I’m writing this letter to you and not the girls because they’re too young to feel the tides shifting. I feel the shift within me as the grip of social media gets stronger and I’m more exposed to how Mother’s Day Should Be Done. I feel the shift within you, right now at almost 7 and 9 you are blissfully unaware of obligation but, I sense, on the cusp of realization.
What you do for me now on Mother’s Day is how I’d always like it to be: a plate of burnt toast with manhandled sliced strawberries in huge uneven chunks because I only let you use butter knives instead of steak knives. And you each standing on either side of the table- beaming with pride that you used a toaster and knives all before I heard you and stumbled down the stairs. That look on your faces is all I want, because something burst inside me and broke at the sight of those two little faces. Just that- gleeful pride in yourselves- that you were able to express yourselves as you wanted to.
That’s how I feel on your birthdays every year. There has not been one year since you were born that I did not throw you a full-blown party. I don’t do this because I feel obligated or because I have an outward expectation thrust on me by the Better Parents Of the World. I do it because I desperately want to express myself in that way. I want every year to pause and think and be grateful and make cake from scratch (except for your second birthday, Jack. Finn was born 6 days before your party and I had to get a Costco one. That was the only time. I swear.)
I celebrate you out of gratitude and awareness. I am well aware that other mother’s don’t get the privilege to throw their children birthday parties. There are some mothers that would kill to throw one more celebration to honor the life of their child. So I do it willingly and gratefully. I can’t recall a time you have ever thanked me for a birthday party, and I wouldn’t want you to. It is my act of acknowledgement that I am the luckiest.
I read an interesting quote from this Monastic Cookbook we have on the shelf in our kitchen. A monk is quoted as saying that many monks don’t consume meat because meat is not available to all of God’s people, and they don’t feel like it honors God to indulge in something most of the world cannot afford. I’m beginning to feel that way about Mother’s Day.
I’m writing about it to try to flush out how I feel but its still in shadows and shapes. I don’t know fully how to express it but part of me feels like if the Westernized version of Mother’s Day cannot be experienced by all mothers then it’s a paper maché sham puffed up by Hallmark and Hershey’s and I shouldn’t consume it myself. Or maybe I can ingest it but it just wont sit well. I don’t want expensive spa days or crowded restaurants or elaborate flower arrangements. Not just because they carry the potential to be given dutifully and with gritted teeth. And not just because mothers in third world countries could not conceive of such luxuries. But more so because you would be expressing what the world tells you to instead of what you feel: That something must be bought or given or consumed to be celebrated- that just being with one’s children on Mother’s Day is not enough.
Your birthday parties don’t have expensive favors or elaborate decorations, or usually even paper invitations. It’s just us, the people who love you and the friends you want to play with and pizza and playing and splashing and cake smearing on my couch. And me being ok with cake smeared on my couch. And mostly, a pause, a prayer, a thanks to God for the Life of You.
So this Mother’s Day, and all Mother’s Days, please reject what the world tells you to do. If you choose to honor me, do it in a way that acknowledges the most fundamental truth about me: you made me who I am, and my gratefulness to you is only eclipsed by my overwhelming love for you. And don’t just honor your grandmothers and me. There will be people in your life who mother you in a way worth acknowledging. There will be friends of mine who drive you places while enduring backseat bathroom humor. There will be mother’s of your friends who cook you meals or listen to your high school drama as so many of my friend’s mothers did for me. There will be women who aren’t even mothers themselves that will invest in your life and point you to God in Sunday school or who bring me dinner or scrub my toilets when I just cannot do it myself. These people are worth honoring because a mother’s heart does not solely reside inside those who have borne children. It resides in those who know that everyone (sometimes even mothers) need mothering.