I wish my children would forget and ignore Mother’s Day. I’ve said, in the past, that I didn’t want anyone to bother recognizing the day for me. The older two seem content to ignore it, now, but the younger two have school projects that involve the whole class making cards or pictures for their mothers, and so of course I’m included in that.
I never wanted to be a mother. The fact that I love my four children and find them to be neat human beings does not change the fact that they owe their existence to their father’s wishes and my religious indoctrination, and that I had to walk through a great deal of pain, emotional and physical, to bring them into the world. I certainly don’t wish to have that trauma placed on a pedestal, as if it were a sacrifice I embraced heartily and of my own free will.
Beyond that, I wish I could ignore Mother’s Day when it came to my mother and my mother-in-law. I doubt my husband will exert himself to contact his mother* so it will fall on me, and I will be forced to have an awkward conversation with her while attempting to pass the phone as quickly as I can to my own children, because they still love her and will actually enjoy speaking with her. As for my mother…
My mother is a sweet, caring person, that also happens to have signs of a major mental illness that she has controlled and hidden all these years in the comfort and disguise of her religious beliefs. It seems to be marked by paranoia, a fixation on apocalyptic, end-of-the-world beliefs, personal zealotry and an almost near-total failure to accept that her paranoia and fear might be something coming from inside her own head rather than from the spirit of God.
She infected me with her homophobia, creating an emotional wedge between my dad and I, fostering suspicion about his partner that prevented me from ever truly becoming close or trusting them. Now his partner has died, and I’ll never get the chance to build that trusting relationship with both of them, and must hope my dad’s grief doesn’t shorten his life as well, before I’ve built a better relationship.
I believed, based on what she told me, and how I observed people treating my dad after he came out, that being gay must be the most horrific sin in the world and I told myself that I was straight, straight, straight, straight, and would not break through that repression until aged 37, when I had finally dropped the religion and the guilt long enough to realize that I was bi.
She taught me that marriage and motherhood were a woman’s highest calling, and that children weren’t that expensive, and that God would provide, and sent me a link to the website Ladies Against Feminism, and because I loved her and trusted her and looked up to her I plunged into that world of conservative, submissive, anti-feminist womanhood and tried to be the best I could be and fulfill that highest calling even as it crushed the life out of me because it was not my calling, and the God she helped birth in my head did not exist.
I found out that children are very expensive. Some could argue that God provided, but if so, over the years, during various times when my husband and I were both unemployed, he worked through the hand of the state in the form of unemployment checks, WIC and SNAP. We’re doing okay, now, thanks to my husband pulling himself together and working hard over the years to get his career to a better place. Even so, we pour money like water into groceries, housing and utilities, all of which are significantly more expensive with children, especially if you want to live in a decent school district.
Motherhood also took many things I valued from me, some of which I will never get back. I can still hear a voice in my head telling me that it’s shallow to care about the slim body and amazing metabolism I lost. That sacrifice is necessary and that I wouldn’t have turned art into a career, anyway. But guilt over possible selfishness can’t negate the reality that being without a degree in today’s world is a true drawback, and that obtaining a degree now will be much harder and more expensive than it would have been to obtain it before having children, when my family’s poverty meant I qualified for the Pell grant and did not have to pay out of pocket, or take loans.
So I traded the body I liked, the art I enjoyed, my dreams of travel, my sleep, my peace of mind, my social life, delayed my pursuit of writing for years, my education and career prospects for something I did not want and, in fact, dreaded. Secretly I would have welcomed infertility.
Now, of course, my children exist and I love them and I am fully aware that they did not make a choice to join existence, I helped make that choice for them. And so I’ve done my best to hold myself together and be a decent parent to them, to give them love and patience and teach them an ethics and strength of character that aren’t based on religion and don’t include expectations about their life choices, other than my desire that they be kind as much as possible, stand up for themselves, respect the boundaries of others and enforce their own boundaries when necessary.
But this is a duty I, and every person that helps bring another person into the world, should undertake without expectation of reward, without expectation of being placed on a pedestal simply for behaving the way a decent human being should behave. I don’t want enforced recognition that carries guilt if it’s ignored. Spontaneous displays of affection and appreciation from my children will always mean far more to me, and won’t carry the emotional baggage of Mother’s Day.
*Edit: I did my husband a disservice, he did reluctantly reach out to his mom yesterday so I did not have to myself.