Mama’s Day Our Way
Mother’s Day Reflection by Rebecca D. Kaye
When Julia Ward Howe issued her Mother’s Day call in 1872, women had the right to vote in only one territory in the country, and it would be nearly half a century before we won it nationwide. Still, she proclaimed, ‘Arise, all women who have hearts…Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies… Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.”
I love this proclamation. I post it on Facebook every year at Mother’s Day. It’s an antidote of sorts to the simpering greeting card graphics that populate my feed at this time of year. Mothers think of nothing but their children… They’re angels sent from heaven. <Gag!>
The reason I love it is because Julia Ward Howe articulates two Truths of motherhood:
(1) With or without formal power, we are powerful.
As Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, wrote in her recent book on women and leadership, we must lean in to our lives, including motherhood. We have to say “yes” to our potential. Key parts of that for me are first, accepting my strengths and what makes me happy. I am good at my stressful, kind of insane job. I would not be good at being a full time caregiver for my children. Fact: I love my kids more because I don’t have to be around them all the time.
Next, I have to stop being too hard on myself. Neither my home nor my children are Pinterest-worthy. I lose my temper with my “spirited” three-year-old sometimes. I’m sure there was more than one person in the social hall last Sunday who heard me holler when he took off running.
His middle name was involved.
I’m sure that someone was appalled, but I can’t worry about that too much. In the moment when I had to focus on safety and teaching him (hopefully someday) not to run around the perfectly designed UUCA indoor track, someone thinking that I’m a bad mother is something I just have to let go.
Finally, I need help to be my best. Last Sunday, our wonderful farmer, Joe, heard Elliott’s middle name, and he trotted across the Social Hall to take my grocery bag, and he packed up our CSA veggies for me. For some crazy reason, when people offer help, my first inclination is to say no. But in that moment, I was a better mom because I had one less thing on my hands. Which I then had to use to drag my screaming child out from under the Hope-Hill school table.
(2) The personal is political.
And there is nothing more personal than our children. Which to me means that my choices for them speak my real values… there are lessons that I want to ingrain in them, yes: that they are special… but not specialER than anyone else, for example.
But it’s my choices for our lives that speak louder than those lessons.
I lean into my career, volunteer, and maintain adult friendships in part because I want my boys to be men who expect women to be strong and independent. I am fortunate to have married well… to a man who is better at a lot of the traditional mama stuff than I am. He stays home right now, and I want my boys to be men who don’t see this and think “Mr. Mom”… they should see it and think “Daddy.”
Not only do I want them to see beyond traditional boundaries of gender, but I also want them to be capable of integrating into the 21st century world. Let’s face it—I am raising The Man.
So, another choice that I am making for them is to invest in our community public school, a school mostly populated with low-income students of color that is overlooked by most of my white, middle class neighbors. I am committing to sending my kids there and everything that goes along with that… to get them what they need and to get it for everybody else’s kids too. I need them to know what it looks like to be citizens in our community, not consumers of it.
And I need to use that power that Julia Ward Howe knew that women wield to show my sons and the sons of others that the only way to save a drowning person is to jump in the water with him. You both come out wet and irrevocably changed for the better.
Mother’s Day Reflection by Kim Green Foster
I have found that we sometimes learn important lessons from what did happen.
However, more often, I’ve learned the most important lessons from what didn’t happen.
Since 1981 the celebration of our mothers has always left me on the outside looking in. Although I am a mother myself, the hurt of not having a mother for most of my life has made me somewhat numb to the need for celebration.
I consider myself motherless. Just admitting that I am motherless was my teenaged defense mechanism. A survival tactic, if you will. The brutality of saying it that way was the only way I could make sense of walking the earth without the comfort of the one who brought me here. Revealing the truth of my life was simply a salve for my broken heart. Having a mother was sort of a privilege and not having one made me instantly under-privileged.
Today, all of that has changed thanks to Reverend Marti Keller who always asks us to go beneath the surface about everything, including motherhood on Mother’s Day.
As a motherless daughter, I would like to publicly remember my mother. Her name was Mary Ellen Green and I credit her with many things, especially giving me the impetus to live…differently than she did. I did have a mother whose essence is still a part of everything I do and say. She is not separate from me, she is me.
When I have the courage to feel the ache that comes with every inch of me that still misses her so deeply, I ‘m reminded how much I want to thank her for showing me what not to do with my own mothering experience. My mother showed me the importance of not letting one stone go unturned in the pursuit of my own fulfillment. By bearing witness to her endless adoration, I recognized that although her profound love for me, which was deep, lasting and too short-lived, it was still…simply not enough to sustain. Maybe it was enough to sustain me, but not to sustain her or her soul.
