Last year, Mother's Day was too painful for words. It was a day I wanted to skip, to ignore, to avoid. I truly appreciated every card and text and e-mail that I received, but there was no comfort for this mother who was without her baby. I deleted advertising e-mails, fastforwarded commercials, avoided shopping, trashed junk mail without opening. The last thing I needed was one more cruel reminder that it was Mother's Day when my baby was dead.
There were kind friends and a loving husband, and golf, and beer, and denial of the calendar date, but there was mostly a desperate ache for a baby girl I wanted to hold in my arms.
This year, the hurt is not quite so raw, but I still plan to handle the day by ignoring it. We're going to a baseball game, where there will undoubtedly be adorable, toddling girls in little Cardinal outfits who will shred my heart with their drooly smiles. But I think I'll be able to handle it in a way I couldn't before. It helps that I can squeeze David's hand and he always knows exactly what I mean (kind of like when we were at Target the other day and this extremely large woman was pushing her cart toward us, except she was bent over it so that her extremely large bosom was occupying the entire seat-part at the front of the cart so she had essentially turned it into a boob-rest, and her boobs totally filled it and I looked at David to see if he'd noticed and David squeezed my hand and I could tell he was trying not to make a weird face so we avoided eye contact until we past her and then we both giggled in the deodorant aisle). So anyway. I feel like I can handle Mother's Day this year, even though I'm not gonna like it.
Sometimes I let myself feel a little bitter and angry about the whole thing... Why do we need a stupid day for smug people who had living babies and now demand breakfast in bed and jewelry and gift certificates on top of it. Really? Because your LIVE baby isn't enough? You want PRESENTS also, you selfish wench?
(I mean, sure, I would have wanted presents and breakfast in bed if Eliza were here. But she's not. And SO THIS ENTIRE STUPID DAY IS EVIL.)
At some point--a while back--I happened to come across an article about the history of Mother's Day. Did you know that it emerged as a national holiday in the aftermath of the Civil War? Mother's Day originally wasn't about presents and breakfast in bed. It was about grief, and war, and politics, and feminism. It was an outcry against the pain and horror of the Civil War, from mothers who desperately wanted to ensure that another generation of sons wouldn't be slaughtered on the battlefield. It wasn't really about celebrating mothers, it was about recognizing the heartbreak and sorrow that comes from having your family torn apart.
Here is Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation from 1870:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
I love that this call goes out not just to women who are actively parenting children, but to "all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or tears!" I guess the nineteenth century knew all too well that motherhood can be a baptism of tears, that not everyone who has a baby gets to bring that baby home.
She calls for an end to senseless violence, an end to war, and an opportunity to meet as women "to bewail and commemorate the dead." She's talking about Civil War soldiers, of course, but the purpose of the day is to honor mothers who are grieving the loss of a child.
We do this because we are all part of the great human family, and in "in the name of womanhood and humanity" we deserve a day dedicated to taking account of what has been lost and ensuring that we take good care of what has been left.
It's a call for women to be proactive, well-informed, agents of their own destinies: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies." In a world where so much is out of our control, women are called to come forward, to tell their stories, to leave their mark, to mourn their children.
That's more than a Hallmark holiday. It's a Mother's Day with great meaning for all of us, whether our children are living or dead.
We won't do anything special for Mother's Day this year. I don't have the heart for it. It's too hard. I still want things to go back to the way they were supposed to be. I still want Eliza here, and I don't WANT to celebrate Mother's Day without her. But I know I needed the reminder that I'm not the only mother who ever mourned the loss of her child. I'm certainly not the only person who cringes at this date on the calendar.
When Julia Ward Howe asked the government to put Mother's Day on the calendar, she saw it as something very different from what it has become, and frankly, I like her version of it. I can relate to it.
Happy Mother's Day to every mother out there, and all women who have hearts, broken or not. Whether you celebrate the living, or bewail and commemorate the dead, (or both), may we all work toward the great and general interests of peace. And may this year be the start of better things to come for all of us.