The idea of Mother’s Day is lovely. A recognized holiday to celebrate the women who birthed, raised, and loved us- what could possibly be more pleasant? Unfortunately, this holiday and all the marketing around it assume a specific kind of maternal relationship- one that lots of folks simply don’t have. Not being able to or not wanting to celebrate Mother’s Day can be pretty painful in light of all the attention and significance we put on the day.
I imagine this day can be particularly painful if you’ve always wanted to be a mom, and things didn’t or haven’t worked out the way you hoped they would, if you have a difficult relationship with your children, or if motherhood wasn’t part of your life plan. If you have a complicated or a wonderful relationship with your mom, if you have many mothers, or none at all, know that you’re doing just fine. It’s not weird or abnormal to have a ‘non-traditional’ family structure. Nobody is judging you for having a life that doesn’t mirror a greeting card. Nobody worth a lick of your time, anyway.
I’m enormously lucky to have a sparkling enigma for a mother. Once, I asked my mother what she had wanted to grow up to be when she was young. No amount of prying could change her answer, “All I ever wanted to be was a mother.” I used to think this was direly anti-feminist. Had she really never aspired to be anything other than my mother? And what does that mean now that I’m grown and we live thousands of miles apart? Now, I realize that the only anti-feminist thing is my assumption that motherhood is inherently anti-feminist. That’s absurd.
When I graduated college, I didn’t understand why my mother was so desperately, almost hysterically proud. I’d always been great at school. I was a little insulted by her tears- had she really thought I was going to fail out? Then, I stopped being a self-centered twit and realized that my graduation had very little to do with me. Everything my mom has done throughout my life, working three or four jobs at a time, often sacrificing her own well being, has been for my sisters and me. My mother should have walked across a stage and collected a diploma when she was 22, but her life didn’t turn out that way. So, when I did it (at 21, she’ll want you to know) it meant more than accumulating the requisite credits. It meant that we were strong women, women who could change our circumstances, women who could achieve. And that’s practically the definition of feminism. Every thing I’ve accomplished in my life, every thing I feel proud of, all of it happened because of the investment my mother made in me.
My friend Flannery writes truly lovely poems. She has a series about a woman who becomes a house. I think about those poems, and the way Flannery reads them sometimes. “Only a woman,” she says, “can be a person and a place.” My mom wanted, more than anything else, to be a place for her children. We may be grown now, but she’ll always be that place for us. My sisters and I are lucky to have a place with our biological mother, but it doesn’t really matter that she happened to birth us.
Maybe the woman who is your place is another member of your family, is a friend’s mother, a teacher, a mentor, a historical figure, an author. Maybe the woman who is your place is a man. Maybe your dad is your mom. Maybe you are your place; you are the strong woman in your life.
If Mother’s Day is a painful day for you, know that it’s not truly about which uterus you came out of. It’s a day to celebrate the places we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’ll go. Those places might hurt, they might never stop hurting. On this Mother’s Day, let’s take a moment to celebrate our people and places, the sites of love in our lives, and all the people and places who came before us, forging the feminist way. Because truly, how lucky we are to be here at all. How lucky we are to be people and places perched precariously as we are on the precipice of here and there.