I never get what I really want on Mother’s Day, which is not any reflection on my children. It’s not their fault that I have bigger ideas, more serious concerns. What I want is far too big a challenge for one or two people to take on.
People mostly don’t know that the origins of Mother’s Day are complex, that one of its main advocates, Anna Jarvis, spent a large part of her life campaigning against the holiday’s commercialization. She meant it to be spent not just privately honoring one’s own mother, but in efforts to promote child-rearing and protection of children, and in the reconciliation of conflicts. Another proponent, Julia Ward Howe, wanted it to be a day for mothers to work together for world peace so that mothers would no longer have to lose their sons to the brutality of war. It’s not hard to see how that idea got lost in the shuffle, pushed aside in favor of something easier, less challenging to the status quo. Something more commercial.
It’s not that I have anything against honoring our mothers for all their love and nurturing and support. And gifts are nice, though they don’t have to be material ones. Nor do I begrudge the pursuit of a modest prosperity to the makers of pretty things, or to the shopkeepers who sell them. It’s just that, well, individual mothers already have birthdays on which their families can show their appreciation. And the national holiday has the potential to be hard on mothers who’ve lost their children to death in one of its many forms, or whose children are alive but estranged from them, or who gave their children up for adoption. There are those whose children are in prison, or suffering due to serious disabilities, addiction, physical or mental illness. And then there are the women who always wanted to have children but couldn’t for various reasons. Let’s not even talk about starving children, or about the mothers who weren’t fit mothers, the mothers who just weren’t able to cope.
I know it’s unreasonable for me to ask for world peace all wrapped up and tied with a bow, or for an end to world hunger. But motherhood is fundamentally about hope. It’s about bringing children into the world and launching them on a trajectory that encompasses the expectation of something good and positive and meaningful. With so much all around us that needs fixing, that threatens children and mothers, both, would it be too much to ask that we dedicate a day to making our world a better, safer place for all of us, and especially for future generations and those who nurture them?