grace under pressure. Display courtesy in the presence of those who are obstinate. Apply a gentle sense of humor to every situation…. These things can be a drag to learn when you’re five or six years old, but they are also lessons to which I attribute every success I’ve ever had. Robert Fulghum has nothing on my mom.**
She would be the first person to say she’s made mistakes, but I submit it’s our mistakes that hew us into stronger, more durable armaments. Maybe a battle-type reference doesn’t seem appropriate, but what is life if not a battle? I don’t have any offspring myself, but I pay attention. Everything I’ve seen and heard indicates motherhood is at least a series of skirmishes. And watching my mother adjust to her life’s roller coaster has been an inspiration. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Ten times in 13 years, I think, but she always turned each new place into a home for us. She taught resilience by example. Major health issues, job upheaval, relocation after relocation and two very active daughters must have been physically and emotionally exhausting. In the mid 90s she went back to college as a non-traditional student and earned her Bachelors in Social Work. SOCIAL WORK! Like being a mother didn’t demand enough emotional sensitivity. And after spending decades as a wife and mom she couldn’t cut herself any slack. No, she took her skills straight to hospice care…in my mind the most direct path to torture any social worker can ask. But she loved it. She buried my father when she was still in her 40s, then she earned her Masters degree. All this while working her full-time job and she still graduated with honors!
Mother would say there are a lot of hardworking, committed women out there. That she’s just tried to do her best, and she wishes she’d done better. I think she’s always been too hard on herself.
I wish I could be as adaptable as she has been. I wish I could be as compassionate and as consistent. I wish I could remind my mom how her vitality spirited me up and out of bed in time for early morning marching band or swim team practice. Her quickness to hold her daughters when they needed a hug showed us the necessity of wearing a smile in the face of looming crisis. Mom taught us crises will come, for sure, but there’s no reason you can’t rise above them with good posture, some artfully drawn eyebrows and a sense of humor.
It’s challenging every year to find a Mother’s Day gift for her that is “just right.” She never asks for anything, first of all, and the unspoken thing for which I imagine she hopes–to have us all together–isn’t usually feasible. So Thister and I instead try to spend the rest of the year rising to the bar she set so high when we were little. We strive to be the women she told us we were capable of being. We try to live by her example. Humble, graceful, blithe. Dedicated. Compassionate. These things can be a challenge to meet when you’re 40-something years old, but it’s the example she set. It’s our honor to try to meet it and then exceed.
I am intensely fortunate. I’ve doubted a lot of things in my life, but I’ve never doubted my mother’s love. It is a priceless gift, and if that’s not worth a National Holiday, I don’t know what is. If we can give that gift back to her I’ll feel like we might just beat President Wilson at his own game. Don’t get me wrong. An executive order is impressive and all, but…. I’d bet his mom just really wanted to know her kids loved her and learned from her. That’s the gift we’re trying to give our mom, this year and every year.