Lea Wait, here, two days past Mother’s Day. My husband calls that day (and Father’s Day — he’s an equal opportunity cynic) a “Hallmark holiday.”
And it probably is. Parents who do their best should be honored and respected every day. Especially on the days when children (of all ages) have conflicts with them. After all, if it weren’t for mothers and fathers …. But the end of that sentence is obvious. And it’s equally obvious that there are parents who don’t deserve to be honored.
And “mothering” can be done by adoptive parents, foster parents, step parents, godparents, aunts, and just about anyone with a close relationship to a child or young person. Some of those people don’t have the official title of “mother” (and think of the bad rap step mothers get in all those fairy tales,) but they should also be given credit for everything they do to raise children. “It takes a village” …. not just a mother.
Having said all that, yes, I had a mother and a grandmother, and I think of them often, if not daily. Neither were perfect (who is?) but they both did the best they could, each under different circumstances. (My second grandmother was killed when my father was three years old, so I never knew her.)
And the question of being a mother has been one that defined my life in many ways.
Daughter Elizabeth, the day she came home.
I wanted very much to be a mother in the classic sense. I wanted to conceive and carry and give birth to one or two children. At one time in my mid-twenties I wanted that so much that I’d tear up seeing a woman who was pregnant, or hearing about a friend who’d had a baby.
But life conspired against my giving birth. I married when I was 25, but my husband was ill, and I was single again at 29. I thought seriously about having a baby as a single parent, but decided it would be too difficult to do that and continue working full-time, which I’d have to do to support my family. I also realized that although babies were wonderful, what I really looked forward to doing as a parent was sharing books and history and art and trips to the beach and the city. My vision of parenting was being a parent to a child old enough to talk, and listen, and share experiences.
So, as a single parent, I adopted four girls. They were ages 4, 8, 9, and 10 when they came home from Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong and India. Their experiences before I met them were different from each other’s, and from mine. Challenges of all sorts defined our household.
One of those challenges was Mother’s Day.
To an adopted child the word “mother” is loaded. They had at least two mothers .. a birthmother, or biological mother, and an adoptive mother. (Some also had foster mothers.) And to children of a single mother, Father’s Day was also an issue.
The first year I was a mother we got through Mother’s Day without much fuss. My daughter hardly spoke English and we were just getting to know each other. It certainly wasn’t a time to make any fuss about me. But by Father’s Day, she came home from her kindergarten class with a Father’s Day
Lea and her daughters, 1985
card. I thanked her for it, although I wasn’t a father. And she asked, “What do fathers do?”
I panicked for a moment. What DID fathers do? Aside from the biology of fatherhood, none of the stereotypes worked. At our house, I did everything, from mowing the lawn and building bookcases to working and paying the bills to cooking dinner and reading bedtime stories. So I said, simply, “Fathers help mothers.”
My daughter nodded. I hoped it made sense to her. She didn’t remember having a mother or father – once she’d told me she didn’t know what a mother was until she came home to live with me.
But my second daughter remembered her biological parents. Her father had died, and she often re-enacted his funeral with her sister. Her mother had relinquished her for adoption, choosing, for an assortment of reasons, to keep her brother. She had very strong opinions about parents.
By that time we’d joined a church that, in celebration of Mother’s Day, placed white roses on the altar for mothers who had died, and red roses for mother who were still alive. I had two red roses put on the altar for my daughters’ biological mothers. We didn’t know if they were alive or dead, and it seemed the right thing to do. I gave gifts to each of my daughters, to thank them for honoring me by making me their mother. Two years later the minister of the church handed me a red rose, and I started crying. Yes; I was a mother, too.
When my fourth daughter came home, from India, where she’d lived for a while in one of the Missionaries of Charity homes, I overheard my mother, who then lived with us, explaining to her that Mother’s Day was a special day, and that she was lucky. She now had a mother and a grandmother. My daughter replied, “In India I had two mothers, too, I had Mother Theresa and Mother Mary Margaret.”
The word “mother” meant something very different to her.
For all these reasons, Mother’s Day was not a holiday we paid a lot of attention to in our house. My girls didn’t have fathers to encourage the celebration. And for at least two of them, honoring me as their “mother” seemed to them they were dishonoring their biological moms. I understood that. It was an awkward day.
Today, my daughters are grown, and three have husbands and children of their own. None live close by, so I can’t say exactly what happens in their homes on Mother’s Day, but I hope they celebrate. Some years one or two of them call me. This year I received lovely flowers from one of my girls, and a “Happy Mother’s Day” Facebook message from one. I didn’t hear from the other two.
But, after all, it is a “Hallmark Holiday.” Our relationship doesn’t depend on their feeling guilty if they don’t say nice things on one particular day of the year.
Our relationship depends on love, and on being a family.
We’re doing okay.
So – whether or not you celebrated Mother’s Day this year, for whatever reasons, I wish you well, and wish you peace. After all .. it’s only one day. What happens the other 364 days of the year is what defines a family.