Yesterday, my granddaughter brought home from preschool a potted petunia. She’d glued purple glitter on the pot’s sides, glitter that left a trail everywhere. When I asked her why her mommy got a flower, the five-year-old’s eyebrows scrunched up and she shrugged. “For Mother’s Day, I guess.” I was relieved. I hate Mother’s Day.
Is it OK if I just say that Mother’s Day is a bad holiday? Every year, on the day proclaimed in my honor, I feel miserable. I know I’m not alone—everyone from Anne Lamott to sarcastic greeting cards, lots of women feel the pressure of this made-up holiday. Whether Mom is no longer with us or she was evil-defined, we’re all supposed to stop, spend a load of money and wax poetic over her. For those of us whose kids battle addiction and/or mental illness, Mother’s Day is especially cruel.
No matter what anyone tells me, my children’s troubles still fall at my feet. No matter what I tell myself, guilt lingers. I didn’t mom right. Yes, I work on my skewed guilt feelings. All year long, I read all the cute memes and affirmations and practice being kind to myself. And then it’s Mother’s Day all over again. Why does it bother me?
Because I know too many moms whose children are no longer alive. I know even more mothers whose daily prayers for their children’s deliverance from addiction or mental illness surely create traffic jams on heaven’s streets. I know my own prayers often feel like bounced emails, crashing around in the ether, washing up on some distant shore. Mother’s Day only helps these shipwrecked pleas rise to the surface.
Aside from the phoniness of Hallmark and candy and flower vendors, there ought to be a Cry Room for grandmothers and mothers and daughters who can’t deal. So many of us have borne the weight of society’s demands that we be silent, submissive. We’re taught to keep a smile on our faces, because, you know, “if Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.”
But by worshipping motherhood (and after raising four kids, I know there’s a lot to worship), are we inadvertently placing a thumb on the scale? If mothers are so powerful, then if my offspring are smart, polite or successful, it’s because that’s the way I raised them. Unfortunately, the opposite also follows: If my kids struggle with addiction or mental illness or don’t turn out, then Mom must have goofed. Goofed pretty hard.
Even after years of therapy and wrestling guilt into the basement, I still don’t love Mother’s Day. It’s like the older sister who assures you that your outfit doesn’t make you look that bad. While I love the bouquet and say thanks for the spa day, I’m not all there. There’s a hollow empty place that could only be filled by the son who can’t come home. The daughter, whose last words were too profane to repeat, gnaws at all my raw places. The golden child who once presented me with scribbled hearts and a plucked dandelion now lies passed out on the sofa. Where can moms like me go until the last hanging basket is sold?
Where can moms like me go until the last hanging basket is sold?
Motherhood drips with meaning, from our breasts’ first milk let-down to the last time our throats ached after he didn’t check in. We’ve made it through two-hour feedings and night terrors, all the way to missed curfews. But now our precious babes are ensnared by the beast. The beast has feasted on some. Others can’t see the way back home. If our mothering is judged by the state of those we mothered, all the phony Mother’s Day brunches imply that our failures aren’t worth celebrating.
But maybe there’s a way through. If I’m overcome with grief or just need to sob, I can go to the Cry Room and I won’t come out until just before Father’s Day. Face the reality that I’m in pain and that a forced holiday smile will only make things worse. Lean on the things that carry me: my God, my girlfriends, the grace I always find when I stop and stand still long enough for love to find me once again.
Before my granddaughter left that day, I wiped glittery soil from all around her petunia. She watched me and then gave me the best hug and a clear bright smile. “I know why Mommy gets a flower,” she said. “Because even when I make messes, Mommy still loves me.”
And we do, don’t we?
I still don’t like Mother’s Day. But I’ll celebrate that.