In the Smithsonian Museum of American History, there is an exhibit on food and the way it has changed on the American table over the years. It is an interesting exhibit for a number of reasons. It shows, for example, a reproduction of Julia Child’s kitchen. It shows the advent of T.V. trays and Swanson frozen dinners. It shows when wine became a staple beverage. And, there is one of the most entertaining images in all of Washington, D.C. …
In what I believe was a 70s era campaign to popularize frozen food, there is a magazine article featuring a woman on the floor, cleaning up a milky cereal mess. The caption above her reads, “My favorite part of breakfast is when it is over.” At first, I thought the woman had vomited her food, emphasizing (if not also explaining) the point that she hates breakfast. Then, I noticed the dejected-looking child in a highchair, scowling at her mother, down on the ground, managing what was in fact a spill. In the center panel, a mother looks on at her frowning child, who is this time refusing to eat lunch. In the third and final panel, a miserable child now rejects dinner, but mom, still working the situation, observes, “Dinner isn’t so bad because it is almost over.” One understands that soon the unhappy little darling will be in bed, and mom won’t have to do this again until tomorrow.
I’m not sure whether this was intended to be humorous or tragic. I found it humorously tragic because it was, to me anyway, so truthful. I wanted to make copies of the image to send to my friends who are contemplating having children, to all my undergraduates thinking about marriage, and especially to the newly engaged couple we know. This here was a brilliant representation of the mundanity of that nexus of family life, the kitchen table.
You see, I too well know that woman at breakfast time, having prepared what I think is a beautiful meal, which no one wants to eat. I am that woman, packing school lunches under the watchful eyes of my kids. I will know by looks or words if I have miscalculated the menu. I am that woman at dinner, cleaning up the floor for at least the third time in any given day, feeling some measure of relief that the night has come on. I am that woman, noting curiously to myself that (one of ?) my favorite thing(s?) about school vacations and weekends is not having to think so quickly each day about the family’s needs for breakfast and lunch.
Now, to be fair, I should not give the impression that I do this alone. My husband also gets funny looks over dinner; he also cleans up tables and floors. The kids do too, some of the time. But, there’s something special about being a mom, where the onus of this work finds its seemingly native placement (regardless of whether culturally constructed or divinely purposed) in her hands.
It is a funny reflection for me as we approach Mother’s Day, and it reminds me that I don’t like Mother’s Day too well (well, really, at all, to be honest). Note, I feel like a blasphemer for uttering such a thing. For, I love my mom dearly. I love my grandmothers, all of whom have now passed away. I love my mother-in-law. I love my friends who are moms. I love being a mom to my beautiful children. I am grateful for every opportunity to know and parent my kids. I love my two boys totally, crazily, fiercely. But, I do not love Mother’s Day. It seems like, well, a bit of a lie to me, packaged in floral wrap and pink ribbon. Here’s what the cards should really say:
Today we are going to express our gratitude with some flowers and a lunch at ____________________ (please insert your favorite chain restaurant). The lunch will be overpriced and probably give you diarrhea, but we love you and don’t want you to have to cook. We also do not wish to cook and/or clean up after it.
I (pick one):
- A) pre-ordered these flowers to get the best price; or
- B) paid too much for these but did it anyway to show how much I care,
I (pick one):
- A) bought this greeting card from the $0.95 section to get the best price; or
- B) paid $7.95 for this artisan greeting card to show how much I care.
- Please ignore the purchase price on our credit card statement of the aforementioned items.
Today, we will make an effort to be ready for Church on time so that you do not have to yell at us to get ready as on the other fifty-one Sundays of the year.
You are the best mom in the world. We know this because you often (well – mostly) do pretty much everything around here. It is likely that we will forget to mention this until next Mother’s Day, but that’s what today is about, right! It’s your day, Ma!
(By the way, Honey, did you remember to buy a gift for my mother?)
[If you turned seventy-five this year] We also got you this silver necklace that spells in crystal beads “#1 Granny” in the colors of the grandkids’ birthstones. I ordered it from AirMall. Turns out, the chain on this thing is pretty short and thin. It probably won’t fit around your neck at this point in your life. It may break.
