Tomorrow is Mother's Day.
The second Sunday in May is a day set aside to honour your mother; to show her how much you appreciate all the sacrifices she made, everything she taught you, how much you were loved! It's a day to celebrate the perfect mother you were blessed with-- or have to pretend you had in order to fulfil said holiday. The perfect Mother's Day mother is sweet, kind, always happy, able to cook anything at a moment's notice, always there, listens, never scolds. The perfect mother is Betty Crocker, crossed with June Cleaver, with a dash of the perfectly styled Claudia Schiffer thrown in. She's never late, never forgets appointments and is never frazzled. She's a consummate juggler of children, spouse, time, pets and activities.
She does not exist!
But we have to pretend she does, in order to fulfil out kidly duties for this Hallmark holiday. We have to swallow the knowledge that every mother, no matter how wonderful she is, is a deeply flawed individual-- just like every single other person on earth. Some mothers are pretty damned awesome. Some mothers are horrible. Every one of them is a far cry from the Mother's Day Mother we're supposed to give gifts to, this May 13th.
Mother's Day started for a good cause, I think: to really honour mothers. Card makers took it and ran straight to the bank. Now it's as over-commercialised as Valentine's Day, as “gimme something” inspired as Christmas and often as emotionally nerve wrecking as Thanksgiving. The woman to campaigned for it actually spent the end of her life trying to undo the holiday and fought against the flower industry for exploiting a day that was supposed to honour mothers-- not be a convenient excuse to sell flowers. It was everything she didn't want for the day. You can read more about the history of the holiday here.
I woman I know who was a florist for many years told me that Mother's Day out-sold Valentine's Day at her shop. It's the number one sales time for florists across the country. They move so many flowers that a small shop can actually go in the black for the rest of the year on Mother's Day weekend. That's seven more months!
I've also seen a lot of Mother's Day jewellery sales. Often they're pointedly pushing the husband to purchase something overly ornate “for the mother of his children”. That is, of course, in addition to the whole “Mother's ring” theme for jewellery. You can get rings, necklaces, lockets, pins, bracelets-- you name it! The mother's jewellery is supposed to be something we kids get for our mother's though, so at least hubby's off the hook for that bit? I dunno.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about Mother's Day.
I have sent flowers to my mother, grand-mother, great-grandmother, sister and in-laws for Mother's Day. I love flowers, so much; sending them to others is like sending a piece of sunbeam to lighten up their room. It's amazing what a bunch of cut flowers, or a pretty potted plant can do for some one's mood.
I don't need a holiday to send them, though. I prefer to send flowers for birthdays. I'd like to be able to send a little pot with soil and flower seeds, but I haven't found anything like that out there-- yet. I'll keep looking. Then if it's a bulb or something perennial, the bright shining light of colour will come back year after year.
Same with cards; Hallmark has the corner market on cards. Everything's an occasion for a card. Got married? Graduate? Have kids? Get a dog? Lose your appendix? Donate your liver lobe? You name it, there's a card for it. Mother's Day is no exception; did you take a good look at the length of card-space given over to Mother's Day cards? Holy shit! There are usually more of those, than the various birthdays! [And birthday cards tend to be eerily specific, need one for your cousin's co-worker's wife's birthday? They have those, too.]
Granted some of the cards are beautiful. They say the things we can't always articulate the way we want to, and do so in a way with filigree, flowers and meshed to perfection. I have absolutely nothing against greeting cards! My husband has this knack of always finding the perfect one, too! I think it's a gift.
I went in with my sister (in 2002) and we bought our mother a Mother's Day ring. It's really lovely. There are little stems, almost, with our names on them ending in our birthstone [it almost looked like a stack of flowers], and they lace together that reminded me of when you fold your hands together. We had to special order it, of course, to get our names on it, and against our better judgement we included the two miscarriages she had*. She mourns these pregnancies like they were stillborn, and actively told me that if the one before me had been born, I wouldn't have been born-- so yeah, that made me feel really good, huh? [I will have to come back and unpack that whole mess another time; it is a huge mess, too.]