I remember watching her daily ritual of mixing cocktails in a tall glass and lighting cigarettes as though she were preparing a sacred ritual that she would engage in throughout the night. These evening ceremonies were her way to have something of her own. The cocktails and the cigarettes were the accouterments that would glam up the boredom of her loveless life as a mother. A single mother, at that. In her desperate attempts at radical mothering, she worked an unsatisfying job and wasted so much of her spiritual riches on me, without sharing them with lovers, friends, hobbies or anything that was hers to keep. Mary Ellen was a stunning beauty who eschewed all romantic relationships with men, worrying that someone could potentially harm me or trample on my innocence in ways that no one ever talked about in those days. By rejecting all of the potential suitors, she turned her back on her own need for love. The relationship that she chose with vodka and cigarettes took her further and further away from her own dreams of success, glamour, riches and love.
When Reverend Keller told me that her inspiration for this service was Sheryl Sandbergs’s book Lean In; Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I was struck by the title, as I was suddenly aware of the rigorous physicality that it takes to simply be a woman. Just landing in our skin, we find our lives choreographed by others from birth. Our mothers, fathers and society-at-large seem to always pick our steps for us, instilling in us their own version of life’s dance. They instruct carefully when to lean in and when to stand still.
My own mother, in fact, considered it a victory that she met my father; someone whom she thought had money and would rescue her. She didn’t realize that as women, we must rescue ourselves. Women are contortionists, always being what society tells them to be. The world assures us that societally dictated things would make us happy. The world often also recommends if and how much we should work. And even what we should do. The contortions our bodies, souls and minds endure have simply birthed a generation of new women whose souls seem to be saying, we want to do our own dance. And our dance is so intricate that it includes women who dance with children or without. Women who dance alone or with men or with women. Regardless, we all are mothers on this mother’s day.
My mother was an early feminist, I think. She drank, smoked and she had a commanding tone. She loved music and art and all things classy. She was a divorcee in 1967 and a single parent who had been strong enough to leave the man that she sought for so long, who turned out to not be the knight in shining armor, but a chauvinistic man with a penchant for rage. She was courageous enough to choose her solitude, but too cowardly to go for love with another, using her motherhood as her excuse. My mother loved travel, but never went anywhere. My mother loved gourmet food, but never went to restaurants. She was always outside looking in. Being a mother was simply not enough for her. And it never has been for women, but now we all know it. Even as my grandmother would say, “Even the mens know it.“
I would like to think that one of my mother’s greatest accomplishment was birthing a new woman who writes, to share about the job that she started but couldn’t finish. Several years ago, I, along with 27 other women wrote about our experiences of being a mother or choosing not to.
The anthology was entitled, Who’s Your Mama? with the subtitle: The unsung voices of women and Mothers. My essay, In the Absence of Blood, was about the adoption of my son. This is how it began: “There was no panting, sweating, grunting or ripping out of what was hidden deep within. There was no physical pain associated with becoming my son’s mother. My soul never thought it was necessary.“
The essay continues, “This unwieldy love makes others judge me, envy me or even hate me. I no longer care how I appear. I have become child-centric.” That is a word my mother would have used.
I wish she were here so I could whisper in her ear, “Motherhood should appear in our lives as a joyful option, not a life sentence.“ Don’t get me wrong. I am eternally grateful that she chose motherhood, however, I will always lament all of the other choices that she couldn’t make, didn’t make or was too scared to make. I think if she had done more, felt more and accomplished more, she would still be here today, happier and healthier and sitting in the front row. I would have never begrudged her for taking some of life for herself.
When I re-read the essay that I wrote in 2008, it was quite an obsessive rant about the depth of my love for my son, despite the fact that he did not come from my body. The title, In the Absence of Blood referred to my choosing adoption over childbirth. It was not a desperate last resort. It was what made sense to me. As a writer, I then felt compelled to show the world how absolutely and unconditionally adoptive mothers can love their adoptive children. Our birth experience just looks different. I loved my son so much that I worried about every detail of his life, even the things that I cannot control. Even things that are none of my business.
In 2008 when my son was only five, I already worried as I wrote; “My son’s burdens thrash around in my head while my hearts plots to destroy them one by one.” I then went on to list some of the burdens that I feared he would encounter…
#1) He is half white. What will that mean in a color struck world?
#2) His father lives in a different state? What will the world tell him? Will they see him as just another black boy without a father?
#3) He is adopted. You know all the things that people say about adoption.
When I wrote all of that that, I would never imagine that I would be the one, not society, to add to dreaded list.
#4) His mother fell in love with another woman.
And in true motherly fashion, I worried incessantly about this love. How would my same-sex relationship impact my child? Would it potentially make him resent me? Would it ruin his life? Make him a pariah at school? Put him at odds with his religious father and grandparents… Would it make him ashamed of me and our wonderful life?
