Sunday, May 09, 2010

so. it's mother's day.

mother's day was never really one of my favorite days. in my family, it always played very well into that well-established pattern of putting on a unified "Big Happy Family" front, trying to make invisible the million dysfunctions that made our family not at all happy. and it played well into the often-enforced "mother is always right" rule. and the "feel bad for your mother because she does so much and is such a martyr for this family" meme.

and so i would always buy a stupid little sappy card from hallmark and pretend like we fit into that image of the family whose emotions are perfectly expressed by lovey-dovey Hallmark cards. or i would buy a snarky card, the kind that walks the line between mean and loving, and pretend that i could honestly sit on the "loving" side of that line. and yeah, sometimes i meant it, and sometimes i could identify with the "love your mother" sentiments in these lame cards. but more often than not, mother's day was just another opportunity to fake our way as that happy loving family that my parents wanted so badly.

once i was at college and far enough away from that family system to see how dysfunctional it really was, mother's day made me bitter. i was bitter that i still felt obligated to buy these cards that i clearly didn't mean, and i was bitter that i had to call my mom on mother's day and pretend that she deserved the honor that this day was set aside for. i was bitter that i'd tried to turn so many women into maternal figures over the years (i believe i was at about 15 or so at last count), and none of them had completely filled that void, and none of them had wanted to, and i probably couldn't have let them fill that void anyway. most of all, though, i was bitter at all the truly loving moms and daughters i saw around me, because it felt like a slap in the face. sure, i was happy for them, and i was glad that there were women around who had the capacity to be that truly "good mother" (read: able to love without narcissism/martyrdom), but i was bitter, and it made me feel cheated, and it made me feel sorry for myself. i hated feeling all of these things, which made me hate mother's day even more.

eventually, i started to open my eyes. by which i mean, i started to open my heart. all of the love that i saw around me between loving mothers and daughters felt more like warmth and less like a slap in the face. i stopped forcing myself to send my mother cards that had sentiments i didn't mean. one year, i just sent her a pretty card that said "happy mother's day" on the inside. that's it. i don't think i even signed it "love, jen." just "-Jen." the next year, i sent her nothing, and the next week, i cut her and my dad out of my life entirely. (she likes to tell the story that she got that letter on mother's day, that i planned it like that to hurt her. too bad mother's day is on a sunday, the postal service doesn't deliver on sundays, and i didn't put the letter in the mail until after mother's day. oh, drama queens.)
on one of those mother's days, instead of seeing what i never had growing up, i saw the mothers who i admired, and i saw the women who had mothered me in some way or another. i saw them for the love that they held, and i could honor them for that, without (ok, with only a little) bitterness.

(image: Nikki McClure, an artist in washington state.
i adore her work. you should go buy some of it.
no, really, you should. or, alternatively,
buy a print for me. you can do that here.)

this mother's day, i felt surprisingly little bitterness and sadness over the mother i didn't get from biology. i felt absolutely no guilt about not sending her a mother's day card, and only a little lingering guilt over estranging myself from my parents (that's guilt that i don't expect to ever completely go away).
this mother's day, i was able to fully embrace the fierce love i feel for the amazing mothers in my life. primarily, the mothers i've chosen to be part of my life, but also the amazing feminist, loving mamas i see around me all the time. not all of these women have had children, but that's the thing about the women i honor on mother's day: biology only sometimes correlates with great motherhood.

the two women who've taught me what maternal love looks like, who've filled my heart with that love: not anywhere close to biologically related. we don't even share a common ethnicity (they're both very white. me, not so much).
the two other women who took me in when i was a "stray" have stepped into some role between big sister and mom, who joke that they have to share custody with the former two women: neither has ever given birth or even (to my knowledge) been pregnant. they're only 6 and 7 (or 8?) years older than me. because you don't have to be related to someone to be a mother. and you don't have to give birth to know how to be a mother.
motherhood is so, so, so much more than pushing a kid out of your uterus. and maternal love comes in more forms than bio-mother/bio-child. i am so thankful for that.

so, today, i'm not bitter or angry about mother's day. i'm beyond grateful for the luck/fate that brought these women into my life and made my heart more full than i ever thought possible. and i am quietly rejoicing every time i see a woman who is or will be a great mother to someone who needs it, in whatever form that takes.

happy mother's day.

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