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Surviving Mother's Day

Mother's Day is looming and there is no need for me to inform anyone reading Married No Kids that the approaching holiday can be stressful for the childfree by choice or circumstance. Today, I opened our newspaper and at least six full-page ads fell out on the floor proclaiming the necessity of purchasing clothes, jewelry and restaurant meals for Mom. I turned on the news and there was a story celebrating the busy lives of multi-child moms. The Mother's Day ads can seem relentless with images of happy families cooking meat together on massive barbeque grills.

It sometimes helps to take a deep breath and realize that, sadly, Mother's Day isn't always a pain free day for mothers either. My friend has three grown children living all over the country. Every Mother's Day one or more of them forgets to send the all-important card or flower, or to make the call. She spends the day mourning the one who forgot instead of rejoicing in the one who remembered. In the end, she usually soothes her hurt feelings by sharing a meal out with girlfriends.

Overall, I think it helps to reflect on the origins of Mother's Day to defuse some of its irritating power. For me, Mother's Day is annoying because it increasingly seems like a call from right-wing pundits for women to return to an idealized home life centered in 365/24/7 childcare. Actually, Mother's Day, like so many of our popular holidays, has origins in traditional celebrations of spring, blossoming Mother Earth and returning fecundity after cold, harsh winters - celebrating the Goddess in all women - not just those caring for small children.

Three women were instrumental in bringing our contemporary Mother's Day celebration to fruition, and at least one was ambivalent about the outcome of their efforts. In the mid-nineteenth century, Julia Ward Howe (who wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic) promoted the idea of an international holiday celebrating peace and motherhood. Her idea was a thoughtful and poignant day of appreciation for mothers suffering the loss of sons during the Civil War. Howe intended the day to promote peace and healing after the horrors of the war. She thought women were the most appropriate gender to promote these ideals, and Mother's Day was originally tied to international peace and Suffragist movements.

A mother and daughter, both named Anna Jarvis, continued the crusade for an officially sanctioned Mother's Day. The younger Jarvis remained single throughout her life as she cared for her elderly mother. She promoted a day to show appreciation for mothers while they are still alive. The Jarvis' dream became reality on May 9, 1914. A Presidential proclamation declared the 2nd Sunday of May as officially observed as Mother's Day. Originally, the day was symbolized by the exchange of a simple carnation during church services. The younger Jarvis lived to see the commercialization of her beloved holiday. Years later, she lamented how the holiday had become a vehicle for the exchange of expensive gifts.

So now, when confronted with the yearly commercial extravaganza of Mother's Day, I look to the past and try to reclaim some of the spirit of its origins. I take a long walk in the woods or find some special gardens I've never been to before and spend the day there, rain or shine, appreciating the return of spring.

The Mother's Day after my mother died, I just wanted to turn off the TV, the radio, and go to bed and hide from media chatter about the holiday. I didn't want to see my neighbors having picnics and parties. Now, I celebrate the day in the spirit of Jarvis' holiday-expressing appreciation for my mother. My mother was a passionate gardener. Although plagued with depression throughout her life, a walk in a garden always elevated her mood and took her out of herself for a few hours. So, I take a walk in honor of my Mom. It sounds corny, but on these walks I imagine that she is walking along with me and still gardens on in eternal peace. I like the idea that I'm merging traditional forms of Mother's Day celebration: appreciation of my own mother, a wish for peace, and gratitude for the richness of the spring earth. And, walking is a great way to celebrate the return of foliage without purchasing bunches of cut flowers.

One of our Married No Kids forum writers has a wonderful suggestion for embracing Mother's Day. She suggests visiting a nursing home and giving a lonely woman some extra attention. I know from visiting my Dad's nursing home there are always people, mostly women, who are lonely and depressed when families take out other patients on holidays and they are left to wander the hallways alone. Just a short visit to share time watching television, chatting, playing a game or working a puzzle will be greatly appreciated. In the spirit of Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day, you can reclaim the day as a celebration of women by sharing some time with a lonely woman.

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