My brother was supposed to help out, too. But never did get us the money. So my sister paid a third, and then bought the dinner for the cook out; I paid two thirds and bought the drinks for the cook-out. My brother just lorded over everyone like he'd paid for everything! It was a mess. That afternoon she actually ranted and raved at us girls for leaving him out. I remember she told me that she was ashamed that I was trying to buy her, and how could I make my sister pay for everything! We just looked at her.
“Do you want to see the payment receipts?” I asked finally. I'd given them to my sister, to hide with the ring in case we got the wrong size. “Sis, go get them.” She and I both worked for JC Penney at the time, and so when either of us made a payment it went under our numbers. The suddenly made my mother defuse; no she didn't want to see the receipts. But it was unfair of us to leave him out.
“We did not leave him out!” My sister shot back, getting louder and louder. “We consulted him, got his opinion, and he knew when we were making the payments. I nagged the hell out of him to get me or Em some money, or go down there himself and put a payment on it. He wouldn't! So if he said we left him out, he's a liar.”
That ended that family get-together. No one called her baby boy anything except perfect around her, or she left in a huff. We had more fun without her, anyway. My sister and I bought her a locket that Christmas, and made sure we just put our names on it. We didn't even pretend to get our brother's input-- it was just from us two girls. It's one of those “Grandmother's” types and has room on it for more engraving and stones to go in. There are four more grandchildren since we gave that to her, but I'm sure they aren't on there. She wouldn't want to pay for it.
Unfortunately that wasn't the first Mother's Day to end in shouting.
My ambivalence with Mother's Day goes back to when I was a kid. I remember in school, and often in Sunday School we'd make cards or tissue flowers or bowls or something for our mothers. The teacher would write stuff on the board to give us ideas about the nice things we were supposed to say. I never drew a family on those cards. I was always afraid she'd be angry; every time I drew a little stick-family at home she'd make fun of it anyway. So I'd draw flowers, or trees, or lacy designs. I can draw those, and she never found anything to mock about them.
She also expected to be treated like an Empress on Mother's Day. She does not eat breakfast. She never did. I get that from her; I can't eat until I've been up a little while-- it makes me physically sick if I do. She's also not a morning person. So you'd think letting her sleep in and making sure there was hot coffee when she was ready to get up and maybe a nice blueberry muffin for a little later would be the way to go, right?
Well, you'd be wrong. I remember I was about 13 or 14 at the time (we were in Germany). I wasn't eating breakfast myself, so I must have been at least that old. My brother wanted me to make some eggs, over easy, for him to give her with toast. I told him she doesn't eat first thing, are you sure? He insisted and so I made them. He made the toast, and slathered so much butter on it that it didn't all melt. Then he carefully placed it all on the tray and went in to wake her up. I followed with the coffee that I knew she'd take, and my sister brought the paper.
She was instantly angry that she was woke up, and then settled down to a disgusting happy, almost cat purring, attitude when she realised her baby boy had brought her breakfast! Half an hour later it all went in the trash.
When we didn't make breakfast a couple years later, she yelled at us like we'd hacked off her limbs! My brother just said over and over, “But you don't eat breakfast! We were making muffins!”
That wasn't the point; the point was that she wanted to be the centre of attention from the moment she opened her eyes. It was very much like a cross between birthday and Christmas with more servility. It was fucking awful. That's the way it still is, for her, on Mother's Day. Well, minus one kid, and three grandchildren.
I had stopped doing anything aside from a greeting card for several years by the time she disowned me. Nothing I ever bought for her was enough; she'd take it back, or exchange it, or complain she already had to many earrings/rings/necklaces that she couldn't possibly wear any more. But if I didn't get her something gold and shiny she'd would cuss me out-- literally. It was pretty fucked up. So I drew a “sorry, I'm broke, taking care of kids” line and stuck to it.
My first Mother's Day is the only one I remember as a mother, aside from the one in 2009 when I lost my mother.
