Friday, May 9, 2008

Who's Your Mama?

You’d think Mother’s Day among lesbian moms would be an awesome, Doublemint occasion – double your pleasure, double your fun. After all, Mother’s Day is not even a Judeo-Christian/Hallmark creation. It actually was birthed in the US some 150 years ago by Appalachian mom Ann Jarvis, who wanted to raise awareness of the poor health conditions in her community. She called it “Mother’s Work Day.” So for those vernal equinox lesbians more inclined to celebrate the cycles of the moon than the Old or New Testament, Mother’s Day is perfect. It’s pro-mom, pro-woman, pro-justice.

Then why the angst? Why does this lesbian mom secretly dread Mother’s Day? Why do I sadden rather than rejoice when approaching this women fest (an event even bigger and more far-reaching than the Michigan’s Women’s Festival?)

Because in addition to amplifying the joy, Mother’s Day in two-mom households also can shed light on just how complicated it is to share the role of “mother.”

Never mind who gets to be called “mom”, who gets to sleep in?

Who takes care of dinner and makes a cake?

Who gets the card made from glue and glitter in kindergarten?

Judeo-Christian/Hallmark marketing has co-opted Mother’s Day and turned it into yet another celebration of the hetero-nuclear paradigm. Any and all advertisements for Mother’s Day hoo-ha consist of precisely one woman receiving one bouquet of flowers or one diamond necklace or one tray of coffee and toast in bed from her one husband and two children.

It’s enough to make you feel like you’re faking it. Yes, despite it all (birthing, nursing, carpooling, making lunches, tushy wiping, comforting, band-aiding and singing to sleep), a lot of times I feel I’m faking it in the parental department, playing at a game I’m not really at liberty to participate in.

Even though after Ms. Jarvis there was Julia Ward Howe, Boston poet and suffragist (her best known work: the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) who believed mothers “bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else,” and so called for a day during which mothers rallied for peace.

That’s no diamond ad. That’s no perfectly made up mom in bed while her husband balances coffee on a silver tray.

In the early years, before I had regained enough consciousness to feel like an imposter, when my c-section scar still tingled on rainy days, the post-partum skin on my stomach had not yet figured out what to do with itself, and I was up three times a night nursing our daughter, I wanted Mother’s Day all to myself. I didn’t even want to consider my partner (we since have split) a mother. I could as much imagine treating her to breakfast in bed as I could picture myself replacing the brakes on my car. I wanted to be the one who was taken care of and indulged à la Hallmark. Hadn’t I earned it in that Hallmark way?

If you stick to the Hallmark scenario, there’s only room for one mother, and it’s a fight to the death to determine who that will is. Anything different from that is not real motherhood. Hence my conflict.

In 1905, after Ann Jarvis died, her daughter, Anna, sought to honor her mother’s work and lobbied businessmen and politicians to assist her in the creation of a special day to honor mothers. Said Anna Jarvis, “There are many days for men, but none for mothers.” After years of Anna. determinedly distributing white carnations each makeshift mother’s day to the boys in Washington, Woodrow Wilson signed a bill declaring Mother’s Day a national holiday. This was 1914. It wasn’t long before religion and marketing got involved and turned Mother’s Day into the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to be: a day that causes me to doubt my credibility as a mother.

The Jarvises would roll over in their graves.

Of course, no mother is faking it. The problem, I remind myself, is not being a lesbian mom on Mother’s Day. It’s being a lesbian mom in a culture that crams a narrow and ridiculous image of motherhood down your throat: one mom per household, with hair highlighted and makeup on.

How then to embrace the day, to do justice to the Jarvis’ vision and to our family, to reclaim my role as mother rather than deny it?

Some lesbians divide Mother’s Day: you get from 7 a.m. to noon, I get from noon to 7 p.m. Some divide the years: 2008 for me, 2009 for you. Some offer up Father’s Day as Mom Day #2. In our family we ad-lib. One of us races off with our daughter to make something for the other, while the other makes plans to do the same.

It still would be great to have a day all to myself. But I’ve learned that this has less to do with me being more of a mother than my ex, and everything to do with me being exhausted.

Anna was so pissed at what happened to the Mother’s Day of her dreams that in 1923 she filed a lawsuit to prevent a festival she believed was endorsing greed and profit over the memorialization of motherhood. She even got herself arrested once for disturbing the peace. Just before she died in 1948, she admitted to regretting having started Mother’s Day.

Well, I say it’s time to take back Mother’s Day. Lesbians moms, straight moms, caregiving grandmothers, aunts and sisters, in honor of the Annas, may we all sleep in.


elswhere said...

