Tag Archives: Mother’s Day

A Not-Mother’s Mother’s Day Post

This is my mother. I’m not like her – I never had children. But what if I had? What would my life with children have been like?

In my younger days, I never really expected to get married and had never pictured myself having children. But I married in my mid-20s and kind of assumed that I’d have children, or at least one child. I remember telling my husband that if we did so, I would like to have said progeny before I turned 30.

That never happened. Then or later. There are various reasons for that, most of which boil down to choosing not to procreate. Suffice it to say that my husband and I have remained childless, or child-free, or whatever you wish to call it, and (as far as we know) not because of any medical complication.

But recently I stopped to think: What if I had had those theoretical children according to my imaginary schedule? Where would they (and I) be now?

First, I assume they would have been boys with bad eyesight and funny hair. My husband’s family runs not-quite-exclusively to boys, he’s near-sighted and I’m far-sighted, and he has a non-Afro-Afro, which his mother determinedly tried to part and subdue, to little effect.

I also picture them – or him, at any rate – being a difficult child. Dan’s “inner child” is, shall we say, very close to the surface, and I’m certain that among the three of them (Dan, inner child, and outer child), the testosterone level would have been high enough to cause a flight hazard for jetliners. I would have been severely outnumbered and completely unprepared, never having had even one brother. They would have ganged up on me, I feel sure. That would have left me to be the “Bad Mommy,” in the sense of being the one trying vainly to impose a little order, something I’ve never really been able to do in my own life.

Long before now, we’d have been paying for little Jim’s therapy. (James is a name that appears in both our families, so for simplicity’s sake, I’ll leave out all the negotiating that would have happened.) Jim would have needed the therapy because my bipolar disorder would have not just affected my parenting skills, but might have increased his chances of having the disorder too.

(I’m sure there are bipolar people with children who manage somehow, but I don’t understand how they do it. Really, I don’t understand how parents without bipolar do it.)

Most of my friends who reproduced around the same time I “should have” turned out children that are intelligent, sociable, as well-behaved as one could reasonably expect, and likely to be talented at artistic or scientific endeavors. They are now, by and large, collegians, college graduates, and productive members of society – and some even parents themselves. (And wasn’t that a shock when someone I was in Girl Scouts with became a grandmother!)

One or two of the kids have had difficulties of the kind that need extra nurturing and support, or illnesses or conditions that require medical treatment – but there’s no way to predict those or blame them on the parents. Only one that I know of has had trouble with the law, which is a pretty good average, considering all the friends I have and the propensity they’ve shown for reproduction.

The children have brought the families love, satisfaction, struggle, pride, work, expense, joy, tears, and excitement – exactly as we kids brought my parents, I believe. And that’s what I believe children would have brought to me as well.

I don’t regret not having children. Eventually I learned that was not the path for me. But still sometimes I wonder:

Could I have done as well as my friends? As my own mother? I’ll never know.

 

The Obligatory Mothers Day Post

Mother’s Day is fine if you have either a mother or children. Otherwise, it’s difficult, confusing, and even annoying. And for some people, worse than that.

Let’s think about this.

Grunge vintage floral backgroundChildless women

According to U.S. Census data, less than half of women are mothers. Yet childless women are ignored on Mothers Day. For childless-by-choice women, this is usually okay, except for reminding them that they are not participating in what society tells us is the greatest experience in life. And on Mothers Day, all women are assumed to have children. Try eating out and see if you aren’t handed a flower just because you are of an age to reproduce (or have ever been at an age when you could have reproduced), whether or not you have children in tow.

But for women who are childless – and not by choice – Mothers Day can be a day of profound sorrow. Infertile women; women who’ve had miscarriages or even some who’ve had abortions; women without partners who believe a child needs a father; women whose children have died from disease, violence, or suicide can find Mothers Day an occasion for mourning rather than cheer.

 

Mandatory Cheer

And let’s talk about how society requires that people be joyous and appreciative on Mothers Day.

First, we know that much hoopla regarding Mothers Day is promoted by the greeting card, florist, jewelry, perfume, beauty products, restaurant and any other industry that can think of a way to get you to buy something “for Mom.” Churches, civic groups, and other organizations are on the bandwagon too. Mothers Day sermons, “Best Mom” contests, and modeling dough handprints abound.

