Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Message: Twisted

This morning I am considering how Mother's Day began as a day for mothers to oppose war--so, as Julia Ward Howe wrote, "Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage…Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience."--and became a tool of commerce as the florist and other industries taught us to honor our mothers by spending money on flowers, cards, candy, jewelry and more.

Show Mom You Love Her
"Show Mom You Love Her" is not a bad recommendation, but, shouldn't the activity occur more than once a year? Do you have to buy a card, or flowers, or anything, in order to show love toward your Mum? Does an annual response to mass-marketing really honor the woman who gave you life?

When my children were young, I incorporated Mr. Rogers' "Many Ways" song into their upbringing. "There are many ways to say I love you. There are many ways to say I care about you...." Mr. Rogers would sing examples of actions that say "I love you," and I adapted the song to reflect my values, to teach my children how they could show love to me- and others, in the everyday. "There's the picking up your room so I don't break my toes when I come in to kiss you good-night way to say 'I love you'...." and "...the speaking kindly to me way to say to say 'I care about you'..."

I also gave my girls an object lesson in the cycle of giving and receiving. Setting two clear plastic cups on the table, I told them, "one is your cup and one is mine," then I put colorful glass "jewels" --borrowed from our Mancala game--into the cups, about half in each. Taking jewels from "my" cup and putting them one by one into "your" cup, I talked about each bit of glass as I placed it into the new container. "When I cook dinner for you, I am giving you a gift, a jewel, a treasure." I included other examples, like, "when I set up a play date with your friend...take you to the you find your you to the library so you can pick up your book on hold...take care of you when you are sick..." and so on.

After a dozen or so examples, my cup of jewels was wiped out. "Now look! My cup is empty. I have nothing left to give you. So when you need to go somewhere, want me to fix your toy that broke, need a bandage on your knee...I don't have a jewel to give you."

After letting that sink in a little, I gave them the rest of the picture. Taking some jewels from "your" cup, I started placing them into "my" cup, one by one, with the explanation, "But you can give me jewels, too! When you come up and give me a big hug, that is a gift, a jewel, a treasure. When you do your chores conscientiously, without my having to check up on you, then you are putting a jewel in my cup. I gave further examples until the cups were again about even in the number of jewels.

"Now, since you gave jewels back to me, I have some to give to you, when you need something, or when I just feel like giving you one. It is a cycle of love, me giving to you, you giving to me."

This lesson made a big impression on my daughters, one that they remember even today. My 5'8" ninteen-year-old still comes to sit on my lap now and then. My almost-as-tall-as-her-sister younger daughter, at sixteen, still tips her head so I can plant a good-night kiss on her forehead. They sometimes pick a vase full of flowers for "no particular reason," and they often have dinner ready when I come home, because they know it is a jewel that fills my cup in the cycle of love.

The Hallmark Power Drain
The concerted effort to turn Mother's Day from a day of conscientious observation--a day of protest, even--into a Hallmark holiday, where a card and a gift "That Says 'I Love You'", has drained away the power of the original intention. The co-opting has stripped women's power from the holiday, sublimating that to the passive receipt of trinkets. This power, women's power to protest, to speak loudly, to stand firmly, to say, "Arise, all women who have hearts!" is potent, and has the potential to instigate much positive change. Is it wise to let the marketeers erase this vital energy from the observation that motherhood can be and is far more powerful than the sticky-sweet notion of a Shoebox Greeting?

Show your mother that you love her--today and throughout the year. But also, bring back the original intention. Take a moment to reclaim that power today, if only to read Julia Ward Howe's
"Mother's Day Proclamation," which includes, "Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God." Amen!