All of us.
As I listened to an ad this morning for 100 balloons to be sent along with your flowers if you order by Friday and enter a secret code, I asked myself, is there a better way to honor Mom? Surely there are better fixes than frozen dinners, grocery store bouquets, and chain restaurants.
As a mom, for myself if for no one else, I want to redeem Mother’s Day, but I am not sure how to do so as long as “Mother” is still on the floor picking up cereal. Mother’s cereal, the tables she sets, and the mouths she feeds, of course, should be honored every day. Every single day we should understand those life-giving women in our midst as the immanent divine, as the font of new life born of bloodshed and the sacrifice of the body, of nurturance and incarnational gift. Yet, we culturally mistake women for mules, and the once yearly greeting card convention seems to me to mock women’s condition and to reinforce some special and essentialist nature of woman’s relational service to others.
So, here since I can’t do much else, I want to apologize to my mom, to myself, and to all moms everywhere for every time I have taken us for granted and turned up my nose at breakfast. I love you moms, all of you. I will not make a “to-do” over Mother’s Day, but I will try to make over you every day because “you deserve it!”
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie is currently writing Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.
5 thoughts on “Um… Happy Mother’s Day? By Natalie Weaver”
Thank you for having the courage to write this piece since the word “mother” and the attendant meanings attached carry “sacred” weight in our culture no doubt at least in part for the reason you articulate “…the once yearly greeting card convention seems to me to mock women’s condition and to reinforce some special essentialist nature of woman’s relational service to others.” I just don’t take part in the Mother’s Day hoopla. Certainly from a commercial standpoint, I find it insulting.
“…we culturally mistake women for mules”. Now that is a powerful image!
I have to make a concentrated effort to sit down and eat with my family. I am much more comfortable “hovering over” the dinner table, waiting for them to spill, or ask for something, or disaster to strike. I credit the high chair years with this particular form of dining-specific-PTSD.
I also have no problem with room temperature food, whereas my spouse wants everything piping hot. I spoke with a friend yesterday, she confirmed her husband wants everything hot, going as far as warming the plates in the oven. I’m just used to eating last (in quiet) and by that time everything is room temperature and I’m too tired to bother with the microwave .
You youngsters would have liked my mother! She cooked supper – always a meat, a veggie and potatoes. Except on Fridays (my favourite) when we had fish, cheese macaroni from scratch, and something green…can’t remember what. Then she put it on the table and we ate or we complained. Her response was: “you have two choices, eat or go hungry” I learned to eat a great variety of foods and remain curious to this day.
Mother’s Day didn’t start out as a “Hallmark event”. It was related to WW1 and working for peace.
I think a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day would be for women all over the world to have a massive protest against wars that devour children and mothers and fathers, and to teach children better ways to resolve disputes.
change that to the US Civil War instead of WW1! I just read the article instead of going from memory!
Thank you for writing this and articulating issues I know so, so well. The details are quite different in my house — I’m the one who wants the food piping hot, and I’ve had to be very assertive with my kids and husband to teach them to come to the table when called, not five minutes later. This is also important to me as a means of honouring my work and the food. My biggest challenge is juggling various needs and wants — vegetarians, carnivores, no-hot-spice, no-onions-they-give-me-gas, no seafood, when-I-grew-up-we-had-potatoes-every-day-and-that’s-how-I-like it, etc etc — while leaving room for my needs. There are huge cultural forces at play, such as patriarchy and the Jewish ‘balabusta’ tradition. For me it has been a huge lesson in assertiveness. And it raises interesting questions around the balance between asserting our rights — saying no, we won’t do this, or at least not alone — and on the other hand building or perhaps demanding respect for the immensely sacred and life-giving basis of our nurturing and serving work. The first approach is more of what I think of as a classic 20th Century feminist approach, and the second flirts with a more essentialist angle. I try to do both. I get very discouraged at times. Reading this article has helped me refocus and re-commit to this personal work. What a great mothers’ day gift!