My first Mother’s Day in 1980 my eight-day old baby cried. And cried. And cried. As new parents, Mr. Smith and I were beside ourselves. I walked him, I fed him, I changed him, I swaddled him, and I cried a few tears with him. Totally unable to soothe him, we finally decided to call our pediatrician. Even though it was Mother’s Day afternoon, he instructed us to come to his office and he would meet us there. After a thorough examination of Emmet, he turned and looked at us. “This baby is fine. How are mom and dad?” Dr. Hildebrandt was a wise and wonderful man who understood the stress of being new parents and provided us some much-needed support on my inaugural Mother’s Day!
Mother’s Day has morphed into the biggest floral holiday in the US. Honoring mom with cut flowers, house plants or garden plants has become big business. But where did Mother’s Day start? In 1872 Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, promoted a Mothers’ Peace Day to promote global unity after the horrors of the American Civil War and Europe’s Franco-Prussian War. In 1904, a former football coach at Notre Dame proposed the idea of a Mother’s Day “setting aside one day in a year as a nationwide memorial to the memory of mothers and motherhood.” But the person most often credited with the founding of Mother’s Day is Anna Jarvis. Beginning in 1905, the year her mother died, she campaigned in honor of her mother, a peace activist, to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday. President Woodrow Wilson made it official in 1914 when he signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.
By the early 1920s, Hallmark and other companies had started selling Mother’s Day cards and people were giving their mothers gifts of flowers and chocolates. Anna Jarvis was furious because she believed the companies misunderstood her pure almost spiritual vision of honoring mothers. Anna protested florists, candy factories, and card makers, feeling that they were exploiting her idealism. She even criticized Eleanor Roosevelt when she used Mother’s Day to bring attention to the issues of women’s and children’s health and welfare of women and children, ironically problems close to Anna’s own peace activist mother’s heart. Sadly, she remained resentful to the end, dying penniless in a Pennsylvania sanitarium.
When my sister, Jeanne, moved across the pond, she was introduced to another take on Mother’s Day.
“Raised in the Midwest, I grew up with a “Hallmark” impression of Mother’s Day. Over a decade ago I moved to Europe and discovered several countries including Portugal, where I lived, celebrated Mothering Day. My lovely neighbors explained it was a day to honor all of those who raised and mothered a child no matter the relationship. I was so impressed that the addition of an ‘ing’ on mother could change the entire tone of the day, making it so much more inclusive and meaningful. Perhaps it’s an example we could follow.”
Mothering Day has deep roots, going back to the 16thcentury when people would return to their “mother” church for a service on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Anyone who did this was said to have gone “a-mothering”. It has evolved into a holiday for honoring the mothers of children and giving them presents, whether they are your mother or not. I had a great example of this when I was dating Mr. Smith. As Mother’s Day was approaching, he purchased flowers for his mother, as well as his sister and sister-in-law, telling me “They’re mothers too!” It came to him naturally, even though he had never heard of Mothering Day.
I’ve been a fortunate mother. Since that first Mother’s Day, none have been spent in a doctor’s office and all have been spent knowing that I am loved and appreciated by my children. There have been special breakfasts, brunches, dinners, gifts and flowers along the way. Cards and phone calls from sons out-of-state, always something to mark the occasion and make me feel loved and special. I remember one particularly touching Mother’s Day when Adam gave a piano recital, accompanied by the Manchester Symphony Orchestra in Manchester, Indiana. As I sat in wonderment listening to him play the first movement of Edward MacDowell’s Piano Concerto in D Minor, I was astonished by his ease in front of the audience. As the music washed over us, I was amazed this child came from me.
Sadly, for others, Mother’s Day is often stressful. What if you have a “difficult” relationship with your mother? Just finding an appropriate Mother’s Day card can be a challenge. Mother’s Day can be a bitter reminder for women who have lost a child, who long for a child that will never be, or – like Anna – have lost their own mother.
I hope all women can find some “mothering” figure in their lives. For my mother and me there were never any lovely Mother’s Day brunches with intimate conversation and laughter. She wasn’t someone I went to for comfort or guidance, but I have found that in other women, especially my beautiful Aunt Ruby. I hope I can pay that forward.
Motherhood is wonderful, difficult, challenging, and the best thing that has ever happened to me. There is no manual or roadmap to guide us through this adventure. But hopefully there are other mothering figures along the way to support you, sometimes in the form of a kindly old pediatrician! And if you are lucky, there is the amazing reward of adult children. And if you are really lucky, there is love.
Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter of fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anybody to excavate my essential humanity.
C’est la vie.