In kindergarten & 1st grade, my daughter hustled extra hard to make 2 of everything for Mother's Day at school and opted out of the Father's Day project, and her teachers were fine with that. This year her teacher is more rigid and just basically assumed each kid was making one Mother's Day thing, without much room for dissent. My kid was pissed and really upset about it, though she admitted she hadn't told her teacher that it bothered her. I think she felt scared to.

We still haven't decided whether to talk with the teacher about it, but I suggested to my kid that she (or we) tell next year's teacher early in the year about her mother's day/father's day preferences.

But basically, we tend end up making mother's day an overall sort of Family Day celebration. It's fun, but it's true that sometimes I think of how relaxing it would be to have a day focused on just me sometime. Ah, well, I guess that's what birthdays are for.

Anonymous said...

I'm a public school teacher, and this activity sounds wrong and, frankly, discriminatory (i.e., illegal) to me. It can create discomfort for kids with two moms, and I can only imagine how this would feel in the rare case of a child's who has lost a parent. There are also so many kids from single-parent households; I'd imagine a father's day project, in particular, could draw attention to that. I'm sure the teacher had good intentions, but this shouldn't be happening in public education. (You have much less legal leeway to protest if this is a private school, although a reasonable teacher should respond.) As a teacher (and gay parent), I am very concerned about these issues. If I ever use the word parent in the classroom (and I prefer this word to mother or father), I always say "or guardian or family member" too. There is such variety in family composition today, and it's an unfair burden for the kid to always have to do the explaining.

Ces said...

"Being a full-time mother is one of the highest salaried jobs... since the payment is pure love."

Happy Mother's Day to a loving mom like you...

Sara said...

I'm lucky. We have two dads who take the kids, get them primed, make nice things, give us stunning flowers...

personally? I think it's all just hype and marketing crap. sure, I love my flowers. but a random act of kindness, rather than a hallmark directed holiday, would mean so much more.

and more along the lines of having all the laundry done.

I like the focusing on conditions for poor women.. maybe we should start a movement to go back to the roots.

THAT would be a mother's day I could get behind.

Are You My Mothers said...

thanks everyone and happy mother's day!

Anonymous said...

this year, for the first time, our 11 year old son made us breakfast entirely upon his own initiative--pancakes, from a recipe he downloaded from the internet, and fruit salad. he only needed a tad of help right at the end; he panicked about how to get the table set, as it was strewn with the prep for the fruit salad, as he simultaneously flipped pancakes.
he was incredibly pleased with himself.
lying in bed, i thought "there is nothing quite like the mixture of pride and apprehension, listening to the sounds of a child who is not much interested in cooking clanking around on his own in the kitchen.."
it was so neat that it was his own idea, and that he executed it himself. that is what made it (i can't help myself) priceless.
susan p, friend of elswhere.

Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...


I just discovered your blog and love the way you write as well as your sentiments.

I felt prompted to post a note because I thought you might find it interesting that here in the UK Mother's Day (the real name of which is Mothering Sunday, over here) is in March and *was* originally a Christian thing. (It's rare to find a celebration over here that doesn't have its roots in religion, or spirituality, of some sort).

Apparently, on Mothering Sunday, everyone would return to their 'Mother church', rather than their small local church, although I can't recall the reason behind it.

Obviously, no-one remembers any of that crap now, and it's all about Mum not having to do the dishes - well, in my Mum's house it was, anyway :-)

Something else that's interesting, and more in keeping with the spirit of your post, is some friends of mine - a couple (women) who now have 2 children - expressed concern when their eldest was born, about when he'd go to school: would he be singled out for being 'different' and having 2 Mums? The midwife said she gets to see it all, and ' me, he won't be the only one by the time he gets to school'.

I consider myself so lucky to live in a country in which 'alternate' family arrangements are becoming more accepted as normal :-)

Sorry - I rambled on a bit there :-)

oneofhismoms said...

Wow. Right on the nose, you've hit it. Right on the nose.

I teach public school as well. All of the other teachers make Mother's and Father's day presents. I take it as an opportunity to let the kids know about different families. I tell them about how some kids have two moms or two dads or an auntie or grandma instead of a mom, etc. They can make a gift for anyone they like on either day.

That said, I will make the Mother's and Father's day preferences known to my son's teacher early in the year, so he won't be faced with it.

LandS'smama said...

So I am late on this one (I just found you again) but I do have to say that there should be TWO glitter cards from Kindergarten. I am a teacher and I made sure that my little boy with two moms made two mother's day cards.

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