Every year on Mother's Day weekend for as long as I can remember, my four kids and I have packed the Suzuki full of tents, sleeping bags, sleds and s'mores fixings for our annual camping trip to Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park. The sand dunes are the largest freestanding dunes in North America, and they are one of my happy places, full of good memories. We hike on the sand, chasing (and sometimes catching) lizards and snakes. We cool off in the lake and try to avoid fire ants. We join other families in hiking up one of the smaller dunes and sledding down. At night, we wait our turn to look through the giant telescope at star clusters and galaxies hundreds of light years away.
The two largest dunes are the park's main attraction. In the early evening when the air is cool but the sand is still warm, we hike the big dunes. It's not an easy hike, as anyone used to sand will know. You have to plant your feet, go slowly and expect some sliding. But when you reach the ridge and can see miles of Idaho countryside greened by spring rains, the silver ribbon of the Snake River in the distance and sweeping skies that feel like falling in love for the first time, it's all worth it. We pause for a moment to rest before the real fun begins. Once we have hiked the length of the ridge back to the trail head, we leap in giant strides, like moon walkers, then fall and roll down the dune's face, laughing and hooting with pure joy.
Part of the reason I usually leave town is that I'm uncomfortable with Mother's Day and always have been. Last year, when another friend expressed similar discomfort on her Facebook page as everyone else was posting pictures of their wonderful mothers, I snarked, "Mother's Day. a.k.a Guilt Trip Day. a.k.a 'Just Pay Me the Same as a Man and Skip the Flowers' Day."
The fact that I'm not fond of Mother's day does not mean I don't love my mother. My Mom is one of those remarkable people who seem quiet enough when you first meet them, and then you learn that she raised six kids after her husband died from cancer, earned two Masters degrees, loves to write and direct children's theater, can build a house from the ground up and hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney at the age of 64, mainly (I think) because she wanted the summit photo as her Christmas card picture.
Maybe it's my Mom who taught me not to be comfortable with Mother's Day. From an early age, she reminded me to be sensitive to the following groups of people who shared my gender:
1. Women who are not mothers, for whatever reason.
2. Women who are raising their children on their own, for whatever reason.
3. Women who have lost a child or children, for whatever reason.
4. Women who have lost their own mothers, for whatever reason.
For all these women, Mother's Day can bring more sorrow than it does joy. And instead of passing women-friendly legislation, or putting more women on corporate boards, or electing more women representatives, or fighting for women's reproductive rights, or passing living wage laws that mostly help single moms, or helping mothers with families in mental health crisis, we relegate the whole "Mother" thing to a single day characterized by sappy cards and Champagne Brunch (Note to my sweet husband: I am not complaining about the Champagne Brunch!).
We're going to Bruneau next weekend. The forecast promises sunny skies and clear night for star gazing. As I look at those star clusters, millions of light years from earth, I'll think about how far we as a society still have to go to make every day a Mother's Day. But I will also think about how grateful I am to share this happy place with four children who shower me with love on that day, and every day.