Mothering

Mother’s Day is a holiday honoring motherhood that is observed in different forms throughout the world, and Mother’s Day 2018 occurs this Sunday, May 13th, in the United States. The American celebration of Mother’s Day in its current form was first conceived by Anna Jarvis in 1908 following her mother’s death in 1905 as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers make for their children.

Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, Ms. Jarvis — who remained unmarried and without children her whole life — wanted to see her holiday added to the national calendar; she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood, and by 1912 many states, towns, and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday.  Ms. Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday of May in the United States as Mother’s Day.

Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans (as can most things!), who held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele, but the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.”  This celebration fell on the fourth Sunday of Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church” — the main church (or cathedral) near their home — for a special Mass.  Over time the Mothering Sunday tradition became a more secular holiday, and children would present their mothers with flowers and other signs of love and appreciation until the custom faded in popularity before merging with the American Mother’s Day in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

After telling people that I’m adopted, the most common reply is a look of shock and then some variation on the question, “So, do you know your birthmother?”  Now, thoughtful reader, I’m smart enough to understand the question, but I believe that’s an unfortunate phrase, because in every way that matters my “adoptive” mother has given birth to me.  Using the traditional parlance, without my birthmother, I wouldn’t be alive right now.  But without my adoptive mother, the real mother of my life, I wouldn’t have this life.  I wouldn’t be who I am, and that means a whole lot more to me.

You may accuse me of splitting hairs or of playing semantics, but if Mother’s Day is a day to honor the person who gave birth to me, are we pausing to remember the act of going into labor on April 3rd 52 years ago or the ongoing acts of unconditional love, steadfastness, and understanding that birthed and continue to birth the man I am today?

Op shorts

When I had just entered my teenaged years, Ocean Pacific or “Op” shorts were the must-have clothing item for the well dressed Southern California boy.  And like any fashion trend, they were expensive.  We were well-off, but not extravagant, and an overpriced pair of corduroy shorts that I would just outgrow in a year or two would be an extravagance.  But it was my mother who recognized how “important” those shorts were to me, a gangly budding gay boy with a mop of dirty blond hair struggling to “fit in” with the other boys, who had already figured out I didn’t like girls and had given me a few choice and very hurtful nicknames.

So she concocted an ingenious plan.

Now J. C. Penney was a department store in the next town over, Burbank, where all of my clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs from my cousin Jimmy Atkinson, who was exactly two years older than me and about the same height and build, came from.  My mom had seen an ad in the paper that Penney’s had knock-off corduroy shorts that looked just like Op-s, minus the logo on the left thigh of course, at a reasonable price.  So she bought a pair, cut out an ad for Op shorts from the paper as her guide, and with needle and thread in hand embroidered me an Op logo that fooled even my friends Chris Esposito and Gene Wood.  Mom and I never “spoke” about it, before or after.   But I knew, I have always known, what she did.  And why.

Sorry, I digress. The point of that story was to demonstrate that “mothering” has nothing to do with biology, giving birth, or really even gender.  It is about love, and sacrifice.  It is quiet and does not make demands.  It understands even when others don’t.  It goes the extra mile.  It is supportive, encouraging, and unwavering in its optimism.

 mbw@12

Her handiwork is hidden by the book on my desk, but that’s me wearing my “Op” shorts


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