Mother’s Day has long been a holiday that required no PC posturing, no concerns about what to call it, how to celebrate it, or who might get hurt or offended by it. Up till now there’s been no “war” declared, no confusion about who gets to partake; even the food shared on this day has no particular tradition or agenda. As it should be. It’s an inclusive holiday; we all have mothers, most of us hold them dear, and the notion of honoring the “one who brought us life” typically engenders some measure of warmth from everyone. Bring on the brunches!
But as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed a growing sensitivity toward all the unabashed “mother” hoopla. In this life and time of choice — of women putting off families while careers gestate, of couples making decisions not to procreate at all, of older women finding pregnancy more elusive or fruition sometimes impossible — the matter of celebrating motherhood necessitates some nuance. While, certainly, most of us can gather to celebrate our own mothers without concern, what about those whose perspective on being a parent is either bereft of experience or desire? Is greater sensitivity needed in those circumstances?
Let’s start with those who wanted children but couldn’t have them for one reason or another. CBCs, childless by circumstance. I have several people in my life who fall into this category and it’s a tender and sometimes sensitive one. The CBC will cheer, bring muffins to brunch, and spend oodles of time with the kids with nary a complaint, but when mimosas are mixed and glasses are raised “to motherhood,” a shadow of pain crosses those eyes and you can’t help but realize Mother’s Day has a bittersweet and confusing edge for some.
I have a friend who married in her early-thirties while building a successful career and when she crossed the mid-decade mark, decided it was time to start a family. What was expected to be a simple matter of “getting pregnant and having a baby” turned into a several year, very expensive, and emotionally draining project with fertility specialists, repeated inseminations, two miscarriages and even the temporary separation from her husband when the stress caused a wedge they couldn’t overcome. They ultimately got back together and are in the early stages of exploration with adoption but, as she wistfully stated, “We really wanted one of our own.” When Mother’s Day rolls around each year, she sends flowers to her out-of-state mom, avoids all brunch-centric restaurants, and hunkers down in a Cineplex to watch enough action-adventure movies to get through the day without bursting into tears.
Then there’s the childless-by-choice people (CBCP), a hearty bunch with clear minds and no regrets about eschewing the parent track. They love kids, enjoy being around them; are close with nieces, nephews, Godchildren and mentored youngsters, but they had/have no desire to make any themselves. Being social people, however, they willingly spend time with family and friends who do have children and this is where things can get sticky…hands and otherwise. They’re typically outnumbered by PWK (People With Kids) and because the majority steers the theme, the theme usually comes with all manner of happy, messy, usually very loud kids, moms chirping about schools, playgrounds and the most gifted pre-schooler, and distracted parents of either gender who can’t finish a sentence for the flickering of eyes as they follow their little rambunctians (yes, I made that up) around the yard. For even the most patient, most interested CBCP, this frivolity has its limits. They’re supportive, loving, and tolerant but, frankly, they’re not in the club and the jargon and kid-centric focus can hold interest for only so long, like listening to computer geeks discuss HTML.
But MOTHERHOOD (there’s nothing lower case about it) is all encompassing. I know. I’ve been there. And when you’re there, there’s nothing more interesting, more engaging, more emotionally fascinating than not only being a mother, but talking about it. Except to CBCPs, who can find their good sportsmanship wearing thin after the second hour of sand play and string cheese. We’ve seen the glazed eyes and restless leg tapping as childless friends edge toward the door with excuses of meeting “colleagues” at the Formosa for drinks and adult chatter. We know because we used to be them. We sometimes wish we still were. But now we’re wiping snot off the noses of children we don’t even know and, oddly, we’re always the ones with the Kleenex.
Mother’s Day was easier when we were younger; at that point our own parenthood was far enough ahead that categories weren’t yet clear. We could happily make calls and send cards to our own Moms, toast till we were tipsy, and no one had to dab eyes or prevent rolling them. We didn’t have a parental status to talk about so we didn’t have to avoid it. Mother’s Day was simply a day to celebrate our moms. As it still is, with just a little more complication.
According to one friend and hostess, Mother’s Day has become, like so many other holidays, a confused, PC sensitive event rife with wrong turns. “There is a War on Mothers’ Day!!” she declared. “It’s gotten to the point where I want to send out surveys before I invite anyone to brunch! I mean, come on! Let’s either celebrate it or not but we can’t be held responsible for triggering CBCs (she liked my acronyms) or annoying the crap out of CBCPs. I feel for them but whatever they’re going through is their issue. Everybody had a damn mother, how about we just celebrate that?” She’s an excitable sort.
And while I reject the overused war vernacular, I agree with the notion of not losing the holiday to hyper-concern. Sensitivity, certainly, but not war. Making a Mothers’ Day toast in mixed company does require a little forethought and it can’t hurt to limit the poetry to: “Here’s to you, Mom; you’re the best!” or “To all the mothers in the room, cheers!” Probably wise, however, to avoid, “And to motherhood, which is a woman’s greatest gift and most satisfying role!” For your cousin still mourning her second miscarriage, it’s likely cutting; for your friend who decided not to have children, condescending.
So let’s make this clear: there is no war, just consideration. Celebrate the matriarchs in your circle with every bell and whistle at hand, but keep the rhetoric sensitive. We can all find reason to celebrate LIFE…and that, after all, is what motherhood is all about.
Happy Mother’s Day!
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