I decided this year that I wanted to give myself a Mother's Day card. The equilibrium that had been knocked askew by children's departures for college and work has been restored -- no, reformulated -- and I have been filling the vacuum left by their withdrawal from my daily life with my own thoughts and reflections. What happened over the past quarter-century of being a mother? What does it mean to be a mother now? While I know my children will call me and that my husband will give me flowers, I want to pick my own card to help me ruminate on these questions.
So I went to the stationery store hoping to find myself in the racks of Mother's Day greetings. The first group of cards I sifted through included those that depict what I have dubbed the "glue stick moms." These show families in various states of anxiety and collapse because Mom is taking a break from holding the house and everyone's lives together.
Next came the tributes to the "modern mom." In these cards, mothers are congratulated for being young and hip, for not being an embarrassment to their children, for being their children's best friend. They have pictures of cocktail glasses filled with colorful libations which let us know that these mothers have lives beyond home and hearth. Rather than the Sex in the City images I think these cards are meant to portray, I could only conjure images of my mother, a 1950's suburban mother, reaching for emblems of glamor in which to clothe her lack of fulfillment.
The third category, and the largest, included the cards with flowers and glittery script. "Thank you for all you do for us." "You are always there when we need you." "To the best Mom in the world." These cards struck me as slightly funereal; they elevate motherhood to sainthood, as if we are the Statue of Liberty's henchmen -- begging to be brought the tired and poor and hungry.
Where are the real mothers? Where am I?
If I were to design a line of Mother's Day cards, not only would they be to mothers, they would be from mothers. I would include one with the journal entry of a young woman up all night with her colicky baby, the poem of a mother living in a shelter that describes how she feels each morning when she opens her eyes, a photograph of a mother standing outside the door her daughter has just slammed in her face, one that shows the throbbing in the phantom umbilical cord that still connects them now caught in the door jamb. The card I would create especially for me would be filled with lists of all the ways I have tried to protect my children -- the car seats and curfews, the healthy food and helmets, the haven of safety I have always tried to be for them -- toppled by the gusts of what I haven't been able to control. I would want to read a letter from an older, wind-blown mother, an alchemist who has turned regret into wisdom.
My cards would contain the ache of motherhood, that insistent pulse that accompanies every wiped tear, every hand-clapping game, every bedtime ritual, every midnight confession, every greeting and every separation. My ache is a flower still radiating its beauty even as it can no longer remember the feel of rain. It is a breath with no exhale, a pair of shoes with worn soles waiting by the door.
These cards cannot be found in any store, but the stories we tell each other teem with them. They are a balm for the ache. What would be in the Mother's Day card you would give to yourself?