Tag: Mothers Day

A Letter Unwritten

Author’s note: This entry is long. But you should read to the end. Honest!

Rowyn, Rachel, and Esther “Sure, I would love to blog for Go Girls!” That’s what I said when Lynn asked me about the writing component of this gig. I love to write, I love Go Girls!, I feel lucky to be part of this glorious, dynamic team and the work it does.

But blogging is hard for me, I’ve discovered. Bloggers write about all of their own stuff, from their own lives. They put their personal opinions out there. They share the bits that hurt them and scared them and scarred them and forced them to grow. Blog posts are like intimate letters you write to everybody. And I’m not gregarious like that (if you don’t count my career as a performer. But that’s different—really!) I am deeply ambivalent about these love letters to the world. I’ll send you one, and you alone, or maybe you. But to everybody? I just don’t know…

Which is why I am not yet ready to write what I want to write about Mother’s Day, what I need to write. Alexis wrote so wonderfully about the day in her blog, and my reaction was one big “Yes!” But a day devoted to mothers still presses on a bruise so purple and deep that I know I don’t yet have much clarity or wisdom around it. I still just keep banging the bruise against the edge of the couch, and yowling

But the writer Anne Lamott has written something sharp and subversive and loving about Mother’s Day. Can you keep reading for awhile longer? Her words cradle and sooth me and perk me up, and I read them even when it’s not the month of May. You should read them, too… (P.S. I do not, like her, hate Valentine’s Day, so keep those cards and chocolates comin’!)

Here’s her piece “Why I hate Mother’s Day,” originally published by Salon:

“I did not raise my son, Sam, to celebrate Mother’s Day. I didn’t want him to feel some obligation to buy me pricey lunches or flowers, some annual display of gratitude that you have to grit your teeth and endure. Perhaps Mother’s Day will come to mean something to me as I grow even dottier in my dotage, and I will find myself bitter and distressed when Sam dutifully ignores the holiday. Then he will feel ambushed by my expectations, and he will retaliate by putting me away even sooner than he was planning to — which, come to think of it, would be even more reason to hate Mother’s Day.María with Mommy

But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. An unhealthy mother’s love is withering.

The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.

I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. There is no refuge — not at the horse races, movies, malls, museums. Even the turn-off-your-cellphone announcer is going to open by saying, “Happy Mother’s Day!” You could always hide in a nice seedy bar, I suppose. Or an ER.

It should go without saying that I also hate Valentine’s Day.

Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am still opposed to Mother’s Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents. (Meanwhile, we know the worst, skeeviest, most evil people in the world are CEOs and politicians who are proud parents.)

Rachel with MommyDon’t get me wrong: There were times I could have literally died of love for my son, and I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me. But I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent. We talk about ‘loving one’s child’ as if a child were a mystical unicorn. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly feel that if you have not had and raised a child, your capacity for love is somehow diminished. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly believe that non-parents cannot possibly know what it is to love unconditionally, to be selfless, to put yourself at risk for the gravest loss. But in my experience, it’s parents who are prone to exhibit terrible self-satisfaction and selfishness, who can raise children as adjuncts, like rooms added on in a remodel. Their children’s value and achievements in the world are reflected glory, necessary for these parents’ self-esteem, and sometimes, for the family’s survival. This is how children’s souls are destroyed.

But my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, even after their passing.

No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture’s bad people and behavior. You want to give me chocolate and flowers? That would be great. I love them both. I just don’t want them out of guilt, and I don’t want them if you’re not going to give them to all the people who helped mother our children. But if you are going to include everyone, then make mine something like M&M’s, and maybe flowers you picked yourself, even from my own garden, the cut stems wrapped in wet paper towels, then tin foil and a waxed-paper bag from my kitchen drawers. I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain. Like everything else, it can fill me only if it is ordinary and available to all.”

 

What I Learned from All of My Life’s Mothers

35418_1504579223140_7401568_n
My momma and I. Look at that hair (and my lack thereof)!

My friends often joke with me about how much I love moms.

What I mean is, I love when my friends get to spend time with their moms (and dads and step-parents and the other amazing combinations of people who love them), and I love when I get to spend some of that time with them, too.

The most important thing I’ve learned while growing up is how amazing it is to have a positive relationship with your parents—and for me, as a woman, with my mother and the other women in my life. I know that everyone isn’t as lucky, that sometimes family just doesn’t meld well, or is a source of pain or stress or negative feeling.

