Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. All across the nation, kids are going to burn the toast and undercook the scrambled eggs, both of which Mom will eat with a smile. Dads will take the family out and the restaurant business will boom so that Mom doesn’t have to cook at least one meal this year. The florists and Hallmark will also rake in big money. By the way, this is the phone companies’ biggest day.
As a country, we still sort of have a Donna Reed/Harriet Nelson view of Mother’s Day…wonderful sentiment but does not address the fact this can be a day that causes pain for many, many women. Motherhood can be a wonderful thing or it can be a nightmare, from both sides–mom or child.
What does Mother’s Day mean to the population of mothers who have to visit their children…incarcerated in prisons, institutionalized in psych wards or living in a state run home? Or worse yet, have to make a trip to the cemetery because their child is no longer living? Or have a child that was given up for adoption because they could not raise it, for whatever reason? What does Mother’s Day mean to the population of women who either cannot conceive or carry a pregnancy to term? Who have had a miscarriage (or more than one)? Who gave birth to a stillborn child? Or because of their own health issues, were never able to even try for a child of their own? What does Mother’s Day mean to the population of women who became mothers through marriage? They have had to learn how to combine the honeymoon period of a new husband with instant children that they did not give birth to but must mother (nurture and care) for? And who resent her and remind her frequently that she is not their “real” mother and cannot replace her?
So this is a Mother’s Day blog for all women, trying to acknowledge all of the facets of this most feminine of roles. If you’re not a mother, you had one. She may have been Donna Reed or she may have been the bitch from hell, but you had a mom. She has a lot of names: Mom, Mother, Mommy, Mama, Ma…and lots of other interesting names that are as individual as the person to whom they refer. Erma Bombeck had a wonderful description of mothers that included such tidbits as “she was the only person in the house who knew how to replace the toilet paper on the spindle” and “she lived on coffee and leftovers”. What else is particular to moms?
How about the fact that it is assumed she will handle all of the nasty parts of the little people? She deals with vomit, blood, snot, urine and feces on an appallingly regular basis. She cleans up spit out and spattered deposits of refused food…that strained spinach, the butternut squash. She also deals with the anticipated results of attempting to blow a raspberry with a mouthful of pureed beets. She gets used to wearing shirts that had permanent “spit up” stains on the shoulders. She learns how to remove a dry pea from a child’s ear using common household implements and to overcome the normal childhood fears of being flushed down the toilet or going down the drain with the bath water.
Another Mom trait is the ability to see from the eyes in the back of her head…and arms that stretch to pop a smart mouthed kid where it counts–from across the room. Moms know if you’re lying, the fact that you sneaked in late and that your best friend is actually a thug…a thing that you will agree with in about a month. Moms stay up late with the crying babes which gives them the experience they need to sit up and watch for your return by curfew when you’re a teenager. Moms get by with just a couple of hours of sleep for like years…and you wonder why they are crazy. Sleep deprivation is a bad thing…
Moms yell the loudest at the basketball games, cheer the most when you make the winning touchdown and never say a word when you’ve lost other than “You played a good game”. Moms let you get that pet turtle and then help you bury it because you forgot to feed it. And then let you get another turtle. (Which she secretly feeds so that she doesn’t have to dig another hole in her flower beds because Raphael just didn’t make it. But this time you’re feeding it too…so it dies, the fattest turtle ever seen, of undiagnosed turtle diabetes and heart attack…sigh)
And I know at this point, some of you are going, “Yeah right. MY mom wasn’t like that at all.” I know. There are moms who yell at the kids more than at those basketball games. Who are self-medicating their own pains with alcohol or drugs which obviously interferes with their ability to nurture. There are mothers who really don’t want to be moms…and if they are forced to keep the baby, take out their frustration on the child. There are mothers who inflict pain, mental or physical, on their children for a variety of reasons, none of them good even if the reason is perhaps understandable.
It may come as a shock to you, but (and I’m warning you, this is going to very shocking!)….mothers are human, too. (Please don’t tell anyone I let the secret out.) So if your mom was not a good mom, it’s okay to say that out loud. And to learn from her mistakes to be a good mom to your own children, if you choose to have them. (Even good moms drive their kids insane with their weirdness…especially from a teenagers’ point of view.) And it’s okay to NOT call your mother on Mother’s Day if she is toxic to your well being and undermines your life with her negativity. As my friends have heard me say often enough: Just because you share DNA with someone doesn’t give them the right to treat you worse than they treat a stranger off the street. You are allowed to let go of those people who have common chromosomes to choose a family of your own–the people who support you and want the best for you. If it cannot be someone who is related by biology, it can be someone who is related by love.
