The beginnings of the Mother’s Day holiday are a matter of controversy. Was Mother’s Day originally an anti-war holiday founded by Julia Ward Howe? Was it founded by Anna Jarvis to commemorate the death of her mother, or did Hallmark dream it up in an attempt to get Americans to part with their money?
Personally, I’m less interested in the origins of the holiday than I am in what Mother’s Day-or, even more specific, what being a mother-really means.
I used to think that when I became a mother, Mother’s Day would be all about me. And my first year as someone’s mother was my day, all right-I was treated like the Queen Mother by my husband and my clueless but affectionate and always-up-for-a-party toddler.
But after that, things shifted. I began to learn what being a mother really meant, and as my own mother, 74 this year, continued to age, I valued my role as her daughter more. Mother’s Day was a time to celebrate my incredible mom and an occasion to cherish the two little girls who gave me the title I cherish even more than “mother”-“Mommy.” And in a way, that’s fitting, because that’s what, in the purest sense, a good mother does: put other people first.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have lives of our own, that we have to sacrifice our inner selves on an altar of daughterhood or motherhood. Mothers who love their children, and daughters who love their mothers, give because they want to. They are lucky enough to be filled with a love that begs to be shared.
For me, it means that sitting, day after day, at my older daughter’s sport practices, isn’t a sacrifice but a privilege. It’s where I want to be. It means making homemade banana bread although a good book beckons, because the look on my younger daughter’s face when she tells me I make the best banana bread in the world because “it’s filled with love, Mommy,” is worth more than all the great books in the world put together. If you are a mother, you have your own examples.
It doesn’t mean that I always do what my mother says (sorry, Mom) but it does mean that I don’t call her on it every time she nags me (only every third time). Because I know, and she knows I know, that she nags for the same reason I sit at sports practices or make banana bread. It might mean that you center your days around your aging mother’s health or, as Sara Glantz so movingly writes in her “YourStory” essay this issue, you wipe her hemorrhoids even though she’s not always sure who are.
Whether you celebrate as a mother, daughter, or neither of the above, I hope you have special memories of a woman (or women) who mothered you. Happy Mother’s Day!