|Painting by Arna Baartz|
I sobbed for the first time in six months today. Throat aching loud, heaving sobs that come when someone dies. The kind that make you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, then cement has been poured on top of you. It leaves you puffy-eyed and when you get up from the fetal position, there is a puddle of drool melting beautifully into your pillow, as your head pounds and your body aches.
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day started as a day of Peace. “Many middle-class women in the 19th century believed that they bore a special responsibility as actual or potential mothers to care for the casualties of society and to turn America into a more civilized nation. They played a leading role in the abolitionist movement to end slavery. In the following decades, they launched successful campaigns against lynching and consumer fraud and battled for improved working conditions for women and protection for children, public health services and social welfare assistance to the poor. To the activists, the connection between motherhood and the fight for social and economic justice seemed self-evident,” writes Ruth Rosen, a professor at UC Davis.
On the radio, I heard a DJ asking someone what they were going to do for their mother this weekend, “Take her to brunch,” they responded.
I really hate brunch.
Mother’s day today is a day to honor your mother. One day to say thank you for all the bullshit she went through to make sure you were fed, clothed, smiling, and alive. One day to say thank you for a lifetime of sacrifice, a lifetime of lessons taught and learned. A lifetime of little moments that melted her heart, as well as feeling burned and alone.
My son and I were walking to the park, talking. I told him that our dinner plans had been cancelled earlier this week. He said, “They cancel a lot. Am I ever going to hang out with them?” I responded with, “Well, these things happen, sometimes people are really busy, or something comes up in their life.” Lucas pondered that and said, “Is that just how things are, Mom?” A gust of wind blew hair into my face, and I felt stricken by his words. Is this how things are? ...Surely not everywhere. I told him when people live in big cities, they have busy lives.
This conversation has been playing over and over again in my head. His reaction was so completely on point. He was disappointed and sad. He felt like he had been lied to. When people cancel plans on me, I just shrug and move on – it often has little effect on me.
Yet, I couldn’t stop replaying this conversation – feeling devastated by my son’s reaction. I wonder what it would be like if every time someone made a seemingly small decision, they had to answer to a seven-year-old who feels everything and states it openly. How different we would all behave if we had a tiny shadow following us around, saying, “That hurts my feelings,” or “Why did you do that?”
As a mother I make all of my decisions with my son’s face in mind. I think of how it will impact him now, and how it might impact him in two years, four years, or forty years. I think of my therapy sessions, how my first childhood memory is being told I had to go to school in my pajamas, crying as I tried to brush my hair with my fingers – terrified when someone else’s mother took pity on me, and braided my hair. My first childhood memory is sparked by feelings of shame and fear. I look back now, and think of how frustrated and done my mother must have felt. How she probably was running late for work, and she had four other kids besides me to take care of, all while doing it alone. I think of how it can’t have been easy for her.
Two years ago around Mother's Day, I was sitting in my English class as my teacher read “A Mother’s Day Proclamation,” written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870. Mother's Day originally started after the Civil War, as a protest to the carnage of that war, by women who had lost their sons.
She wrote, “Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage... Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
As we read this poem I looked around at my classmates, they seemed unaware of the mothers in the room – me, fuming at the words; the other mother, sitting in front of me, shaking as she tried to hold back her tears. I wanted so badly to reach for her, to hug her and hold her. In addition, I wanted to scream at my other classmates for not being more in-tune, for not understanding. I had read a paper of hers, this other mother – she had two sons and one of them died when he was seventeen years old, just a year before.
I really hate today’s Mother’s Day.
“In 1913, Congress declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother's Day. By then, the growing consumer culture had successfully redefined women as consumers for their families. Politicians and businessmen eagerly embraced the idea of celebrating the private sacrifices made by individual mothers. The industry's trade journal, bluntly put it, ‘This was a holiday that could be exploited.’”
The personal is political. The maternal is political. My story is your story.
