Mothers. Love them, or hate them. Look up to them or look down at them. Their loving hands caress gently or strike fervently. Cherish them or curse them. Emulate them or vow to become what they’re not. Idolize them or move away from them with disdain. Nurtured or neglected by them, no matter how we feel, no matter what our sentiment regarding our emotional and psychological wellbeing, we owe who we are to our mothers.
Mama, I miss you in a thousand small ways. I miss having the woman with whom I’d sit face to face over an early morning coffee to exchange thoughts and ideas …not to necessarily agree with…Lord knows that wasn’t always our strongest point. You would say that parents who were more concerned about their child’s psyche and who made excuses for their child’s weaknesses fed into the child’s fragility. “Assume strength, not fragility,” you would say. Mama always took pride in being strong. Somehow, your preferences are now a part of my own…a way to remember you.
Her independence and self-confidence came across so naturally in everyday life, I thought all mothers were like that only to find out later, nothing could be further from the truth. As I grew older, her wisdom was always shared through discussion in a way that made me feel like I had come up with the “right” solution to the challenge. I was taught that “your choices have consequences” and/or shape your life and that “your deeds and words impact others in addition to yourself.” My Mama taught me that being a good listener sometimes is the best gift you could give someone. (I’m still working on that one!) She taught me to value my roots, and to treasure the relationships of family above all. “Volunteer your life,” she said, “It’ll keep you human.” And, I learned that being honorable and standing up for what you believe in, no matter the cost, is the true measure of your character and worth, versus how much money you make or who you know. But one of the most valuable lessons of all that I learned from my Mama was that despite being a girl, I could do anything I wanted in life and be anyone I wanted to become. Only my fears, if I had them, could stop me. You taught me to face them head on and power through them. Within the last year, when your memory became more and more challenged, you would forget a lot of things, names, places, events, “but in my heart from where my blood flows,” you would say, “I know without doubt that I love.” Mama would then smile, tilt her head slightly, raise her glass of cognac, take a sip and say, “Memory cannot take love away from the soul of one who loves.”
The act of mothering — all that we as women “do” as mothers to manifest this love and care — is more profound than anything I’ve ever done before, and at times, it wears me to the rough and fragile places of my ego. In these moments I learn that my “better self” has a “less-better self” and I feel “out of sync” as my own self-image becomes reshaped. (Again, I’m working on it.) Mama, you gave me much to live by.
In the U.S. Mother’s Day was celebrated as early as 1897 as a day dedicated to peace. Then, in 1907, Anna Jarvis from Philadelphia began a campaign to establish a national Mother’s Day. She persuaded her mother’s church in West Virginia to celebrate Mother’s Day on the second anniversary of her mother’s death, the 2nd Sunday of May. Ms. Jarvis began to write to ministers and politicians in her quest to establish a national Mother’s Day. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state, and President Woodrow Wilson, in 1914, made the official announcement proclaiming Mother’s Day to be the 2nd Sunday of May. By then it had become customary to wear white carnations to honor departed mothers and red to honor the living, a custom that continues to this day.
I shall be wearing my white carnation this Mother’s Day.