Where did it begin? Where is the point of origin? When did I first begin to believe the myth that motherhood is a monolith, a mere one-dimensional portrayal of sacrificial chores? It’s a problem that we’ve been unpacking for time immemorial, and Mother’s Day is a reminder of both the traction we’ve gained in understanding the complexity of motherhood and how little ground we’ve made in dismantling the mythology of it.
It’s ironic that the living, laboring example in my home wasn’t the narrative I accepted, but as we know, detergent commercials and greeting cards are powerful to reinforce the myth of motherhood.
It took becoming a mother myself for me to begin to understand that I will never fully understand: the mystery of bearing another mystery. I have been changed by begetting a whole person, who will change in form and finesse, who will change me, who will change the world.
My mom, to whom I was born almost four decades ago, can clear the entire board in Jeopardy! just as handily as she can deep clean a bathroom. She is whip-smart and bewilderingly competent at a great many things. But I, too, thought Mother’s Day was to be a celebration of her dutifulness, of her servitude, and that by Giving Her the Day Off from Chores we were more than gifting her everything she could ever want.
I believe if we listened more to the mothers who have experienced abject loss, the loss of babies, the loss of jobs, the loss of jobs because of babies, the loss of babies because of jobs, the loss of grown children to a world who could not love them well enough, the loss of grown children, the loss of love, the loss of enough, we might come closer to understanding the myriad layers of grief and hope and resilience that motherhood embodies.
Remember this Mother’s Day that a greeting card holiday does well to celebrate that which is happening on the outside: the bouquets and brunches; the gifts and the glory of fingerpainted art. But we will do well to celebrate the universes a mother contains on the inside.
I didn’t know when I became a mother the 18-hole golf course that would become my heart what with its expanses of lush greens and patches of forbidding sandtraps, the deep dark lakes where all the errant tees and balls are abandoned and forgotten, and all the daily scrapes and whacks my heart would take, not to mention the loss of whole segments of myself that I thought had disappeared but which I found walking around in a warm, huggable body asking me what’s for dinner.
I could never have imagined what my mother contained on the inside but now I know that is where her real work was done, the work from which she will never be given a day off. Her hopes for me and the ways I would use my gifts and avoid life’s sandtraps, her belief in what I could be, the desires she held for my life that went unstated, unbidden, I can only now begin to fathom. The monolith of motherhood wants us to believe that our mothers’ sacrifices are relegated to laundry. But what of the dreams they surrender, what of the soaring hopes they’ve had to lay down?
As Lorelai Gilmore so aptly stated, while hefting a box from Emily Gilmore, “It’s heavy. It must be full of her hopes and dreams for me.” I know now that is a box I will never be able to lift since they don’t fit in a box at all. They are contained in our mothers. I am a grateful vessel among them.
Happy Mother’s Day. If you have a mum, hug her hard.