I was talking to another mom this week about racism, sexism, oppression, motherhood, life. She told me that Bainbridge Island, where she lives, is made up of 91% white people. She is a woman of color, a mother of two, with a family on the island. She is a full time student – working to get her degree. What with her three-hour commute, her family responsibilities and her school work, she doesn’t have time left over to get involved with her community on Bainbridge – which isn’t to say she doesn’t want to.
She posted a question aimed at her community online, “Are we okay with the fact that Bainbridge is 91% white?” Many people responded to this and there was a discussion sparked about having low income housing on the island. She shared one comment with me that really stirred her up.
“My response is, you make choices in life, I’m glad she’s going to college, but having children is a life choice. In an ideal world, you go to college, get a degree, get married, get established, then have children. Once you have children, it is your responsibility to raise them as best you can. It is not my responsibility to provide low income housing so you can live on Bainbridge Island. The cold hard facts are households with single moms have less upward mobility and a lot of them live on the poverty line. My advice is to hit the books, put your nose to the grindstone and maybe someday you can buy on Bainbridge,” – as if that’s all it takes.
Mothers feel the weight of the world in every interaction and conversation we have. We walk around feeling like we aren’t doing enough, guilty that we have to explain to our kids, we can’t do this or that, because mommy’s too tired, mommy’s too broke, mommy’s too sick. Guilty that we are depressed. Guilty that we are in school, or at work, or just plain fed up. When we talk to each other, we feel this weight lifted just by knowing there are others out there like us, barely staying above water.
Another mama friend of mine burst into tears earlier this week. She hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep because she stayed up doing homework and graphic design work for a grassroots organization that helps low income folks get food. She doesn’t get paid for either job, yet she does it anyway. “It’s not fair,” She told me, as I hugged her and replied that her feelings are valid.
Our feelings are valid.
We feel so strongly that we need to help build better communities, create change for all people because we wipe the snot from our children's faces each day, and we want more for them. We sing them songs at night when we are exhausted and worn down, yet we still manage to make them smile. We understand pain in a way that is so deep, we can’t even put it into words.
So many mothers aren’t getting the support they need all year long. They have family that overlook them, never call, or write. They can’t afford the luxury of having a car, or a day off.
They are judged by the way they look, dress, or act. By the job they have or don’t have. Their kids are being picked up late, they are missing school or sports or homework due to lack of support, lack of community, lack of accountability by other humans in their lives.
Our children will be running the world someday. Do we really want them to grow up thinking mothers are in it alone? Do you want to be the person who taught a child the lesson that people disappoint, bail, or simply don’t care, because they are not your responsibility? Children matter, yet mothers are the only ones who advocate for them, who feel tied to them, and who fight for them.
Mother’s Day started as a Mother’s Day for Peace. “Mother's Day wasn't always like this. The women who conceived Mother's Day would be bewildered by the ubiquitous ads that hound us to find that "perfect gift for Mom." They would expect women to be marching in the streets, not eating with their families in restaurants. This is because Mother's Day began as a holiday that commemorated women's public activism, not as a celebration of a mother's devotion to her family,” Rosen writes.
There are more ways than brunch or a bouquet of dead flowers to show a mom you care. Honor a mother every other day of the year. Cook a meal when she really needs the support. Tell her you appreciate all she does for her kids. Read her children a book or take them to the library. Help a mother weed her garden or shovel her walk. Babysit. Take her children to the park. Pick up her kids from school. Be there for a mother and her children 365 days out of the year.
Nineteenth century women had it right when they spent thirty years devoted to bringing mamas of all walks of life together, to create peace for the world community.
Our capitalist, consumerist, patriarchal Mother’s Day was created for you by corporations who want your money. They don’t care about mothers, their children, or their sacrifices. Turn off your radio, skip brunch, and stop being part of the problem.
-Brenna Jean Richart, A selection from the Girl God Anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy.
Brenna is a creative writing, sociology student at The Evergreen State College raising Luke; an eight year old Lego freak who has all the powers and can never ever die. They like to play with their main squeeze Grey Greg the cat and their queen bee Sula Rey the shep shep. Find out more on Instagram as @mamabearb88