Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's daze

I felt pretty sorry for myself yesterday as I realized--or admitted it finally--that I'm not really a big fan of Mother's Day.

It's a hard day for me, and not because I don't have a wonderful mother or because I don't have four great kids and love being a mother. It's because it's the one day I compare myself to other mothers and wonder if I'm really screwing my kids up and wonder how to stop doing it if I am.

Owen's 10th birthday party was last weekend. He had about 10 friends over. They played games, decorated t-shirts to take home, had sub sandwiches, chips, and soda for lunch, and everyone got along.

Emma's 7th birthday party was Saturday. She had 12 friends over. They played games, decorated cloth napkins to take home, had an afternoon tea (little sandwiches made with cookie cutters, veggies and dip, jell-o jigglers, crackers and cheese, and pink lemonade), decorated their own cupcakes, and everyone got along. More or less.

After 2 birthday parties in a row, I was wiped out. I invest way more time and energy into these parties than a sane person would. I want my kids to have fun, to remember the fun, and, I confess, to appreciate the work I put into them. Owen does. Completely.

Emma? Not quite there yet.

And that's part of why Mother's Day following these parties was difficult this year. I wanted thank-yous and hugs and love notes. I wanted someone else to make breakfast. I wanted someone else to clean the kitchen afterward. I wanted something to be different that day compared to other days. I didn't necessarily want Emma to make me coupons that read: "I'll help you clean the guinea pig cage if you give me a dollar" and "I'll help you do dishes for four years for four dollers" or a note that read, "I love my mom because she gives me money."

But my frustration wasn't with my husband or kids. It was with myself for maybe not doing a better job of teaching my kids about gratitude. And it was with myself for feeling pitiful when, really, I have so much. So I know the reason I'm not teaching my kids well is because I haven't learned enough about real gratitude myself yet.

In 1907, two years after her mother died, a woman named Anna Jarvis began a 7-year campaign to make Mother's Day an official holiday. It was to celebrate her mother--not her motherhood. In fact, she never married, never had children. She was insistent that the name be "Mother's Day" and not "Mothers' Day" because it was a day for your mother, not all mothers everywhere. It was supposed to be personal.

By the time she died, she had grown pretty fed up with the holiday, upset by its commercialization and by people's laziness in how they chose to celebrate their mothers. She said, "A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A petty sentiment!"

I'm not saying it's time to repeal the holiday. Next year, I imagine I'll feel differently than I did yesterday. In fact, Ivan just told me I'm sweet. And Simon hurried through the door at lunch, excited to tell me about his trip to the science center at school. Emma laughed at my joke. And Owen got excited about what was in the oven.

It's not the commercialization that's the problem. It's the tendency to think it's the commercialization that matters and to overlook the daily celebrations of being a mother.

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