Guilt and the Modern Mother’s Day

I can’t help thinking Anna Jarvis would be proud.

Yesterday, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were flooded with meaningful posts and photographs commemorating mothers of all ages.

Many of us felt joy seeing photos showing generations of hard-working moms grouped together, younger versions of moms whose minds or bodies have suffered and tributes to those who have left us too soon.

blog - Justin mother's dayYesterday the nation’s 85 million mothers – as well as their children and spouses — celebrated the fruits of Anna Jarvis’ labors. Jarvis, a native of Webster, WV, is considered the driving force behind Mother’s Day’s founding 100 years ago.

The tenth of 13 children born to Granville and Ann Jarvis, Anna gained inspiration from her mother as she embarked on a meaningful career, and cared for her mom in her later years.

Her idea for giving mothers their day in the sun came to fruition when Jarvis was nearly 60 years old, as President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Mother’s Day.

Yes, the holiday has been over-commercialized, and many of us cringe at the sappy TV commercials, the endless racks of greeting cards and the bountiful, over-priced displays of chocolates and flowers.

Jarvis experienced the beginnings of this commercialization, and, according to the book Women Who Made a Difference, once stated that “a printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself.”

I hope Permission Slips readers were able to convey and receive meaningful messages yesterday. Most important, I hope you treasured the teacher-led classroom projects, the hand-written cards, the texts, voicemails and electronic tributes. (Pictured here is a Mother’s Day painting from my second son, a dozen years ago. It still hangs in my office.)

And, finally, I give you mothers permission to continue to struggle with this lifelong, confusing, contradictory, overwhelming and incredibly rewarding job. In my opinion, this conundrum is best explained by the esteemed essayist Anna Quindlen, who gives mothers permission to accept their imperfections and mistakes. I, for one, take solace in these words.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 12 May 2014
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Permission to Skip Mother’s Day

I hate Mother’s Day.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of celebrating all that we moms do for our families. I’m glad that on one day each year, children are urged to consider their mothers’ value, and husbands must acknowledge our role in the household machine.

I love flowers and chocolate and the notion that I can take one out of every 365 days off.

photo (5)I adore my kids’ homemade cards and, when they were younger, teacher-driven art projects. I absolutely treasure my four ladybug paperweights (rocks painted red and black), four beautiful “What My Mother Means to Me” poems paired with watercolor irises, four sunflower pins, four Native American pinch bowls and ceramic kimonos.

I’m glad for the reminder to reach out to my own mother. But also, I’m reminded that I could be a better daughter. I should call more often. I should visit more than once or twice a year. I should try to improve my kids’ connections with her…

Every year, as the big day approaches, my emotions mount. I tear up during Johnson & Johnson commercials, feel overwhelmed in the Walgreen’s cards section (should I go funny or thoughtful this year?) and start to feel regret for my failures as a daughter and a mother.

I hate the pressure that Mother’s Day carries. If we moms only get one day in the sun, it had better be spectacular, right?

I try to envision the warm feeling I will experience on Sunday morning, as my adoring husband and perfectly behaved four children, two large dogs and ginger tabby gather around.

And then, I remember.

Breakfast in bed is always a disaster. I am an early riser, and like to set the household wheels in motion while my energy surges. Laundry, email and writing or editing projects need attention. The sink brims with evidence of the boys’ late-night snacks: cups caked with fruit-smoothie residue, bowls with drying chunks of salsa and knives smeared with peanut butter. The dishwasher must be emptied. The garbage stinks of last night’s salmon dinner.

The dogs are hungry and nudge me for a walk. The cat wants fresh food and water.

The New York Times Style section awaits.

However, if tradition holds, my daughter will saunter into the kitchen when she hears the silverware clanging, and order me back in bed. She will rouse my husband, and, from my bedroom above the kitchen, I will listen to 30 minutes of mayhem as they prepare my “breakfast in bed.”

Of course, I love the thought behind this breakfast, and it is always delivered with love. But in that half-hour confined to my bed, I can’t help considering all the chores left undone, and the mess that awaits below.

Perhaps worst of all, I can’t keep my expectations in check.

I expect my husband to deliver the perfect gift. He is incredibly thoughtful and generous, and I know he would get me anything I wanted. And yet, I believe that if he loves me enough, he should inherently know what I want. He should have been paying attention to my hints. He should be able to put the right words into a card. Right?


