Sunday, May 12, 2013

I don't really do Mother's Day, but if...

The sentence looks downright un-American, sitting there in type.  What kind of cretin are you?  How can you not celebrate Mother's Day?  You must be a hateful creature.

I wonder if those women who have never had children, or who have never been able to bear children, or whose children are no longer living, have those same bilious thoughts directed at them.  But I digress, and I cannot begin to imagine the thoughts that crowd into their minds on this day.

For me, the odd mathematical realization came a couple of days ago; I am sneaking up on the point in my life where my mother will have been dead for as much of my life as she lived to see.  (Awkward sentence, I know; take another pass or two at it and it should make sense.)  I was a couple of months short of 25 when she unexpectedly died.  I'm 48 now, so that point should arrive some time in 2014.

All of the typical stages of grief passed through my life at the time, and they recur again on occasions like Mother's Day (particularly when the ol' Facebook feed fills up with pictures of friends with their mothers, or friends who are mothers with their children, or what have you) or around the anniversary of her death (December 2014 will mark the 25th such).

We, of course, do not have children (unless you count the feline variety), and the likelihood of that happening grows slimmer every day.  My wife of course does honor her very living mother on that day.  I hesitate to use the term "mother-in-law" because of the often-exaggerated negative connotations it has acquired, but I should say that I do not slight my wife's mother; she has been as supportive as a mother can be (particularly during the cancer business) and has also had the wisdom not to try to "replace" my mother.

All this rambling goes before to say that Mother's Day just doesn't have a lot of juice for me.  I wouldn't call it painful; "mildly uncomfortable" is probably a more accurate description.  I have neither motivation nor interest in joining the conversation, or the most part.

Yesterday, though, I was reminded of one element of Mother's Day that actually did provoke my interest, just a little.  This article reminded me of the curious history of the founding of the holiday.  This was actually a story I knew a little about, though it had been years, since grad school at FSU, since I had learned that little bit of history.  Anna Jarvis, the woman described in the article as one of the motivators behind the day, might well have been just a tiny bit unbalanced.  Diana Butler Bass is (to the best of my recollection) somewhat charitable to describe Jarvis as intending the holiday "to honor all mothers beginning with her own"; she had little interest herself in honoring anyone other than her own mother with that national holiday.  Mind you, as the article notes, Anna Reeves Jarvis was a pretty remarkable woman, but a state-level organizer of women back in the 1850s was not going to get a national holiday.

What is remarkable, though, is the degree to which Mother's Day was in its early years a rather activist holiday, at least in aspiration.  The hope, at least for those progressive groups that picked up Anna Jarvis's odd vision in a more general and appealing way, was for a day that would embody a progressive, Christian vision of such notions as justice, progress, clean water, health care -- you know, crazy radical stuff.

So what happened?  Was it the greeting-card companies that tamed the holiday?  I don't know that much of the history.  I have to admit, though, the vision of millions of mothers storming the Capitol and sending a whole bunch of congressmen home (or turning a few of them over their knees and giving them a good paddling) is immensely appealing.  I say go for it, moms.  That's a Mother's Day I could get behind.

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