I am a mother with three children. My eldest, a girl, I have seen exactly twice in her life–when she was born and 29 years later, when she came to visit me. I also have a son, who is 4th generation military service with a wife and son–who looks just like him and acts just like him as well. Look out, world! My youngest, also a daughter, has a daughter of her own and already informed me, with some acidity, that the Mother’s Curse works. (“May you have a child JUST LIKE YOU!”) If I do nothing, absolutely nothing else of any worth in my life, I have given 3 amazing contributions to this world each of whom I hope will make a difference to those around them. They are all intelligent, witty and achieving things in their lives. I am insanely proud of each of them and proud to call them “friends” as well as “my kids”. Like most other mothers, I did the best I knew how–in the case of the oldest, in choosing to give her up for adoption rather than trying to be a single mom in the military, across the country from my family and with no real support for such an undertaking. With the other two, I raised them, as I have always said, without repeating my mother’s mistakes. I made plenty enough of my own, new ones!
I take no credit for child #1; her adoptive parents gave her many opportunities I could never have. She is a skilled musician (plays piano and bass (in an orchestra, not a bass guitar) and sings); she is currently a rather senior marketing and events coordination person for the MS society in CA. She is getting married to the love of her life this month and I am so happy for her. I have dealt for years with the consequences of voluntarily letting go of a child but I consider it to have been the absolutely right choice and still is through today.
My other two were wonderful additions to my life. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with them until the younger was about 10. I got to see the “firsts”–first step, first words, first day of school. We had a lot of good times, doing nothing of great importance. Playing video games together. Making popcorn and watch Warner Brothers cartoons for hours. I got introduce them to all sorts of things: new foods, new ideas, new ways of thinking about something. I taught them that the most important question is “why” and worth looking for the answer. I encouraged them to be who they were, without apology or excuse. I gave advice and (I’d like to think) even knew when to be silent and let them learn it themselves. I truly enjoyed every phase of their growing up and it has all passed so quickly that I’m not sure where the years went–and then I look into the eyes of my grandchildren and see myself peeking out. I have loved and still love being a mother, being their mother. (Although I am glad that the intensive “hands on” portion is done.)
So on this Mother’s Day, I’d like to honor all mothers, stepmothers, “real” mothers and those who gave up their chance for mothering to someone else; the women who want to be mothers but can’t, and yes, to the dads who are moms too. To the moms who stay at home and those who do all the work at home while holding down a 9 to 5 “out of the house” job (or two). To the moms who try each day to gently lead their children from being unsociable wild animals into people who eat with forks, say “please” and help old ladies across the street. To the moms who stand back, chewing on their knuckles and let their children learn some new (dangerous!) thing like riding a bike without interfering. To the moms who mother without smothering. To the moms who let their kids mess up the kitchen, the basement or the house with their first attempts at cooking, blanket forts and sleepovers. To the moms who let their kids get away with stuff without ever letting on that she knew. To the moms who kissed all the boo-boos, made peanut butter and jelly sammiches “just right!” and made the house a home. To the moms who wore skirts and high heels to work and the ones who wore jeans and sneakers. To all the other moms who also encouraged her kids to ask “why”? but didn’t pretend that she had all the answers. (That’s why there is Google.)
And on this Mother’s Day, I want to especially honor the moms who wear camouflage and combat boots, work half a world away from home and are serving our country rather than being at home with their children. Theirs is a special commitment to patriotism that supersedes motherhood–or in a way, ensures that our country will continue to be a place to have and raise children. They give up something that cannot ever be replaced and I hope that their children will understand the reason and honor their mom for that choice.
A salute, a toast to moms, all moms everywhere.
Oh and a quick history lesson of the title I chose:
“Your mother wears combat (army) boots!”
A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (1986) by Eric Partridge has an entry for the expression, which says that “your mother wears army boots” was first used in the US during World War Two and was originally “very derisive, then jocularly derisive.” No speculation on the origin of the term is given, but the article quotes from a source which gives the following as variants: “your mother drives a tank,” “your mother eats K rations,” “your mother works in a dime store,” and “ah, yer mother wears cotton drawers.”
Generally used as a schoolyard taunt, like the phrase “go jump in a lake” or “go soak your head” and what we used to say to insult someone else before the phrase “fuck you” was invented. (Not really. The word “fuck” has been around longer than “your mother wears combat boots”. LOL) My kids rapidly figured out it couldn’t be that dreadful a thing since their mother did, indeed, wear combat boots.