Here in the heartland of Hallmark and American Greetings I should probably be more cynical about Mother’s Day than I am…or more so than I feel after this year’s celebration. Usually I grumble about the “holiday.” Usually I would rather go to the movies or out for Chinese–the way other (more refined) marginalized groups do on the high, commercial holidays. This year, however, my people had other plans for me; plans that included a special brunch replete with platters of my favorite foods. Plans that included the gift of a few hours of uninterrupted writing time and a family hike to a most fabulous vista. And I got to skip the kid’s baseball game. This year I was happy to be fêted on Mother’s Day.
Not that I’ve done much to deserve said fêting. For the past year I’ve pretty much been a beast. What with my Looking For A Job and my Trying To Write and the exhaustive bouts of cleaning and straightening the house that I do in (both of) their stead. Just yesterday I spent six hours washing windows WASHING WINDOWS–a task that would typically elicit an prolonged eye roll from me (though somebody’s got to wash the windows, right?)–but a task that got me out of writing this blog post for a few hours and finishing the poem, possibly indefinitely, I started three days ago.
I didn’t need flowers on Mother’s Day, I needed a swift kick in the butt.
For me, this past year–riddled with unemployment and melancholy as it was–helped me realize just how much traditional, routine work mothers (including me) still often have to do. Not that I didn’t know that before, but I didn’t appreciate the routine of it. The never ending cycle of a life spent mothering a family full time. This year I’ve had to hold down our fort almost entirely on my own. I’ve cleaned and I’ve cooked and I’ve shopped and I’ve sewed (really…like I actually reattached a couple of buttons). I’ve walked the dog and folded the laundry and shoveled snow and swept the kitchen floor and emptied the dishwasher one thousand times.
Obviously these aren’t the jobs of mothers alone. A million people (women who are mothers, mothers who work, women who are not mothers, men, men who father children, men who don’t like children, indentured servants, legitimate employees, children who are children) do the very same jobs. Some do the jobs for pay. Some for free. Some because they have no other choice. No matter, though, they do the jobs that must to get done in every household in the country though they hold hardly any prestige, very little–if any–pay and sometimes require an apron and rubber gloves.
This year on Mother’s Day I thought about these tasks a lot as I read snarky blog posts about the myths of motherhood and sweet Facebook statuses from distant friends about beloved mothers who I’ll never meet and I was struck by the pervasiveness of the messages. Mothers Love. Mothers Help. Mothers Sacrifice. Mothers Are Always There.
I used to gag on these platitudes. GAG I tell you. In America, on Mother’s Day, these very platitudes sell thousands of sappy greeting cards and (hundreds?) of poetry books with watercolor-flowered-dust jackets and a million trillion pink and white carnation-and-daisy arrangements from Teleflora. I would never fall for the likes of them….
Until this year. The thing is, these platitudes shine light and celebration and appreciation on jobs and work and making-the-world-go-round duties that nobody else wants to do. Functions that mothers have traditionally fulfilled. Sure, these jobs are no longer solely a mother’s work, but somebody somewhere has to continue to Love and Help and Sacrifice and Be There or else, as a species, we’re screwed.
This year my status as only a mom has, at times, felt tiresome and weighty, like the cute cherry-red daypack I picked up at the Patagonia outlet last summer that is full of dog bones and Noah’s extra baseballs. Once an indication of freedom and independence and the promise of an open road, it is now filled with obligation and duty: a life spent at home, doing housework and taking care of everybody else.
Obligation and duty. (See the red backpack on my back in the photo above?…très chic.) Both of these courses of action got me and my boys to the top of the mountain on Sunday (I urged my kid and my dog and my husband up an incline of 1,260 feet ((384 m) above sea level). They also got me to wash every window in the house on the day after Mother’s Day and feel fulfilled at the accomplishment. Like I had actually Done Something even though I wasn’t out curing cancer or writing the next great American novel.
Sometimes a Mother’s Work is the most holy work there is if you stop and pay attention to it. And Mother’s Day can be, sometimes, a good day to observe that.
Mother. Father. Sister. Son. No matter who does the work, we all can marvel its significance.