Mother’s Day is tomorrow: if you haven’t bought a card or flowers by now, you better move to plan B.
I don’t know exactly what it is that makes Mother’s Day feel so different from Father’s Day, but it does–and I’m not saying that as a woman; I think it is true for most of us. If I had to guess, I think it’s because the ideal of motherhood still is so weighted and fraught in American society, even in the 21st-century, when we should have moved beyond so many traditional stereotypes about motherhood. You know what I am talking about: all mothers are good mothers; all women must be mothers; being a mother is the most important thing in a woman’s life; only women are mothers; only the mothering of one’s own children counts; and, perhaps most significantly, you’re not really a full woman if you’re not a mother. We know that none of these things is true, and yet all of them continue to live and thrive, not only in the individual psyches of women and men, but in our collective psyche as a whole.
And so each year, as Mother’s Day comes, there’s lots of celebrating, which I find ironic: as if attention on one day could make up for the way so many mothers are taken for granted throughout the rest of the year! But more and more, in addition to this celebration, there is also sensitive recognition of the many ways in which Mother’s Day is a painful day rather than a joyful one for many people. This is especially true for women who are trying to get pregnant or adopt and can’t, and women who have had miscarriages–to say nothing of women who have lost children either through death or alienation.
Churches have been a little slow to catch up to this more recent development, I think, and still in many churches Mother’s Day is celebrated primarily by rehashing many of the traditional stereotypes I listed above. I wonder how many women and men don’t go to church at all on Mother’s Day, just for that very reason.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think we should give up Mother’s Day: too many hard-working, unsung women and men who mother with great dedication and joy deserve at least one day in their honor. But, I think we would all be better served if the day were opened up to all the different ways in which we both mother and are mothered in a wide variety of ways, with a wide variety of people. Maybe we should call it “mothering day”–that feels different to me, somehow.
In any case, my contribution to tomorrow is “Thirst,” by Mary Oliver, whom I adore. It has nothing to do with mothers, really–but it has everything to do with life, and loving God and loving the world; and with regret and hope; and with thanksgiving. (So maybe it has something to do with mothers after all.) May it speak to you in your mothering, in whatever form that takes.
“Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar, but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am