One of the things I dislike most about our contemporary society is how polarized we are, and how nearly everything has become a political issue. Since mothers have been a campaign issue not-so-many-news-cycles-ago, I was a bit reluctant to post anything about mothers today. But then I thought that was stupid. Just because some people have politicized it doesn't mean the rest of us can't still honor mothers and motherhood.
Being a teacher, I've spent a lot of time over the years with mothers. Mothers and teachers are sort of a natural combination as we do similar things with and for similar people.
Over the year, mothers have monitored dressing rooms, created props, sewn costumes, painted scenery, run concessions, managed ticket sales and so on. They've driven trucks and pulled trailers, gone over lines and a myriad of other things. That's just in my program. Around our school they do so much, so very much that keeps the school going. Everything from shelving books in the library to running our professional art show, which is a two year commitment and basically makes them CEO of a large non-profit organization.
One of the things I think we don't always appreciate is that mothers do a huge amount of volunteer work outside of the home and work, accomplishing a great deal of good in the larger community. I've spent my life working at non-profits and I can say without hesitation that our greatest volunteer corps has always been mothers. Without them, non-profits would have a serious, possibly life-threatening, problem.
I come from a long line of mothers who don't like Mother's Day because it makes them feel guilty. They focus on mistakes they've made, things they wish they had done differently and so on. I know this is not a happy day for a lot of women. I also know there are women who want to be mothers and aren't, or who have family situations that bring pain--and on and on as people deal with the trying vicissitudes of life.
To me, this day is not about celebrating perfect, idealized mothers from a Norman Rockwell painting, because that mother doesn't exist. Nor is it about arguing about whether Claire Huxtable or June Cleaver is the better mother.
It's simply a day to acknowledge that mothers do a lot. They do a lot for their families. They do a lot for their schools, churches, synagogues, and communities. Frankly, they do a lot for our civilization. A world without mothers, even imperfect ones, would be a grim and unlovely place.
I suggest it should also be a day to acknowledge that mothers don't need to be perfect to make a huge difference.
A few years ago, my wife went to take care of her parents after emergency surgery, so I took over at home for a week. I'm competent at keeping a house, so my children had clean clothes and food and I got them where they needed to be in time. In operational terms, no one would have noticed that my wife was not there. I was able to successfully execute all the necessary tasks.
But during this week, one of our small children got hurt. Not a serious injury, but it hurt him a lot. He cried and cried that he wanted his mom. I could clean and bandage the wound, hug, and love him, but there was something he felt was missing. There was something about my wife's presence that he needed and wanted. It went beyond what she did to who she was, what she has inside of her.
I think that moms are like that. Their love and empathy is a powerful balm for skinned knees or broken hearts, some kind of divine spark that provides comfort and love for us--and not just when we are young children. Christina Rossetti referred to her mother as "my heart's quiet home" and that is an elegant, incisive way of putting it (h/t to Luisa Perkins, from whom I first heard that quoted).
Moms provide this whether they work inside or outside the home, whether they do laundry or send bundles to the dry cleaners, whether they bake bread or buy it at either Whole Foods or Wal-Mart. Mothers provide this whether or not they are impatient or lose their tempers sometimes, and they provide this even if they don't measure up to self-imposed standards. Mothers do this just because they do. Just because they are mothers.
I would add that, over the years, me and my children have been blessed by the actions of women who were not their mothers. So many women have mothered so many children that were not theirs in the biological sense. We've seen this time and time again, and I am grateful for these women.
After every play, my students usually call me come out to take a bow. I don't like this. In fact, I really, really don't like it. It embarrasses me because I don't want it to be about me. I don't want the audience to think I've told them to do it. I feel like the success of the play is attributable to far more hands and hearts than my own. So, last time we did a play, I told the kids they were not to bring me out. They obeyed and did not call me out for a bow on opening night.
That night, my wife found out and discussed this with me in unusually stern terms. She told me that the kids loved me and wanted to express that publicly and this was the way they knew how. It might be clumsy or uncomfortable for me, but it was ungracious to not allow them their chance to show their appreciation.
She was right. So I countermanded the order and let the kids bring me out for the last two nights. It was uncomfortable for me, but I could see that it actually did make many of the kids happy.
May I suggest that this applies to mothers today? I know that this is not a happy day for many of you, that you don't relish this day. But we love you! Individually and collectively. We need you! You do so much for us and we want to tell you that. We want to make a big deal of you.
You don't have to be perfect and you don't have to fit specific externally-imposed models and meet specific criteria. You are wonderful and you do so much good in a million ways. Just by being you (I think Mr. Rogers was the one who said that. I know it's cheesy, but it's so true).
Thank you to all the women in my life. To the mothers who supported the activities I enjoyed when I was a kid, to the mothers who support the activities I now offer to my students. To the mothers everywhere who raise responsible children against difficult odds. Most of all, to the mother who raised me and to the mother who shares a home and family with me: Thank you! I love you.
Happy Mother's Day.
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