For the of All Things Holy, Let’s All Stop Pretending on Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day might be the only holiday that makes people feel worse.
I was somewhere around the age of thirteen or fourteen when I was realized Mother’s Day is way more complicated than we let on. My dad had pulled my sisters and me out to the garage and handed us a card he’d signed and a flowering plant in a pot. My mother wasn’t big on the outdoors or taking care of plants, but he gave her a potted plant every year that I could remember. She was sipping her espresso at the kitchen table, and we walked into the dining room holding her gift and card.
“Happy Mother’s Day!” My dad’s voice in a rare-sounding enthusiasm rang in the dining room.
My mother put her espresso down gently and gave us a slight smile.
One of us handed her the card, and my dad handed her the plant. Her big black eyes looked annoyed and before I knew it, she’d taken the pot outside and threw it. There was potting soil everywhere. My sisters and I were getting ready for mass, and I could hear my mother saying, “Every damn year — a plant. I don’t even like plants.” She was exasperated.
My sisters and I looked at each other confused. Why was she being like this? How could she be so ungrateful?
It didn’t make sense to me for a long time. Then I got married, she died, and I became a mom.
A month after my mother died, I got pregnant. My mother was adamant on her deathbed that I have children. In the final hours before she died, she struggled to speak, but she found a way to tell me two things: Get the photographer to send you your wedding album and have some babies.
Being the firstborn and wanting to make sure my mom was proud of me, I took the week off of work after her funeral and selected pictures for my wedding album and handled that. A month later, I was pregnant. Talk about Oldest Child Syndrome.
On my first Mother’s Day without my mom, I was about 2 months pregnant, and emotions were high. The next year I had my first Mother’s Day as a mother and my husband brought me flowers and a very cute coffee cup set. I remember being sad about my mother, but mostly, I was distracted by my son and the glow of motherhood.
As the years have gone on, I’ve struggled with secondary infertility. I’ve been trying for my second baby for over four years, and I’ve struggled with feelings of being lesser than because I only have one kid. Those of us mothers with one child can tell you all the things our mom friends with more than one child have said to us about “You think one is hard, just wait” or “One kid is easy!” I’ve often felt like the lesser mother with mom friends who have more children than me or from women who have repeatedly told me those old tropes about how important siblings are and how my son is going to grow up struggling to socialize and be a brat because he’s an only child. Sure, it’s all nonsense — my husband and I call our son the mayor because he makes friends with everyone. I’m not so sure about the spoiled thing, but you know what? I don’t really care. It’s taken me years to get here mentally, but I’m glad I’ve arrived.
Still, Mother’s Day is such a painful day. This weekend as Mother’s Day was gearing up, three of my friends on social media announced they were pregnant, and while I’m supremely happy for their growing families, it still stings that the one thing I wish for just doesn’t seem to be coming true.
I want so desperately to talk to my mom about this. She always spoke so powerfully about siblings, and my son has asked me for a baby brother or sister at least once a week since he was about 3.
So, on top of feeling sad that my mother is gone, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder that my family doesn’t feel complete, and my body is failing to do the one thing it’s designed to do.
But Mother’s Day isn’t this horrible day because of the sense of loss and yearning. It’s so much worse than that. Like everything today, social media has forced so many of us into these contrived and curated bullshit posts. Mother’s Day has, in my opinion, by far the most offenders. Folks with fucked up relationships with their mothers post saccharine posts like, “I can’t do life without you, Mom.” Gag me with a fork.
Mother’s Day might be the only holiday that makes people feel worse. Most people might argue that Valentine’s Day is the worst, but everyone has at least one person (or pet) they love. It might not be romantic, but Valentine’s Day has turned into a day to celebrate all kinds of love. With Mother’s Day, it’s much more nuanced. First, there are the complicated feelings that mothers have. Maybe, like me, they’ve lost a mother they are close to or their partner has lost his or her mother. The day is a painful reminder of this loss. Then there are women who want so desperately to be mothers and for whatever reason, they can’t. There are those who have complicated and strained relationships with their mothers or mother-in-law. Perhaps there are folks who feel guilty for not wanting children. Maybe it’s all of those things. Mother’s Day sometimes feels like a day reminding you of this web of pain in which you are trapped.
I won’t justify the bullshit of partners and husbands struggling to remember to do a small, little something for the mother of their children or their own mothers on Mother’s Day, I think many of us, myself included, don’t communicate our expectations and then get annoyed with potted plants (Mom, I’m looking at you!) or overcooked eggs in bed. I know there is the feeling that those who love us should just know what we want and how we want to be celebrated (or not celebrated), but they don’t. Sure, it’s awkward to say, “I’d really like flowers or for us to go to brunch,” but if we don’t communicate these things with our partners, can we really be upset by the annual reception of a potted plant we aren’t going to take of? I understand that this potted plant we don’t want is the larger metaphor for how invisible and underappreciated we are, but Mother’s Day wouldn’t be the horrible day that is without that fucking potted plant. Maybe, it’s time we stand up and say, “This is what I need — and it’s not a potted plant or crumbs in the bedsheets.”
I mostly just want one day where I don’t have to decide what in the ever-loving-fuck we are going to eat. I love to cook, but the constant decision-making wears me out. I don’t want a homemade craft (though if that’s what my son wants to do, that’s fine). I don’t want breakfast in bed (please, seriously, no), I want someone, other than myself to decide and handle the food for the day. I want mimosas in the morning alongside my coffee and for dinner to appear. Shit, I’ll even load the dishwasher, just please, a respite from the decision-making would be deeply appreciated.
Earlier in the week, I gently reminded my son to make his grandmother a Mother’s Day card. After spending a couple of hours with my in-laws to celebrate, we came home, my takeout order had been canceled because there were no drivers or some other bullshit reason, and because the kid had school the next day, we needed to eat dinner, and so, I ended up cooking something. We ate and I cleaned the kitchen after vowing not to lift a finger all day, Kiddo came down the stairs and dramatically flung himself onto the couch.
“I forgot to make you a Mother’s Day card. I’m the worst son ever.” His little seven-year-old heart was so sad. I had to coax him onto my lap so I could hug him.
“Mother’s Day is not about cards. It’s just about telling your mom you love her, and you do that every day.”
I tickled him until a small smile reached the corners of his mouth.
“Okay.” He was relieved to not be labeled “the worst son.”
I don’t want to participate in a holiday that makes the people I love more than oxygen feel guilty for not doing it “right.” I don’t want to scroll social media and feel bad and jealous about not going to brunch or getting flowers (even though I don’t really love cut flowers). I definitely don’t want to read forced posts about how wonderful moms are. I don’t want to have to distract myself all day, so I don’t think about how much I miss my mother who never got to experience being a grandmother. I don’t want to be celebrated. I just want a few days a year when I’m not deciding on dinner, and those days do not have to happen around the second Sunday of May.