My oldest son was born on May 8th, 1997, on a Thursday. Mother's Day was that Sunday; he was three days old, and I hadn't seen him since they med-evaced him to Lackland. My mother and grandmother had left Michigan and headed south to Texas the afternoon of the 9th and arrived on the 10th. It's about 25 hours, if you drive straight through, but of course they had to stop and dick off (travelling in a car with my grandmother is murder! She stops every hour or so for half an hour of dickery). We got up and around and were going to head to San Antonio early on the 11th; on Mother's Day.
I had bought them cards, and pretty little posies when I went out to get some medication. The doctors had me on iron, and told me to keep taking my pre-natal vitamins while I was breastfeeding, so I'd gone to pick them up at the pharmacy on the post (a friend gave me a ride). It wasn't much, but it was the best I had. My son was so early he didn't even have a crib! So I was scrambling for pretty much everything, at that point.
My Grandmother had said we'd leave about 9, and get there in time for lunch-- San Antonio was only about two hours away. Then we'd grab something and go see my kiddo.
Not what happened.
They sat and sat and sat. I had been waiting, ready to go since about 7 that morning; we had one bathroom, so I was up super early to get out of the way for the other people to use it. I dragged a chair to the doorway and chain smoked while I was waiting. I was nervous, scared and generally distractable. But I was ready to go. The car was packed, the hospital was telephoned; everything was ready-- except my mother and grandmother.
At noon my grandmother was finally ready. She'd been sitting on the sofa for about two hours at the point. Now, she wanted to eat! So she drove to a Luby's. If you've never seen a Luby's, it's like an Old Country Buffet-type restaurant. It was fucking packed! It was after church on Mother's Day! The food isn't bad, don't get me wrong, and it's not terribly expensive, but it's the last place I'd take anyone on a holiday.
I was anxious, I didn't want to wait in line for an hour. I didn't want to eat fucking Luby's! I wanted to go to SanAn like they promised; the only reason I was still in Killeen, is because of that promise. “We'll get down there and go right away! Save the bus fare. We'll hurry! I promise.”
Because I was getting a ride from them, I didn't want anyone to wait on me. That's why I'd gotten out of bed at 6 that morning! I don't do mornings...
But no, we had to eat first. To celebrate Mother's Day with my grandmother. Because you know, there wasn't anything else going on.
I had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before we left. I wasn't hungry (again, I was trying to be ready when they were ready. That's what you do when you're getting a ride!). So I told my ex, “I'm not hungry, so I'll wait outside.” My mother and grandmother were aghast! I was not going outside, I was going to sit with them while they ate. It was the least I could do, being it was Mother's Day and all! I owed it to them!
Then my grandmother was pissed that I didn't pay for her plates. “I'm sorry, was I buying you dinner, too? I already filled up the gas tank, bought snacks for the cooler, filled up the carafe with coffee and got change for the toll.” I was unhappy and flat out refused to pay for her food.
My mother gave me a right talking to. “You owe your grandmother for lunch! She didn't have to come down here, and we didn't have to drive all night. The least you can do is feed her before she drives another two hours!”
“I didn't ask you to come down here. I was ready to take a bus on Friday morning. Second,” I ticked these off on my hand. “Second, I don't owe anyone anything! She said, 'leave at nine, eat in San An'. It's going on one, and we're still in Killeen. Yeah, it's Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day! Your kids are fine, mine might die, and I haven't seen him. So eat, then we'll leave, but I'm not buying you, her and [my brother, who came down with them] all you lunch. If you wanted that, you should have asked me where I Wanted to go. It sure as hell wouldn't be Luby's.”
I lost it, I admit it. I was loud, pissed off and did not give a shit of the whole restaurant heard me. They didn't-- that place was so damned loud you wouldn't be able to hear a grenade if it went off.
My ex was really confused; he was still a decent person back then, and didn't know if it was normal for my mother and grandmother to be so weird, or how to react to them. “Calm down,” he kept saying. I just told him, “No, I will not calm down. This is bull shit.”
