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My Trouble With Mother's Day

"Happy" doesn't cut it.

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This past weekend, I texted my three grown children (all in their forties) the following words: To my kids re Mother’s Day: I always feel weird when Mother’s Day comes around. This natural connection is always spun into an obligatory, commercial nightmare and I hate the way it feels. So. You can give me anything you want, so long as it didn’t cost you any money. My love for all three of you is deep and wide-ranging, and completely messed up and (as my four-year-old grandson wisely points out) “there’s nothing to do about it.”

It felt liberating to speak the words. I could’ve done this at any time in the past few decades, but for some reason, the words ripened this year.

I watched the spell being cast starting probably even before

April, but certainly by April. Ads wherever they can hold our eyeballs captive, “Show your mother you love her.” “Let her know how important she is.” Everyone looking for that perfect gift that will make her smile that sentimental smile they always show on TV. Especially yesterday at the mall, the day before Mother’s Day.

Let’s get real. All that rushing around isn’t about how much you love your mother, or how important she is to you. It’s about sales. Retail sales. Bottom line. It’s about the economy and frothing people up into a lather over how much they can spend on [fill in the blank — but today it was Mother’s] Day. I don’t need my children to tell me Happy Mother’s Day. I love it when they do, of course, but I am in their lives. They are in mine. The massive Mother’s Day ad campaign that our country soaks in during the month of May is more of a distraction for the living connection between me and my kids. We really don’t need your cardboard cutouts of what you think it should look like, corporate America.

That’s not where motherhood shines. Motherhood makes its mark when your life is falling apart and you can’t get out of bed, but you do it anyway, because your kids need to eat. It makes its mark when something is wrong, but she’s too young to talk so she throws a gigantic tantrum, and you don’t know what to do, and no one else does either, so you have to let them scream it out. Everyone in the apartment complex hears it and thinks you’re somehow harming her. But you’re just holding her, trying to understand. And once the little one has quieted down, then the self-loathing and guilt take over where they left off.

Motherhood makes its mark on you when you have to decide about schooling, and medicine, and insurance, and cars, and teachers, and rules.

It makes its mark on you when you feel most of the time like you’re just playing darts blindfolded, but your children still look at you like you have the answer. Or should. Or don’t.

It always felt strange to me to be wished a “Happy” Mother’s Day. There are too many emotions wrapped up in this thing. Of course we want each other to be happy. But motherhood is too complex, and “happy” isn’t enough.

My kids don’t have to commemorate the day they came through me into this world. Those three separate days were holy. They were hard. And they were as close to pure, uncut joy as I think I’ll ever feel in my lifetime. And as far as my mother? Again. Complex, many-layered, difficult, super-charged relationship. Happy? No. Rich and textured? Yes.

For instance, I really loved laughing with my mother. But I didn’t know her very well. I wish I could tell you the story about the time we laughed so hard together my brother actually got worried; but honestly, it’s impossible to describe or reconstruct. For real. There’s no way to do it.

That said, that memory is pristine, and I hold it dear — and it gets me laughing again, every time I think about it, even now, all by myself here in this room.

It’s one of the many treasures she left me. And for that, I wish her (wherever she is in the ether now) a genuinely Happy Mothers Day.


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