Mother’s Day schmaltz in the media and in our malls makes me wonder if others struggle with some of the mixture of deep gratitude—and impatience I feel.
So I asked a few friends if they would tell me what they wished for most as mothers. Not surprisingly, all wanted their children to know how much they would always be loved, no matter how their lives unfolded. A few went a little further.
Mika K. is the mother of four beautiful children. Over the last couple of years, in addition to caring for her older children, she has nursed the youngest through a near catastrophic health crisis. That crisis left him with multiple disabilities. She continues to keep abreast of the latest in neuroplasticity and neuromuscular therapies that might help further her child’s potential to lead an independent life.
Mika says: “My wish, these past few Mother’s Days, has been to NOT be Mom for a day. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my kids, LOVE my family, but some days, I am so wrapped up in being Mom that I lose sight of the woman I was before I was Mom. And I don’t just want a “day off.” Here’s how I feel: I feel like I’m running a race and I don’t know how long it is – 5K? 10K? Or is the finish line around the corner? So I don’t know how to pace myself. And I’m carrying a backpack filled with rocks. I appreciate the people on the sidelines cheering me on, and I appreciate the people who tell me to stop and rest. But what I don’t have – and would like – is for someone to carry that backpack for a couple of miles. Or carry ME for a couple miles! Right now, I can take a day off, but that just means I have more to do tomorrow. And I have to be confident that if someone does carry my backpack (or me) that they stay on the course. If they show me a better path – awesome! But don’t take me backwards or on a detour. Does that make sense?”
Pat B. would think it does. She tells this story. “Standing in line at a grocery store. someone in the back of the line pointed out a small pot of flowers sitting at the end of the grocery belt. “I think somebody forgot this.” The woman behind me, bent almost in half with age, fumbled with a few packages and her walker. “It’s mine. I put it there because I’m not sure if I’ll have enough to pay for it.” It reminded me of you and me and our delight in flowers. I handed the clerk some money quietly and told her to see that the woman got her flowers. The clerk looked confused at first –and then conspiratorial–as I told her every woman needs flowers on Mother’s Day.”
May we always have flowers
Pat B. explains: “I made a lot of assumptions about that stranger. But I did so because I struggle as I watch the struggles of women. Even after a lifetime of working for too little pay, or raising a family while watching someone else get a higher paid job…to have to count your change to see if you can afford the groceries for your next meal AND a simple little pot of flowers to brighten your day! Just does not feel right. I guess my wish for mother’s day is that we always have flowers.”
Mothering a stranger
Robbie C. is what some would call a “fallen away” Catholic. She has no time for a church that will not recognize women as equals. Driving home one evening recently on a deserted country road, she saw a young woman sitting alone at a bus stop. She drove on, but could not shake her concern. So she turned back.
She quickly found out that the young woman, Lily, was a foreign student who had been sight-seeing on her own and was waiting for a bus to get home to her host family. There had been no bus for an hour and no prospect of one coming anytime soon. And the evening was deepening into night. So Robbie C. took her to dinner and then had her spend the night at her home. Robbie C. might indeed consider herself someone who has fallen away from the church. But her actions as a surrogate mother to a stranger are radiant with the kind of light that clerics wearing blinders shut out.
No Pedestals, Just Parity
The institutional Catholic church is always ready to put women—from madonnas to saints—on pedestals. Elevating women in that way no doubt makes it easier for arthritic institutions to keep women subordinate. But on Mother’s Day—and every other day—most women will happily trade the pedestal for parity. At the very least, as Mika K. says, when we say “no” to being taken backwards or on a detour, we mean “no.”
The bishops who are pushing new contracts for teachers in Catholic schools or politicians who want to control how women manage their reproductive health by shutting down clinics or introducing draconian laws need to carry Mika’s backpack filled with rocks for a couple of miles. Maybe for a year or two. With a couple of children in tow –and absent spouses. They might feel differently about the contracts and the laws they keep trotting out to manage women’s lives in the name of Christian values.
I write as a dissident Catholic, discouraged by the Church and the flurry of newly sainted popes and misogynist bishops, but still warmed by the small light of faith.
Dawn Morais Webster was born in Kerala. She is the mother of two young adults, and wife of a man with Quaker and Episcopalian roots. She was raised Catholic in largely Muslim, cosmopolitan Malaysia and had her schooling with Franciscan nuns who remain an inspiration. Her blog at http://freecatholic808 is a small voice–but she believes she is part of a much larger community of faith-filled dissenters. Hawaii has been her home for more than a decade. The islands’ mindfulness of its past and the wisdom of those who have gone before, as well as its attention to place and people, help the soul to sing.