I wonder what my mother would make of all this social media. I can imagine her marveling at the information and the images at her finger tips. She also worry about the lack of privacy. She’d set all of her privacy settings to the max and choose carefully what to share.
Of course, I don’t know. She died in 1989. And as a daughter, I see my mother in a particular way. Her friends might surprise me in what they would say about her.
Have you watched the documentary Stories We Tell? It’s fascinating. (My students even liked it!) But part of me is jealous of Sarah Polley. She has many people to interview about her mother. I could ask my dad about her, but his most common answer, “I don’t remember.” And because of the divorce, he never liked talking about her even when (or especially when?) she was alive. There’s a friend of hers I can talk to. But when we watch Polley’s documentary, you can see all the different ways people saw her mother. Some people say completely opposite things, and as Polley’s mother is also dead, she can’t say anything in her own defense.
Mother’s Day comes upon us again, and makes most of us think about our mothers. I don’t begrudge people who get to spend Mother’s Day with their awesome moms. Do I feel a pang when I see a mother and daughter enjoying their time together? Sure. Do I think it’s a wonderful thing to show your mother you love and appreciate her? Absolutely.
But even the founder of Mother’s Day regretted the holiday. It’s a shame that the day has become a day of stress and disappointment. Too many people buy things with a sense of obligation and resentment and too many moms are disappointed in how little their families seem to actually understand them. I used to find buying things for my mom easy. I loved sending her gifts, whether for Mother’s Day or any day. I still can’t see a carousel horse without thinking of my mom. I had planned to buy her one once I graduated from college and had a “real” job.
And not everyone has a mother worth honoring. Some mothers are toxic. I’ve known people who maintain relationships with terrible parents because they feel like they should, but blood doesn’t mean you forgive someone anything.
I have friends who’ve walked away from their mothers (or father). This strikes me as a double loss. You lose your actual mother and you lose the hope for the ideal.
Honestly, if my mother had not worked her way out of her depression, I don’t know what kind of relationship we would have had. When I was very young, my mother scared me to death. Her moods were unpredictable. She attempted suicide. Her anger was quick and terrifying. I remember at five-years-old, my dad had to pry me loose from the doorframe because I was so determined not to see my mother.
But she came through her nightmares (most of which I only half know), and she became an amazing person and wonderful mom. By the time I was 16, she was the most important person in my life. I’d have done anything for her. Her death when I was 21 undid my life.
It could have been different. She could have been trapped in her unhappiness for the rest of her life. She and I didn’t have all the talks we should have about those dark years, but I did what I could to let her know I was okay.
And while their are children without their mothers, their are mothers without their children, and while the former is sad, the latter is heartbreaking. As a mother, it is almost too terrifying to think about.
Perhaps Mother’s Day could be a day not flooded with commercialization, but a day of honor, a day to acknowledge what we have or what we’ve lost, a day that takes note of what it means to be a mother trying her best in a society that, for all its talk, does not make mothering easy and yet makes it feel almost obligatory.
My hopes go out to all the mothers in war zones and on the streets, struggling to make it to the end of the day. My thoughts to all the mothers who have lost. My love to all those who can share happiness with the women who brought them into the world. Also, high-fives to all the women who stepped in as mothers when the biological mothers couldn’t or wouldn’t step up. And hugs to all the new mothers struggling and doubting and fearful.
Happy Mother’s Day with all its contradictions.