Doubting myself, I wondered would it be better and easier for him, if I faked it, choosing another unfulfilling relationship that did not serve my soul, in order to fit in with all the other mothers in the crowd who were perfectly equipped with husbands, no matter how good or bad they were? Should I sacrifice me for him, just like Mary Ellen did for me?
At that pivotal moment of fear and doubt, wanna know what I did? I leaned in.
I leaned in with every ounce of myself to grasp my own happiness, which included becoming an unencumbered partner and a gloriously happy mom. I leaned away from going the way of my mother. I want my child to see a mother with wings and fearlessness and love abounding. I want my child to witness a mother in motion.
As I lean in, my heart informs me that this is what it should feel like to dance to my own beat and my example will show my son to dance. My mother’s life taught me is that being a mother only, is not enough.
Women are all mothers of some kind, whether we have children or not. We are the root of the tree, yet the root often gets ignored when the leaves bloom so prettily. It is our right to claim the depth of our lives; to unapologetically lean in to our true desires. Life’s entitlement for soul fulfillment is no longer reserved for our brothers. It is human to have what our hearts desire and deserve. We have worked for this.
And, every time I look into the eyes of my loving partner, she is my reward. I feel like this authentic, mutual, even love that we share is my comeuppance. Everyday is mother’s day. As a daughter of a woman who couldn’t own herself, I am determined for my son to see me truly alive, so he can be too.
And so, my choice of a female partner was no longer about my son and his feelings, it was all about me. And when I chose me, I chose him, too.
I no longer worry so much. My choices only enhance the adventure of my life. For him, I strive to be an example of living full out. I want to show him the power of doing the things in life that move us, speak to us and make us come alive. My choices grant him the freedom to love and be loved. That is the lesson my mother taught me.
Micah, my son, will learn more important lessons because of what did happen.
Mama’s Day Our Way by Rev. Marti Keller
Common preaching school wisdom is that we should avoid doing Mother’s Day services, sermons especially, at all costs. While for many it is rightly a time for tribute and celebration, it might bring up painful feelings for those among us who have had fertility problems, or who have lost babies or children, either through death or custody battles, or who are going through hard times with our own sons or daughters.
And despite all the commercials for pampering products or homemade waffles ( or waffle irons), telling us not to forget mom, urging us to give Mom all she deserves, and finally reminding us that it is our last chance to find the perfect gift for Mom, truth is for some of us children, young or older, it is impossible or hurtful to remember mom.
Mom may not be or if she has died, may not have been deserving of the adulation it is assumed we are going to heap on her this day, in the flesh or in memory.
That is the truth, as uncomfortable or unpopular as that might be.
Hallmark certainly wouldn’t like this perspective, nor the florists, nor the thousands of other businesses that thrive on, indeed count on Mother’s Day.
Like Christmas and Easter and many other observances, it has become an incredible pressure on families and enormously profitable for merchants.
The most popular day of the year to dine out and the busiest day for telephone lines.
And despite what I see as the shame and the sham of turning every holiday and holy day into a shopping blow-out, I admit I am hooked into it enough to look forward to, even expect those gifts from my own three children. The bath oil, the little bottles of cologne, the cards gathering dust on the mantle.
This year’s presents, which arrived later on last night, Fed-Ex style, in large boxes with lots of packaging— lovely bouquets of mixed flowers, roses and Calla Lilies with sweet notes typed in by a store clerk somewhere. Just in time for me not to be feeling disappointed, and then feeling guilty about being disappointed.
For assuming that’s what the day is about, and assuming my kids are feeling like paying tribute to me as if I were a royal figure, instead of that very young woman who so many years ago now longed to be, presumed she was ready for parenthood. Who was so clueless, so lost, so unready, so unprepared, so clumsy, and yet who so wanted those babies.
The just barely not a teen who had to go to a charity health clinic for my firstborn’s shots and well baby check-ups, who was forced to go on food stamps, who put him and his sister through a divorce and for more years than I would ever have imagined a latchkey life . Coming home to a silent, unpolished house after school, refrigerator half-filled with neglected cans or tomato paste and wilted lettuce, peddling up the street for milk I was too scattered, too tired to remember.
Because I was miles away working for a nonprofit organization which ironically was formed to make sure all pregnancies were intended, well planned for, and that mothers had the supports they needed to have well cared for and thriving children when they were truly ready.
It might have looked like I was leaning in, working days steadily gaining more footing and more income and more influence, working nights at the writing career which had been my degree and my dream. But I was really just staying upright, at least most of the time.
So it was some sort of comic relief that the first Mother’s Day gift I received a few years back was from my oldest son, who was finishing school in Dallas Texas.