In the midst of all this glowing praise, we seem to forget that not all mothers are good mothers and not all children are good children. Who would want to be reminded that Mom was abusive? That a hoped-for child is a drug addict? That the relationship between mother and child is irretrievably broken for any reason?

 

The Deserving Others

And whom else do we leave out on Mothers Day?

How about single fathers?

How about people whose mothers have recently died?

Do we forget about adoptive parents in the flurry of sentiment over giving birth?

Do we neglect foster parents, too?

And aren’t there teachers and counselors and other caregivers who give as much love and promote a child’s healthy growth by being a mother-figure – sometimes a child’s only one?

In our zeal to celebrate motherhood, do we forget that there are many kinds of families, and that families of the heart are as important as families that share DNA?

And what about mothers-in-law? I had a wonderful mother, whose memories I treasure and whose passing I grieve. She was kind, and giving, and determined to do the best for her family. But now I have a mother-in-law who is devoted, and generous, and someone I can proudly cal “Mom.” Isn’t she worthy of honor and celebration, too?

So what’s the take-away for me? That I have deeply mixed feelings about the holiday and how it’s celebrated? Yes. That I have had good mothers and mother-figures? Yes. That I know not everyone’s experiences of motherhood and raising children are ideal? Yes. That I think society puts too much pressure on women to be mothers? Yes. That I deplore the commercialism and no-thought gifts that get so much emphasis placed on them? Yes.

Am I a mother? No.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to opinions on the subject.

Discovering My Mother

I’m not a mother, and I don’t play one on TV.

But my mother was one (obviously), and with Mother’s Day fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about her.

MuzzPM

When I was a kid, my mother was a part of our loving, stable family. And at that time, that was all I needed to know. She was very much in my father’s shadow, as he was a larger-than-life, memorable character.

Here are some things I learned about her later.

She was an exceptional caregiver. My father had multiple myeloma for over a decade, and she was always there when he needed her.

She had needs too. She knew she was doing a good job taking care of my father, But she wanted someone else to tell her that, to validate her.

She was not a great cook. Except that to my dad, she was. He was a meat-and-potatoes guy and she gave him exactly what he liked, when he liked it, and how he liked it. Since then I’ve eaten a lot fancier, but I still say she made the best grilled cheese sandwich ever. With white bread and Velveeta.

She was lots of fun to travel with. I understand from other people that they would not even consider traveling with their mothers. We went to Brazil together, and Ireland, and many places around the U.S.

She tried new things. In Brazil she tried local food and drink. If she didn’t like it, she gave it to me or disposed of it, but at least she tried it first.

She was a devoted Christian, but not a bully about it. Once we were in a group and someone remarked that God was a woman. I cringed a little, but what she politely said was, “Oh? Why do you say that?” She told her church ladies that of course she would go to a synagogue or temple if asked. She explained, “How can I expect them to listen to me if I won’t listen to them?”

She was generous. She donated to the Humane Society and other charities. She gave away most of the things she crocheted, to friends or to church bazaars.

She thought globally, even without the Internet. She had pen pals around the world with whom she traded crochet patterns and family news. Sabita, her friend from India, came to visit and her whole family stayed at my mom’s house.

Most people called her sweet, especially when she was older. And she was, but that misses her complexity. She could be determined – even stubborn – and whimsical. She was down-to-earth and creative. She loved bass voices and yellow roses. She was sentimental and believed, at least a little, in ESP. She gave stale candy to trick-or-treaters she deemed “too old.” She never minded my father’s incessant flirting or that his nickname for her was “Old Squaw.”

And she was a better shot than my father.

When she couldn’t sleep at night, she would sing herself to sleep with hymns. Before she died, she made my husband Dan promise to sing “How Great Thou Art” at her funeral. And he did.

There are lots more stories I could tell. Why all my friends and I called her “Muzz.” How the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles cracked her up. How she would say, “Just a suggestion,” because she didn’t want to meddle in my marriage. Why she named me Janet. How she told our friend John that dying took too long.

I hate Mother’s Day and all the gooey cards and sales pitches for chocolate and diamonds. But I still love my mother, Ella Delena Rose Coburn, and will always miss her.

 

P.S. The picture of my mother was taken by dear friend and artist Peggy McCarty. I hope she doesn’t mind my using it.