Oh, my friend, I hate this day.
I get to be bitter: I don’t have a mother anymore, and I really had a good one, so that sucks. I don’t have kids, and I don’t believe that any of my pets are my fur children because no. Just no.
I do have women in my life who are like mothers to me in many ways. I love you, darlings. And I do love a lot of mothers, so if you are one, and the day feels good to you then happy mother’s day to you! This missive is not for you, my lovies. Collect your sticky kisses and lopsided waffles and enjoy your day.
The rest of you: let’s kvetch a moment, shall we?
Did you know that Mother’s Day, the one we celebrate now, was established in 1908 by a woman celebrating her own deceased mother?
Anna Jarvis told a reporter she was sorry she’d ever started Mother’s Day.
Celebrating her mother’s work, Anna Jarvis pushed hard for a day of recognition. She quit her job at Fidelity Mutual in Philadelphia in 1912, where she’d been the first female editor, in order to work full time on her mission. She worked tirelessly, sending thousands of letters. Finally, in 1914, President Wilson declared it a national holiday.
Anna Jarvis selected carnations to be the flower of Mother’s Day, saying, “The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying. When I selected this flower, I was remembering my mother’s bed of white pinks.”
Then things skidded off the rails.
The flower, card, and candy companies grabbed the idea and ran. To sell more flowers, they promoted red carnations to honor mothers still alive, white ones to honor dead ones. The price of carnations went up thirty-fold in the first six years of the holiday.
Anna said clearly, “As the founder of Mother’s Day, I demand that it cease … Mother’s Day was not intended to be a source of commercial profit.”
Reportedly, she brought at least 33 lawsuits against entities profiteering on Mother’s Day, even threatening to sue Eleanor Roosevelt who sponsored a fund for needy children and mothers, saying Roosevelt’s fund trespassed against Jarvis’s idea of honoring motherhood.
Did it work?
Well, in 2014, it was reported that Americans spent twenty billion dollars on Mother’s Day gifts.
I like flowers, myself. I like sending them. Cards are easy, and cards can transmit difficult feelings. But as Joel Oliphint says in this great article about Anna Jarvis, “Those sappy cards seem harmless, even helpful. But the trickle-down effect of their trite sayings and inflated prices is sneakier than one might imagine. Perhaps Jarvis knew this. It was a losing battle, but maybe she could see the future more clearly than her contemporaries. Maybe she could see that the Hallmarkification of Mother’s Day would actually make it harder, not easier, to communicate a true, deep, and loving appreciation of mothers.”
I guess that’s what this post is about. It’s hard to be honest about this day. How can I be bitter and angry, when over on Facebook so many of my friends are delighting in being a mother, something which is incredibly worthy of delight? How can I be angry at a day honoring women?
But I miss my mom. I’m jealous of people who still have theirs, even people who have trying or impossible relationships with them. I’m heartbroken for one of my best friends in the world who lost her only child twelve days ago. I’m pissed off that she’d already lost a good mom, and now this Hallmark holiday will always serve to stab her right in the heart, twisting the knife, year after year.
Sisters, friends and I have an unofficial uncelebration most years of gathering to raise a glass to our moms. Dead Mother’s Day, we’ve aggrievedly dubbed it, and the bartender at The Alley expects us to be in. We’re not holding it this year—2016 is already too sad to make it sadder. But the next time we do? We’ll raise a glass to Anna Jarvis, a stubborn, childless woman who fought bitterly until the day she died penniless in a sanitarium to honor the memory of her beloved mother and to get others to honor their own in a non-commodified way.
I guess this is my way of honoring my own. Definitely non-commodified — I’m pretty sure I’ll actually lose some readers with this rant.
So let me change the tone here at the end.
Dead Mother’s Day Celebration:
In a spirit of nothing but love, I want to tell you three things about my mother that I adored with all my heart. Then you share some with me about yours, okay?
1. I loved the fact that my little mama unconsciously whistled harmonies to songs in fourths. Not thirds, not fifths. Strangely, fourths. I spent half my life thinking she was tone-deaf before I figured this out.
2. I loved the way she got pink and giggly on two glasses of wine.
3. I loved her battered, callused, dirty, and always barefoot feet. My feet are turning into hers, and sometimes I marvel at their ugliness at the same time I’m impressed with their sheer stubborn sturdiness.
Tell me three things about your dead mother that you loved? (If your mother’s not dead, for the love of god, don’t tell us. Tell her.)