He sent me one of those free e-mail cards. The one he sent was not actually a Mother’s Day card, but instead a card commemorating national food allergies week.
He wrote that he wanted to remind me to avoid those foods, those almonds and Brazil nuts, the shrimp and the other shell food that made me break out in hives and threaten to stop breathing.
To be safe and to live, so we could continue to be in adult relationship with each other, with its peaks and valleys. Just live so I can do what I can—no more and no less- to make things right between us when things would get a little or a lot tense, even ugly.
And right with the world he was brought in to.
As a mother—as any and all of us who have known what it is like to fiercely love and nurture another human being are called to do. At least part of the time.
Which was the original intention of our American Mother’s Day, which had its beginnings, not in divine adoration but in activism. It started more than 150 years ago when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she felt would be best led by mothers. She called it a “Mother’s Work Day” when the women of her hometown in West Virginia would work on improving the impoverished community’s sanitation and other direct service projects.
Fifteen years later, Julia Ward Howe, a Unitarian poet, pacifist, suffragette, and author of the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, horrified by the bloodshed and the carnage of the Franco-Prussian War—organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace. She believed that mother’s above all others bore the loss of human life and would be the most moved to act to prevent war.
In 1872, Howe’s vision of a Mother’s Peace Day was ONLY briefly lived out in cities and towns across the country– as well as in Edinburgh, London, Geneva and Constantinople. The popularity of this Mother’s Day for Peace waned over time and the event finally disappeared in the year’s preceding World War 1.
In 1905, Anna Jarvis’s daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize her mother’s social justice work and her vision of mothers working together to promote health and safety by commemorating a national mother’s day, her efforts paying off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill making it a federal holiday.
However as this holiday devolved into a day when instead of petitions and letters to the editors being circulated, this activity was diminished and then replaced by increasing card-sending, gift-giving and pancake flipping, Anna Jarvis became enraged. She believed that the day’s original sentiment, its original purpose, was being sacrificed at the expense of greed and profit. In fact, by 1923 she was so distressed that she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother’s Day festival.
By the time she died in 1948, Jarvis was said to have confessed that she regretted every helping to start the Mother’s Day tradition at all.
She had railed without success against what had happened to Mother’s Day, both how it had become so commercialized and how it had lost its point. It had begun as a reaction against injustice and violence, a way to use the values represented by motherhood for the greatest good.
Not a private celebration or a massive cultural take-over glorifying and idealizing motherhood in a way that few if any mothers can match, let alone sustain. Not a time for lessons on how to be a Tiger Mom, but the inspiration to be a Transforming Mom.
It was meant rather to move mothers and non-mothers alike to transcend their individual family lives and work to make a better society, even a better world.
In recent past years this has meant events like a Million Mom March focusing on stopping the senseless gun violence that too often marks American life, including the lives of our children- children in elementary school classrooms, the two year old toddler shot to death by her five year old brother who was gifted with a starter gun.
Or the Georgia mother’s child killed by gunshot once a week for the past decade.
Efforts like the one last year by Christy Turlington Burns, a model turned maternal health advocate who asked mothers to celebrate No Mother’s Day by not answering their phone or e-mail, even when their children called with the idea being to bring home what it feels like to be suddenly motherless, because around the world about 800 women a day die in childbirth, 90 percent of them from preventable causes.
Or this Mother’s Day 2013, when our own Unitarian Universalist Association Standing on the Side of Love faith in action program has joined a campaign, Strong Families/Mama’s Day for the Rest of Us, to recognize, as blogger Shanelle Matthews has noted what she describes as those who have generally not been publicly, or at least commercially celebrated: queer moms, immigrant moms, moms of children with disabilities, and moms with disabilities. If Mother’s Day emphasizes the importance of the maternal bond, she asks, don’t genderqueer moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, trans moms, grandmas parenting grandkids and single moms experience that same bond. If the purpose of Mother’s Day, she inquires, is to highlight the influence of mothers, aren’t stepmoms, incarcerated moms, young moms, refugee moms, low-income moms, and moms living on sovereign land also influential?
She asks us to consider that the mothers whose lives are not being reflected on greeting cards are in need of something that can’t be delivered, worn or eaten. They need policies that accurately reflect the reality of their daily lives. They need affordable health care, citizenship, access to healthy foods, transportation, birth control, self-care time and support. They need safe spaces from domestic violence, visitation rights, affordable and safe housing, and culturally relevant education in languages their families understand.
She tells us eloquently that they need less shaming and more ways in which it is safe and secure to be the kind of moms they want to be.
Despite all the barriers, we are reminded, the mamas in our lives, in our community, are creating strong and resilient families. Happy Mother’s Day to all of us, to all of them. Let’s be about the work, the celebration of making their jobs easier.
May it be so this day.