Mother’s Day: A Manifesto of Sorts

A few days earlier, my husband looked at the calendar, and then up at me with slight alarm: “It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday, what do you want to do?”

I am not a hearts-and-flower type who expects gifts, but even still, my husband feels an urge, annually, to mark the occasion. He’s proud that I am a mother to our son, and I’m proud he’s proud.

I considered. That day, our son, who has constant medical issues, has a doctor’s appointment, one we have to travel to two hours by car. I loathe driving. My husband therefore drives. The doctor, herself a mother, also holds special weekend hours so parents like us, whose children’s medical needs often overflow the bounds of normal days and weeks, can work in a visit in an atmosphere pleasantly detached from the frenzy of the workweek. Our son’s school, which co-ordinates with his doctors, has been inquiring when he’s going to see this particular one next, and when I let them know the date, they exclaimed, “But that’s Mother’s Day!” as if that somehow couldn’t be.

For me, I couldn’t ask for anything more: a day my husband and I spend for the sake of our son, made possible by another mother who works to make our lives a little bit easier.

I have friends who actively solicit the cards and brunches and flowers starting when they were pregnant. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just never occurred to me that being a mother comes with something else to want. I also don’t put a lot of stock in conforming to societal norms; on Monday, when people ask me what I did/got for Mother’s Day, I may get funny looks, but I’ll be happy to tell them exactly how we celebrated: we spent the day driving to another state to see a doctor, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Last year, I wrote about how Mother’s Day has become a commercial perversion of its founder’s original intent. Julia Ward Howe’s 1879 manifesto was a call to prevent war, ergo the deaths of mothers’ children, where the cry was “Disarm! disarm!” and not “Brunch! Brunch!”

This year, my suggestion is a modest proposal, a secondary manifesto suggesting we begin treating Mother’s Day as a generative holiday and not a consumerist one, where:

1. We start by including everyone. Mother’s Day is for humans: people who’ve borne and/or raised children as well as those who haven’t, including men and trans-people. Anyone can be a mother of invention. No need to have a holiday that annually excludes wide swaths of the population, such as the purposely (and environmentally-minded) childfree; or rubs salt in the wounds of the motherless, the orphaned, the children who don’t have good relationships with their mothers, DES daughters, people who’ve lost their children to war, miscarriage, accident.

2. We next recognize that the real mother on whom we all depend is Mother Earth. While I imagine that this Sunday, people like the Koch brothers will wax sentimental about their mothers, while gazing maybe even tearfully at their children and grandchildren, they cannot escape the fact that their life’s work, if it succeeds, will generate giant oil-slicked hills of lucre, but ultimately leave not only their children and grandchildren but all children a legacy of the earth as a toxic hellhole–and that’s if the earth will still be surviving planetary pollution and climate change. For Mother’s Day, do something to honor your Mother. Hug a tree. Plant a tree. Recycle. Pick up garbage. Fight against the Kochs’ fight against solar energy.

3. Just say no. This year’s advertising theme (judging from my inbox) is WHAT SHE REALLY WANTS!: an expensive watch, liquor, jewelry, a luxury car, a day at the spa. Let’s detach this day from acquiring and consuming. I don’t even want a $5 card that a tree had to die for. I don’t want to be coerced into eating a price-inflated brunch. And as a daughter, for the mothers in my life (there are several, not just biological), I plan to send one of the things I value the most, my writing, and on recycled paper. Free yourself from the transactional nature of showing love with money. Even e-cards have ads.

4. If we’re going to have a holiday fetishizing motherhood defined as a female raising/bearing a child, then ask for what you really want. How about changing the fact that the U.S. — unlike Pakistan, Mexico, and Venezuela — offers zero weeks of paid maternity leave for working mothers (Canada offers 50)? In the U.K., new mothers receive monthly stipends from the government for incidentals. In France, besides the famous subsidized government daycare system, post-partum therapists make housecalls to exercise labor-stretched vaginas back into sexual shape (i.e., mothers are sexual beings along with being mothers). In many cultures, thirty days past birth traditionally is spent resting and bonding with the baby. In America, we brag if the mom is performing surgery or back in Congress three days post-partum, celebrities are shown out in their “skinny jeans” (their children’s nannies carefully blocked out of photos). Is this what we in society should aspire to?

5.  Being a mother — of any sort — is generative, so pass on kindness like it’s going out of style (it is). On the subway this week, a pregnant woman entered our car, timorously asking for food. Everyone else averted their eyes, as if a hungry pregnant woman (and her fetus) were somehow shameful. I happened to have a container of pistachios in my bag, which I promptly gave her. “And it’s organic!” I called after her, then felt like some kind of parody of an Upper West Side liberal. But upon reflection, I thought to myself, that outburst wasn’t a bad thing, that urge to inform her, to reassure that her food was clean and nontoxic. What mother wouldn’t want the best, most nourishing food for her fetus, whether she is homeless of not?

6.  Mother’s Day kindness should extend to everyone. “And it’s organic! And it’s organic!” For a night and an entire day, I went over that encounter in my mind, replaying it and examining it for signs I had been patronizing, or ridiculous and somehow caused the exact opposite of what I’d intended. But then I stopped mentally kicking myself. A lady asked for food, I gave her some. I passed on kindness, and now I’ll pass some back to myself: be a mother, be kind to yourself, as well.

Marie Myung-Ok Lee