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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day Turns 100... and a blind eye.

I don't want to come across as a hater. And Lord knows I love my mother (and am the spittin' image of her). But I do not like Mother's Day.

And I'm not the only one.

In 1923, nine years after Anna Jarvis talked President Woodrow Wilson into establishing a national "Mother's Day," Ms. Jarvis turned around and began protesting it.

On facebook today, fourteen months after the death of his mother, Jason Nethercut describes Mother's Day as "prominent, glaring and threatening."

And for five years when I served at First Baptist Church in Austin, TX, I could be counted on to cry (hopefully non-conspicuously) at one service every year: Mother's Day.

Why don't we like it?

Well, Anna Jarvis hated how commercial it became in just nine years (oh Lord, she'd HATE it now). You see, she didn't start the movement to create a national holiday for "we the people" to give our moms flowers, and candy and cheesy greeting cards. She petitioned for this national holiday because her own mother organized "Mother's Work Days" to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality, to tend to soldiers who had been injured in the Civil War.  Anna's mother's contemporary, Julia Ward Howe (who composed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"), issued a widely read "Mother's Day Proclamation" in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace.

Mother's Day, for Anna, was to recognize extraordinary women, and specifically the one she was the closest to: her mother.

In other words, "Mother's Day was born in the aftermath of the Civil War, as a rallying cry for women worldwide to oppose war and fight for social justice." It wasn't actually about mothers being good moms, it was about women being good people.

Mother's Day was a cry to action. It was a call from the feminist and Christian communities for women to live to their fullest potential as God's children... and to protect God's other children.

Happy 100th Birthday, Mother's Day. You have forgotten who you are.


Which is perhaps why I used to cry at church on the second Sunday of May every year. Hyper commercialization of a day saluting mothers seemed really wrong to me. It made me sick at my stomach to think of the women (or couples) who would stay home from church that day or have to muster all their strength to attend, suffering through the sympathetic smiles they'd inevitably receive because... they can't have children.  It made me sick to look at my darling students - some just barely out of college, who, in the words of Ruth Margalit, were now "unmothered" having lost their moms to disease & tragedy.  It made me sick that some of my friends, coworkers, and parishioners agonized about what to do this day for their really shitty mothers... the ones whose criticism drove them to anorexia, the ones who ran off with their boyfriends and left them to be raised by an aunt, the ones who were absent, hateful, abusive, and all those other awful things that mothers aren't supposed to be. It made me sick that my own mother was a $400 plane ride away in Missouri, and that despite the 600 people sitting in the congregation, I felt very lonely here in Texas.

And it made me sick that because I was single (and at just seven days shy of my 36th birthday, I still am), I didn't feel like having kids was an option for me. Even in the 21st century, society doesn't look favorably on this. It tells me I'm incomplete. I'm unfinished. I don't know my true calling. The list of strikes against me and all other non-mothers goes on and on.

Ultimately, I felt it was a holiday that excluded people. And that made me feel sad.

Unfortunately, those feelings didn't end after I left my job at the church. In 2013, my adopted mother died of cancer. More tears.

In fact, this might be the first Mother's Day in years that I didn't cry. And I think that's because on this 100th anniversary of Mother's Day, I spent the afternoon browsing the Internet and getting angry.

What if we put that 20 billion Mamma's day dollars into our education system? Into our foster care system? Into rehabilitation and incarceration programming?

What if we spent just one day being peace-makers who strive not just to end war, but to return children to their parents, and allow mothers and daughters the world over to not live in fear of planes, bombs, mines, and kidnappings?

What if we worked for sanitation and health by eradicating Dollar Stores, soda pop, and Monsanto? What if we spent time and money on helping our Iraq war veterans cope with their war injuries (namely PTSD)?

What if, what if, what if.

Listen, I love my mother. I love a lot of your mothers too. There are a lot of great moms out there. So go spend time on them. Tell them you love them. Make them feel special.

But challenge them to make a difference in the world. Challenge yourself. Challenge your daughters and your husbands and your sons and your neighbors and your pastors and your barbers.

My mother thinks the may have "pushed the women thing a little too hard" with me.

Nah, I don't agree with that either.

I think she taught me what should really matter on Mother's Day... honoring great women who have done great things.

So for social justic minded moms and non-moms alike... you go girls. Today is your day.