Mother’s Day. If you are looking for a sickly- sweet, once a year, guilt laden sap about moms and motherhood, sorry to disappoint. Hallmark card this ain’t. Call me a cynic, but the emotional hostage taking of the week before mother’s day is more a means of separating you from your money for flowers that will end up in the trash come Wednesday, chocolates she may never eat and an uncomfortably obligatory dinner at Olive Garden or Baker’s Square. There will be the annual, “My mom is the best” posts, with lots of emoticons and gratuitous “likes” from friends. All rather like salt statues in a rainstorm.
WXRT here in Chicago, long a progressive Rock station for decades, now panders to its baby-boomer demographic by featuring songs with “mom” in them; as if anything could describe the tombstone over the grave of Rock and Roll more fully.
Truth is, for most of us our relationships with our mothers is hardly that saccharin ideal portrayed in commercials with the “you only get one Mom,” tagline. “Don’t forget to remember her this Mother’s Day.” Oh. and by remembering, we mean, buy some of the schlock crap piled next to the register. So while you’re standing here in line, cradling toilet paper, a 6-pack of Hamms Beer and a $3 Dollar frozen pizza, buy something for mom, you ungrateful bastard.
Now that Oprah is gone, who will remind us that being a mother is “the hardest job in the world!” Anyone read “A Handmaid’s tale”?
Truth is, and I’ll speak for myself, though I know it is true for the majority, I don’t have a mom straight out of a Lifetime Movie whose fault is just being a little too wonderful and perfect. My mother and I have had a contentious and often argumentative relationship my entire life. She isn’t the “World’s best” mother, because who the hell even knows what that means? Well if my mom is the world’s best, what are you doing with a world’s best mom card?
She has aggravated me a lot over the years. I mean epic aggravation, here. I can say with absolute certainty that when I was a kid, there were times when I hated her. Even now, I scathe when I feel I don’t meet her standards, or she favors one of my other two brothers over me, or despite my best efforts, I don’t feel validated enough, or the response from her doesn’t soot my ego. And now and again, feeling frustrated with her, I contemplate getting back by not calling her anymore; walking away for good.
But then I find myself reaching for the phone, despite all that, and despite all of the heartache, disappointment and friction-even downright war, at times- the sound of her voice rescues me as well. We live in a society now in which everything is qualified and quantified, either through religion or science. Both miss the mark in the end. This isn’t about bonding to the prenatal sound of a mother’s voice, or the godliness of Mother and baby Jesus. My mother is not Mary and I sure as hell am no Jesus. I mean, Christ!
What I do find more and more each year is how much of her I carry with me, both scars and lessons. All hold equal value. She instilled in me a passion for learning, and a supreme appreciation for literature. After two wars, hundreds of protests and marches, hundreds of thousands of miles travelled to two dozen countries, I am agreeable when I must be and obstinate when I need to be. She instilled in me the ability to see through the eyes of others, but never to retreat from injustice, especially injustice heaped upon others. As for blistering, sometimes screaming arguments, those battles served me well in debates with politicians, personalities like Bill Ayers, and many others during a brief flirtation with media. Arguing in a circle (while getting me in trouble with the wife occasionally) so frustrated a Chicago judge and attorney that I skated on a ticket once.
The truth is, we might well have the mother of all arguments (Pun intended) tomorrow and I might consider walking away for good, but separation? That’s quite impossible, since she is so woven fully into the fabric of my being that it would be akin to losing a vital organ. I remember damn near every screaming, red-faced argument that left me so affected I wanted to smash something, but I remember the joy when she introduced me to classical music, in particular the “Grand Canyon Suite.” When she attempted to teach three precocious boys how to two-step in our living room of our little house in Romeoville, and how every single birthday it was important to make my favorite dish, Shepherd’s Pie. There were hikes of discovery in the woods, at Bluff Road and the Little Red School House. And when I came home quite obviously drunk in high school and then pretended to accept the toilet bowl confession that I had eaten bad tuna salad at the party as I heaved my guts out. The next morning, after cleaning up my mess without so much as a word, she could see without a word that I was learning a painful lesson.
And when I returned from war, the tears of joy in her eyes, and the way she embraced me. I carry all of that. The vacation to Iron Mountain Wisconsin, the picnics, the Christmases, the regular trips to museums and zoos. How in that working class household, living all those years from paycheck to paycheck, that I never wanted for anything except my own autonomy, which is where much of that inherent friction arose. If I am honest, for better and for worse, whether here or somewhere else, she is very definitely a part of me, despite the anguish and battles bound sometimes to occur, it is a part I shall always cherish…
Note: For father’s day I am simply recycling the same article…except for that prenatal part, which would be weird.