I’ve been seeing a thing going around lately that says: Happy Mother’s Day, including to dads who are playing the role. I get that the intent for folks who are sharing that is to be inclusive to all parents in a primary child-raising role, and I love that sentiment, but I have to say: this makes me sad for lots of reasons. The biggest is: so now we’re telling fathers that the only way they can interact parentally with their children is by “playing the role” of mother? That if they are nurturing or caring or take care of the household, now they’re mothers? By the way, what does this make mothers who work outside the home? I could go on and on, but frankly, it still shocks me how far we seem to have regressed in terms of perceived gender role stuff, just in my lifetime.
I’d like to give a shout out to my own mother. She never really went in for Mother’s Day. The year when I was 8, I decided I would make her breakfast in bed, and made sure I was up before either of my parents to do it myself. I was off to a pretty decent start, standing on a chair so I could easily reach the electric frying pan on the counter. Except… there I was cooking bacon when I must have bumped it or something because one of its feet was off the counter and it started to tip and fall. I caught it, and put it firmly back on the counter… then screamed, because in so doing, I burnt the heck out of my hand. My parents came running and ruined everything. They RUINED it! I was making Mother’s Day breakfast because I was going to do it, me, by myself, and then I make one little mistake and yell and they wouldn’t even let me finish. It was actually quite the little scene. And after that my mom always tried to make clear she didn’t wanna do anything for some Hallmark Holiday anyway.
My mom felt guilty. I could, I swear, *feel* it. At the time I thought that was stupid. But after I became a mom, I understood new things, viscerally. Like that she didn’t feel guilty that I burned my hand trying to cook bacon for her, she felt accountable and responsible for everything that ever happened to me or that I ever did. And then she spent the rest of her life dancing with that: stepping in, stepping out, turning her back, going around the outside, laughing and smiling more than anything else, until I finally broke free and ran off to be my own woman without her there to run cold water on my hand if I burned myself. And that morning, she could see that coming, and know she could never have stopped me from ever getting burnt, and all those things you think when your kid is hurt. And then there she was, feeling all of that, and I’m arguing with her that she should stop trying to run my hand under the cold water so I could finish breakfast, and she’s staying calm forcibly holding my blistered hand under cold running water and my dad says “Enough about the bacon! It’s fine.” I didn’t understand my mom as much before I was one. I couldn’t empathize with her. I didn’t get it. And I’m sorry. But I know she knew: I truly couldn’t have understood then.
After I became a mother, I would call my mother every year on this day, and apologize for something, like right now, when I’m apologizing for ever having thought, in my childhood and my teens, that she just wanted to control my life and ruin everything. I know she didn’t. She did the most amazing job ever of helping her daughter grow into the woman I am. I am ever in awe. There’s no sufficient gratitude.
There’s also no replacement, and sometimes, no solace for that.
I miss you, Chris. And thank you for all the times you said things to me just like what I said in the first paragraph. Thanks for always making me think. Thanks for encouraging me to just say things. Thanks for teaching me to argue, even if you might have wished I did it less. And thanks for teaching me my life didn’t have to be ruled by anyone else’s notions of what girls or boys, mothers or fathers, men or women, are supposed to do. The least I can do for you (on a day you never set much stock in) is to keep putting those questions out into the world.