Then I walked out of the restaurant and straight to the payphone. I used my handy-dandy phone card and called the hospital while everyone ate. He brought me a sandwich and piece of cheesecake. “For later, if you get hungry” he said.
It was almost three before we finally got on our way to SanAn, and after six before we got to the hospital. The entire day was gone before I got to see my little Bird. I got a short two hours with him before visiting hours were over (being I was his mother, it didn't count for me, but everyone else had to be gone at 8). Two hours with my son on Mother's Day.
I checked into the Fischer House --it's like a Ronald McDonald house for military families, and they left. Literally, went right back to Michigan that night.
They drove down to Texas, saw my son for two hours and drove back home.
The reason was, “Well, we thought we'd be able to help you out, but really there's nothing we can do”. They could have helped me, actually. They could have been there. But it's probably better that they weren't. I would have thrown them out sooner or later for the sanctimonious way my grandmother kept saying, “it's all in God's hands. If he takes Bird will you have a funeral here, or in Michigan?”
No joke. Gods, I wish I was joking... but she was serious. If my kid died would I ship his remains to Michigan so the “family could be there, to mourn”.
“No, I will not! I'll cremate him here, and if you're here, fine, and if not, screw you!” I said.
It was a very bad time for me.
I know it was partly post-pregnancy hormones. Part terror; part exasperation, and part me being unable to deal with stupid people. The next year when my friend's little girl went into the PICU as her kidneys shut down, I never once asked about funeral arrangements. I couldn't bare to be so horrible. I asked how she was, was she eating, getting enough sleep? I'd call for the weight-gain update, and when she had a setback, I'd comfort my friend “These things happen this way. She's strong, she'll be just fine, you wait and see!”
I couldn't imagine asking where the funeral would be.
And I still can't believe my own grandmother was so callous.
Yeah, I have a thing about Mother's Day. It's a day I can't celebrate my own mother-- she's a horrible, terrible person, and a shitty parent. I can't celebrate my grandmother-- she's a charlatan. I can celebrate my husband's Mum, she's pretty awesome, or my friend Matt's Mum-- she is too! But it really isn't the same.
Knowing my mother threw me away, on Mother's Day, makes it all the harder.
I know my Dad has a hard time right around now, because he lost his own Mum just before his birthday, back in 1984. That loss is still fresh for him, and I don't know if it will ever go away.
Knowing how hard this time of year is for me, I kinda doubt that the pain will ease much over the years.
If you have a Mum, someone who loves you, is a decent person, and tries her damnedest, you are a lucky person. That Mum doesn't have to be your birth-mother; she could be an aunt, an adoptive mother, a grandmother, even a friend's mother. “She” could be your Dad! It doesn't matter who that person is, only that they are there.
So, on Mother's Day, make sure you tell them they are special to you. Celebrate your family, in whatever shape its in. And if you're like me, and lack a mother because of her actions-- that's OK too! Not everyone has both parents, just makes us more thankful for the one we do have.
*By her own admission the first pregnancy was a very early miscarriage, and might have been merely a very late period, but she counts it as her oldest son, and calls the pretend child “Jesse”. It's creepy, yes.
The second one occurred around the spring of 1981, and given the circumstances that I've been told, remember and have discovered I think she had an abortion and pretended it was a D&C. If you miscarry an early pregnancy and all the tissue isn't passed out of the body it's called “missed” and can cause infections. It's pretty rare for a later miscarriage to be called “missed”. She claims she lost the pregnancy around 4 months, there would have been no “missing” anything, just a D&C as a matter of course. But, and here's the weird part, she told me she had a missed abortion [remember, an abortion is the clinical name for miscarriage] and they had to do a D&C.
Even stranger is that no one, including my Dad, remembers her being pregnant and having to have a D&C after “losing” a pregnancy at that time. If she was four months gone, wouldn't my Dad at least have known about it?
This invisible child she calls Heather.