But having some positive adult influences in your life, even if its a mentor, a friend’s family, or a neighbor is so huge.

Because these mommas are superheroes. I mean, they carry you around and feed you for much longer than most people are capable of doing anything consecutively, and then they force you out of a tiny hole in a very uncomfortable procedure just to have you poop all over them for the next few years. And sometimes they do it again so you can have someone to play with. If that’s not a superhero, I don’t know what is.

When you can find even just one momma who uses those powers to propel their babies through the first days, the new allergies and old tricks, the heartbreak and flunked classes, homesickness and first times for everything, hold on tight.

I don’t remember when I started calling my grade school best friend’s mother, Momma E., but what soon followed was a number of “mommas” I could call my own while I was playing with their kids, or calling home on their big house phones (what are those?) to see if I could sleep over, or while they gave us a ride home from a party or school dance, or when they, like my own mother, stayed up to greet us with water and snacks after late nights, just to be sure we made it home alright.

These mommas dealt with our petty bickering and relationship troubles, they soaked up tears, became sources of unfair-ness, and of laughter (usually at their expense) for the many children they adopted when they said, those many years ago: “Why don’t you invite your new friend over for dinner?”

254179_2070985982955_4580363_nAnd my own mom has shared those feelings and has bonded with those other daughters and sons and mommas over friendships and prom nights, during graduations and tough times. She has come home from the grocery store with my favorite snacks and a message from another of my mommas she ran into. But this original momma, she is teaching me everything I need to know about being the woman I want to be. Because I see that woman in little pieces in all of my mommas, but they are all tethered together in her. She taught me to be the Go Girl! I am, she just didn’t know it had a name until now.

And I know that Mother’s Day is just another Hallmark Holiday designed to test the (spending) strength of the love for our mommas. But it’s also the day I use to reach out to all of my life’s mommas: the women in my life who may not be my mother, but who care for me like one. It’s a day to celebrate the love and joy they bring to our lives, and also a day to make them brunch. Pancakes are the least we can do, don’t you think?

What’s in a Name?

If you have spent time with a toddler you will know that much of their developing speech manifests in their dedication to naming things: cat, shoe, fish, ball, star, sky, mama. Every time the child says a word, a kaleidoscope of discoveries explodes and delights him. The tangible sense of the word in the mouth, the connection of the sound with a thing or an idea, the realization that that thing or idea belongs in his own world, the way he can point to the object or the person with his hand.

Naming the members of his family creates a sense of connection to, and belonging with, those people. Later, when the child is older and can spell or read his own name, he learns that his family members, too, have whole names that can be spelled, and read, and spoken aloud. Just as he was given a name that belongs to him, his parents have their own monikers that carry an individual identity.

In contemporary Egypt it is considered shameful for Egyptian men and boys to say their mothers’ names in public. This taboo, purported to promote respect for Egyptian mothers, is currently being challenged via social media through a United Nations Women Egypt’s campaign entitled #MyMothersNameIs.

Fadi Yaish, Regional Executive Creative Director of the ad agency behind the UN’s moving campaign video, responds in an interview on BBC radio, “[Egyptian men] are very much confusing respect with disrespect. Why? Because simply it is the man who is denying to say the mother’s name, so they don’t feel the disrespect, while women, they are the one[s] [who have been] compromised.”

As former American football pro-turned-actor and feminist Terry Crews said in a DAME magazine article, “The smartest, most wonderful people in my life have been women. They’ve always shown me things that I never saw before…”

At a What Makes a Man White Ribbon Campaign event Crews said, “What it is that we’re talking about is gender equality, true gender equality… but the problem is that men have always felt like they’re more valuable… I have been that guy where I felt I was more valuable than my wife and kids.”

The damage done to men’s psyches and souls by denying the autonomy and humanity of the person who perhaps gave them the greatest care and love they’ve ever known is too awful to fathom.

What could be more devastating than erasing a person’s value by simply refusing to acknowledge that she has a name? And what could be simpler and more restorative than speaking that name out loud? #MyMothersNameIs is fostering this healing right now. And now. And this second, too. You can hear it… my name is Rachel, and my mother’s name is Evangeline, and her mother’s name is also Evangeline, and her mother’s name was Florinda, and her mother’s name was Feliciana, which means good fortune, happiness.