I expect the kids to be kind to me, and to each other, all day long. When they were younger, I would often yell, on that most glorious of all Sundays, “Can’t we all just get along?” (Rodney King, RIP.)

With that kind of pressure, who wouldn’t crack?

Yes, dear readers, I fully acknowledge that this is my problem. I should look at the glass half-full. I should appreciate every gesture from my husband and kids. I should value their efforts and know they love me, despite the messes, the fussing and the fighting.

I am working on it.

And so, this year, I chose to give everyone a break on Mother’s Day.

I heard the mountains calling, and decided to grab the dogs and get out of Dodge.

My sweet daughter (who has yet to roll her eyes at me, although I know that day will come soon), asked if she could come along. “I really don’t want to spend Mother’s Day without you,” she pleaded.

I knew the others would be fine. The oldest has work, the second has sports and parties and the third has homework, friends and “car stuff” to occupy them this weekend. My husband can catch up on work emails, watch Mariner’s games and celebrate the holiday with his parents and siblings later on.

I knew that removing myself from the mix would ease the pressure on the men in my life. More importantly, heading for the hills would lower my own expectations for the day.

Right now, on a quiet, calm, Mother’s Day morning, the rain drips steadily from the eves outside my window. Fog lifts slowly from the evergreens. The dogs rest lazily at my feet. I hear the rhythmic breathing of my sleeping 13-year-old. I am savoring a cup of decaf, and will soon enjoy a bowl of yogurt and fruit.

I have no great plans for the day, other than to walk the dogs through the woods, catch up on a few episodes of “Downton Abbey” and dig into the latest book-club selection.

Happy Mother’s Day to all who are, or have, cherished moms. It’s your day, so live it your way.

Linda Williams Rorem, Mother’s Day, 2013

Mom Down

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and stores are festooned with celebratory banners reminding us to honor all things Momish and to commemorate contributions to family life.  My stay-at-home dad friend, Tom, often proclaims, “Mom is a job description not a gender.” Today, I applaud the Mom of the house, whether it is a she or a he.

The mom-job broadly speaking is to operate the central nervous system of the family unit. The advertising agency for United Parcel Service (UPS) developed a tag-line, “We love logistics.” It is without a doubt that they came up with that line while observing the electromagnetic signals emanating from a mom’s brain.brain-waves control tower

Nobody knows logistics like a mom.

Our brains hold millions of information bits that may require retrieval at any moment. We need to simultaneously know the time and date of a doctor appointment, the shoe size of our youngest child and the location of the “hidden” ketchup bottle in the refrigerator. We must know when a birthday present needs to be purchased, when a carpool time needs to be swapped and which volunteer spot needs to be filled one month from Friday. We must keep the food-supply and medical-supply chain filled at all times and know the directions to Grandma’s 85th birthday party in the next state.

When a mom goes down, it is akin to the central air-command server crashing. It is a finely balanced house of cards that collapses when the critical piece is removed. I’ve seen it happen to families and it is not pretty. However, the army of “moms” at-the-ready is a majestic sight to behold.

Last week, I was the “mom down.” My husband had a freak accident that resulted in emergency surgery. He is recovering and on the mend but there were some scary moments. My hats off to the “special forces” that appeared.

  1. First Responders. Thank you to my “wingmen.” I called them while following an ambulance. I didn’t explain much, yet asked them to get medical information retrieved and vetted. These moms got back to me within 40 minutes. They pulled favors and people out of meetings to get the important information I needed fast.
  2. Meals on Wheels. Food appeared. I have kids at home who were bewildered and upset as I tried to update them from the hospital. A meal appeared that night and each night after. One of our favorite deliveries was from a dad who was concerned about our teenage boys getting fed. Biggest bowl of pasta ever. He must have used 5 pots to prepare.
  3. Rapid Transit. My kids got to where they needed to go. Pick-up and delivery service with a smile.
  4. Visitors. My husband’s friends provided a steady stream of good cheer at the hospital and at home.
  5. Humor. A little levity goes a long way to defuse a tense time. Thank you to all the friends who masked their worried looks and managed to get us laughing.

Even though the mom in this situation was not the injured person, the control tower was taken out of play. My friend told me that when she heard the news she sprung into action knowing there was a mom down in the neighborhood.

Happy Mother’s Day to the moms and dads who pitched in without asking and those who asked how they could pitch in. It was humbling and I am so appreciative. Our family is now “mom up,” with all the extra support.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

May 6, 2013


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