Motherhood

Mother's Day was proclaimed a national holiday in 1914 after the prolonged efforts of Anne Jarvis. Ms. Jarvis wanted to honor the work of her own mother, a peace activist, "who had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War and created Mother's Day Work Clubs," says Wikipedia.

The current Mother's Day is not about peace per se, but still carries moral force, because it celebrates the ideals and promise of motherhood and domesticity. In a thank-you note to President Wilson, Jarvis spoke of a "great Home Day of our country for sons and daughters to honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life." Incidentally, this holiday is also a testimony to the feminist efforts of Anne Jarvis, who, though childless herself, devoted many years of activist campaigning to honor motherhood, create the holiday, and oppose the subsequent commercialistic Hallmarkisation of it.

My mother is doing well at 98, and I am grateful to be able to visit her. At the same time, I would never praise her for reaching a particular notch in time. That has the effect of disrespecting anyone who died at a younger age.

To illustrate my thinking, let me quote Barbara Ehrenreich in a recent "Fresh Air" interview: "I would never call myself a cancer survivor because I think it devalues those who do not survive. There's this whole mythology that people bravely battle their cancer and then they become survivors. Well, the ones who don't survive may be just as brave, you know, just as courageous, wonderful people. And I don't feel that I have any, you know, leg up on them."

True my father died from lung cancer at 77, and my mother was lucky not to have ever smoked. But I wouldn't say that my mother "managed her life better". To castigate a shorter or more difficult life is unkind and a failure of wisdom. What is the measure of the value of a person's life anyway? We will never know. I must note that in the last visit this Spring my mother remembered the awesome physical strength and energy my father brought to his work. I mean "awesome"; not "like, awesome, man".

In recognizing the phenomenon of motherhood, it is also important to see people realistically, facing the challenges of life. To conclude, here's another quote from another novelist I haven't read -- Barbara Kingsolver -- regarding her book Flight Behavior: "Motherhood is so sentimentalised and romanticised in our culture. It's practically against the law to say there are moments in the day when you hate your children. Everyone actually has those moments. So to create this mother, who loves her children, of course, but is just so fed up of living in a house with people who roll plastic trucks on the floor, was a writing challenge."