Mothers’ Day

By Jennie Rosenstiel

As I typed the first draft of this article, the grammar checker kept telling me I’d misspelled the name of the holiday. Again and again, it reminded me that it was Mother’s Day, not Mothers’ Day. It turns out that Anna Jarvis, the advertising executive responsible for the holiday’s modern incarnation, “was specific about the location of the apostrophe; it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.”[1] Even absent the complexity of adoption, this feels like a sentiment that has not aged well. In our own family, Mothers’ Day (as it will forever be as far as I’m concerned) isn’t marked by saccharine platitudes or a special brunch. But it has, with the stubborn habit of most holidays, managed to accumulate its own set of traditions in our family. And like most family traditions… they’re complicated. 

In the week or so ahead of the day, we begin to talk about mothers around the dinner table. We talk about how most kids have only one mom, how some kids have two moms, and how they have three moms. We discuss how most people have a mother they are born to as babies and that many people acquire additional mothers and mother figures along the way. We remind them that we even know families with no moms that are present in their lives –biological or otherwise– and that there's no right number of mothers to have.  

As for their many mothers, our kids are free to refer to any and all of us using “mom names.” (Despite some outmoded advice from well-intentioned relatives—and even therapists—I find that my kids are not actually confused by this practice.) We tell stories about their late foster mom, and all the things each of us loved about her. We talk about their first mom and her mom, both women who our kids know and love. About what traits they each get from her and the traits they all share. We’re talking about love. But we also talk about grief and pain. 

We talk about the losses our kids have suffered. My husband and I encourage them to talk about the sad or angry feelings they have about mothers, including the one at the table. We remind them that it’s normal to have complicated feelings about our parents; we certainly do. I acknowledge their feelings, and hold them tight, knowing that my validation and comfort cannot heal them. I can only cross my fingers and hope that they lay the groundwork for more honesty and comfort in the years ahead. 

Finally, somewhere around Friday, we ask them how they think they’d like to celebrate Mother’s Day. Would they like to call their other mom? Or make a video or card or present for her? When they were still little enough to make things for Mother’s Day at school, we asked if they wanted to send them to any of their other moms. They’re always free to choose to do anything or nothing for any of us. While their requests have evolved with their relationships with each of their moms, some traditions have stuck, for better and for worse. 

One of our kids wears his heart on his sleeve. He feels all the feelings out in the open. He’s the kid who invariably wants to plan a big gesture for me. Our other kid wears his heart as deep inside as he can. He expresses little interest in either the discussion or the celebration, usually agreeing to whatever his brother wants to do. When the day comes, it begins with breakfast in bed, everyone eager to see me enjoy whatever food and gifts have made it to the tray. This is our tradition. By 10:00am, the storm inside our quiet child can no longer be contained. Shouting and slamming burst forth like a sudden squall. This, too, is our tradition. 

In my less sympathetic moments, I have found myself disappointed and even frustrated to tears. But mostly I just see this person I love struggling with a tangle of emotions that he hasn’t yet felt safe enough to unravel, look at, and speak into the world. The years, and the wisdom that seems to hitchhike along with them, have taught me to take advantage of the spring weather by getting out of the house together as soon as possible. We let the regulating effects of moving our bodies and connecting with nature work on all of us, leaving further mention of Mothers’ Day entirely up to the kids. It may not be what Mothers’ Day looks like on TV, but surely if I can find enough space in the holiday for more than one mother, I can also find space in it for more than one kid. 

[1] From “Mother's Day creator likely 'spinning in her grave,'” L. Taylor, May 11, 2008 The Vancouver Sun.

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