I still remember the first time someone told me I was a great mother.
I was standing on my lawn at my old house when my next door neighbor Ted looked over at me with my 2-year-old son Matthew and said, “Hey, I just want to tell you I think you’re a great mom.”
It was so unexpected that I think I looked at him like he was crazy, which he was in a way. But I appreciated his comment because let’s face it, parenting a preschooler is one of the most overlooked jobs in the universe.
Let me clarify that: parenting a child of any age is one of the most unrecognized jobs because you put in a tremendous amount of effort, and get very little praise from the outside world.
There’s no paycheck or pat on the back from your boss telling you that you’re doing a good job. You do your best, but good mothering is pretty much an assumption and expectation in our society. You may work outside the home or stay home with your kids, but if you’re a mother you’re devoting a good chunk of time taking care of kids without a whole lot of fanfare.
I can count on one hand the number of times someone has praised my parenting skills. I suspect I’m the rule rather than the exception. No one really goes around pointing how great mothers are, though people are quick to criticize when they think you screw up. (“Never bring your baby out without a hat in this weather again!”)
I’m not a great fan of Mothers’ Day because I spent an awful lot of them pining for a child. In fact, I got my first ocular migraine on a Mother’s Day when I was about 30, and taking my frustrations out on a bush that I was trying to uproot in my front yard.
I thought I was having a stroke, but it turned out to be an ocular migraine, a disturbing condition in which zigzags of light temporarily blind you. They can be brought on by emotional stress. And let’s face it, a day spent celebrating mothers is hard for someone struggling with infertility, miscarriage, the death of a child or a mother because it underscores the loss.
I know this Mother’s Day will be especially tough for some of my friends, who have lost their mothers in recent months. It will also be hard for friends whose children are going through tough times and are not on the best of terms with their moms.
But as I’ve gotten older and done the hard work of mothering, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of a day set aside to honor mothers, who are the backbone of our society. It’s not such a bad thing to let moms know that they’re loved, appreciated and special.
Most mothers I know downplay Mother’s Day, or dismiss it as a “Hallmark holiday,” as my mother-in-law did. But I think this is part of being a mom. It’s hard for us to sit back and be celebrated because mothering is what we do and who we are.
We’re even a little embarrassed when people other than our kids wish us a “Happy Mother’s Day” because we feel silly acknowledging that it registers on our radar. But I can tell you this: if you have kids, and they don’t wish you a Happy Mother’s Day with a call – not a text or posting on Facebook – you notice and you’re a little hurt.
(My daughter just came downstairs and failed to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day, and I admit I’m a little miffed.)
A friend told me that she’s going out to brunch with her children, parents and father-in-law for Mother’s Day. When I told her I was impressed, she noted, “I organized it because I wanted to go out and knew no one else would do it.”
That sounds about right. We’re the organizers, the ones who get things done when the high school decides to serve breakfast before the SATs to try to boost scores, or the Girl Scouts need to sell extra boxes of cookies outside Walmart on a Saturday afternoon.
Show me an Eagle scout project, and I’ll show you a mom who did most of the legwork getting donations and supplies to pull it off. Show me a girl at prom and I’ll show you a mom who hit the florist, nail place, hair salon and Ulta for bronzer before stopping at friends’ houses and the town docks for photos.
We swing into action when things need to be done, whether it’s making a restaurant reservation, booking a babysitter, finding a dog sitter, making a trip to the emergency room, delivering an air conditioner to a sweaty college kid or staying at a lousy job to pay the bills.
This most derided of all holidays began innocently in 1908, when a woman named Anna Jarvis rallied to have a national day set aside to honor mothers. Inspired by her own mother’s contributions to her and her siblings, Jarvis initially embraced the holiday, but eventually became fed up with its commercialization and unsuccessfully fought to rescind it.
Jarvis spent the last years of her life in a sanitarium, her stay fittingly paid for by greeting card and floral companies that made millions from the holiday she created.
Perhaps its founder’s disgust with the holiday foreshadowed our own ambivalence toward it. Years ago, one of my friends told me that her greatest Mother’s Day wish was to have her husband and kids leave her alone so she could plant flowers in peace.
My mother never made a big deal out of Mother’s Day, though with her brood of seven she certainly would have been entitled. It was my father who emphasized the holiday, making sure we made plans for the day and presented her with gifts.
While other women of my generation were being raised to put careers ahead of families, we were raised to believe that mothering was the most important job in the world. I still remember him telling me that he thought writing would be a great job for me because I could do it on the side when I had children. I think I was in college when he made that remark.
My father thought my mother was a great mom and refused to tolerate any disrespect toward her. When I once referred to my mother as “she” in conversation, he lambasted me. “That is your mother, not a she,” he said. “Don’t ever refer to her like that again. You’re lucky to have her as your mother and don’t ever forget that.”
I never made that mistake again, and for the most part treated my mother with respect, largely out of fear of what my father would do if I didn’t. I often turn to the Curmudgeon for this kind of support when my kids mouth off to me, but he doesn’t back me up. This may explain why my kids speak to me in ways that I wouldn’t dare speak to my mother, and am actually embarrassed to admit in print.
I don’t have big plans for Mother’s Day, though years ago I used to escape to play a round of golf with another mother or play a USTA match, someone’s awful idea of a fun time for mothers. (Honestly, I’d rather stick bamboo into my fingernails than play one of those tennis matches ever again.)
I plan to honor my mother by driving to her house and presenting her with a gift, and accept a bouquet of flowers that she has waiting for each of us every year. I’m not sure when she began this tradition, but it speaks volumes about her that she’s honoring us as we’re honoring her.
In true spirit, my mother is so unselfish on a day that she’s entitled to call her own that she presents us with gifts too. And that, I think, is what motherhood is all about.