When I was in elementary school, there was one little girl whose mother had died when she was four and every year, we would make these little gifts for our moms. Sometimes they were potted plants or painted plates or mobiles we carved from tree branches and painted like rainbows, destined to get big hugs on mother's day and then sit in the back of the closet for decades. This little girl always smiled and did the project. She made her card just like the rest of us, only instead of making it out to her mom, she left it blank.
I don't know if she had a dad. I don't know if she had an aunt or grandmother or step mother. I just know that watching her make that project year after year, I knew she was sad and that her sadness made me uncomfortable.
At 7 we all avoided the topic. After all, we were "normal." We had our moms and we were busy thinking about breakfast in bed and pretty dresses we could wear for brunch on the second Sunday in May. I look back on that and I cringe. If only one of us had told her it was all right or that she could sit this one out or offered her some kind of alternative, then maybe it would bother me less. But no one did. When my own mother died just a few years later, when I was 16, I often thought of that girl.
And now I think of her even more. With just a few days left until Mother's Day, I am always reminded of just how much I hate this "holiday" every year. Nearly 20 years after my mother died, you would think I would have it more together. After all, I have my own two babies who are now four and six and they always make me sweet presents and honor me in ways that make me want to bottle up their beautiful innocence and hold some part of it through the teen years.
But I still hate it.
I hate the flowery cards with sappy messages "for my mom and my best friend rolled into the same person." I hate the messages on television from various greeting card companies that show moms and their children reunited juxtaposed with photos of them growing up. I hate the happy people at brunch with their moms and the flower stores that sell bouquets "just for mom." I hate Facebook and the cheesy quotes most days anyway, but on Mother's Day it is even worse.
Sure, I am used to it by now. It used to send me into hiding from about mid-April until the Monday that followed. Now I can at least venture out and pretend to be happy. I can hang out with my family and be grateful for them.
I also have the adult perspective to know I am not alone now. It is not just people who lost their mothers who hate it. People who have lost children or had miscarriages or been unable to carry babies also find it difficult to get through. People whose mothers were difficult or who had bad relationships also tend to want to hide on the second Sunday in May. In fact, I would say about 25 percent of the people I know have some kind of issue with this holiday.
It's not that we need to stop celebrating. By all means, moms need a day to be honored, both the living and the dead ones. But I do think we ought to be able to have some space for the things this brings up for so many people. For anyone who has lost a maternal connection on any end, this holiday is really like lemon on a cut.
So what do we do? We smile. We pretend. We try not to ruin the day for others.
Well, I propose a new approach. I propose we speak honestly about our losses and what makes this day hard. I propose we stop pretending it is all happy and take some of the bitter with the sweet. Even those of us who have lose mothers or children or have been unable to have children we want deserve to not have to hide.
It's OK to not love Mother's Day. It does not make you a bad person or the ghost of Christmas past or some horrible harbinger of doom. It makes you human.
It's a hard day for a lot of people and for those of you who are suffering, you are not alone. The only thing that has helped me over the years is to try to find my own way of honoring both my mother and myself. When I want to bury my head, I do. When I want to spend it with my kids, I do.
And when I celebrate my father and husband on Father's Day, I try to be a little more sensitive to those who might be suffering on that day, too. It's the one thing loss does that is good. It makes you a more well rounded person and increases empathy. You have to take the good where you can, right?
Do you hate Mother's Day?