Twenty years ago this month, I gained a brand-new holiday. It came eight days after my birthday, and I felt that I had won the lottery: a whole week of celebrating me!
Well, not exactly.
I quickly learned after sons one, two, three and four that Mother’s Day was less about me and more about them.
In good ways, of course. All of a sudden, I was the recipient of homemade cards with funny little stick drawings that caused me to brush tears from my eyes—not to mention ceramic handprints, laminated bookmarks and picture frames made out of popsicle sticks.
It reminds me of the cards and notes I keep getting (happily) in the mail, with everyone digging out their old freebies from organizations they once donated to or that stack of “thank you” notes an aunt gave as a present long ago. They’re coming in pretty handy right now while Hallmark’s closed.
Anyway, as far as the kids were concerned, I had to (just had to!) ooh and aah over every gifted item. As they grew, that meant perfume that made me woozy, key chains I did not need and candy I did not want.
Because that’s just stuff. And as we know after nearly two months of being homebound in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic (and we just got wind of a new municipal stay-at-home extension order until June 1), material things have suddenly become less essential. Maybe not sentimental kindergarten projects, but much that once seemed so valuable suddenly holds no import whatsoever.
We relish family time. Quality time (and we’re getting lots of it). That’s been especially clear of late.
We have teachable moments, many of them. There is a traditional Jewish saying that goes: “Teach a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it.”
They look at us and learn. We grow from them as we instruct and guide each kid differently, “according to their way.” We follow their lead, really.
But even that isn’t what motherhood is really about.
Because we don’t have to be an actual parent to mark this day. We all have our own mothers and grandmothers, heroines for most of us. We know they went through difficult periods in life—not the same as this, but certainly hardships in their own right. Who’s to say their woes were less than ours?
Perhaps they weren’t any greater either.
Being a mother (and having one) correlates into something larger than rewards and education and privation. Motherhood begins before birth. It’s the most integral relationship anyone ever has—an immediate emotional undertaking that you’re invested in from day one.
What else would make you change your diet completely and choke down those horse pills called prenatal vitamins? When else would you tolerate so many aches and pains, lack of sound sleep, and fairly constant physical discomfort? Why would you put aside your favorite clothes to start wearing oversize, shapeless frocks—never mind the skirted swimsuits?
Then again, what can you possibly do, build or make that’s more awe-inspiring than a human being?
I remember all those days when I felt so sick that I could barely move. I rationalized it. Kept my focus. I figured, “Of course, I feel nauseous. I feel lousy. Beaten down. Because I made an arm today. And a kneecap yesterday.”
(Take that, Wonder Woman. You may have a magic lasso, but I am a magician.)
Motherhood looms so large, larger than anything. It’s a feeling and an idea, a state of being and raw power. We think of our mothers and feel safe, cherished, warm. On Mother’s Day, it’s less how I see these marvelous children I made (OK, I had some help) and more about how they see me.
Save for multiples, every person enters this world one at a time. They arrive through their mothers, someone they’ve already known for nearly 10 months. They arrive, and we do, too.
We become what they will remember—at 5, at 15, at 50 … forever.
Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.
This Reporter’s Notebook will appear starting on March 16 until the end of the month (or when schools reopen).