This time last year we were well into a pandemic, already exhausted (especially if we were the mothers of small children) and heartbroken. If we were lucky, we waved to our own mothers on Mother’s Day, gingerly and from a distance. If you’re like me, you spent last Mother’s Day crying, because you missed your own mother and because being a mother had become intensely hard beyond any imagining and there seemed to be no end in sight to the guilt, to the too muchness of everything.
A year later: Some things are better. I am endlessly grateful that my own little tribe got through. My family is vaccinated and on Mother’s Day, my husband and two kids and I are going to see my mother-in-law and my own mother, and throw a big brunch, and do some of the delightful tender work of reconnecting. My partner makes a mean frittata. Maybe some flowers will be exchanged.
But oh, golly, it’s also an awfully strange year to be getting all these chipper e-reminders to buy something. If anything, this year has reminded us that this one commodified day which tries to thank overworked mothers in the form of highly marketed consumer goods cannot possibly compensate for the terrible care-less care economy that shapes America every day of the year.
And this year especially. This was a year when parenting was shocking: Schools and childcare disappeared from our lives and the whole world become dangerous, but we had to keep working anyway. Despite fear and heartbreak and isolation and threat and mass illness even of loved ones, we had to go on building some semblance of a safe world for our kids while we worked, too.
The brunt of this year’s tribulations fell on mothers, who often lost their jobs or shelved their dreams or tried to juggle way, way too much. Economists talked about a women’s recession. Doctors talked about an uptick in binge drinking.
This Mother’s Day I want to say: Yes, this year ripped us open and tested us beyond our wildest dreams, and no, it was not OK. And no, after a year of homeschooling and running on empty, no, the $600 pleated dress that Coach is trying to sell me as a consolation prize doesn’t feel close to hitting the mark.
What I want is so much bigger than that. What I’d love is for somebody to offer free, abundant high-quality childcare to all our nation’s kids. What I’d love is economic practices and job practices that support me and others in being a good parent. What I want is more support for all our nation’s families.
It’s worth remembering that Mother’s Day in the US had activist origins. In antebellum Appalachia, Ann Reeves Jarvis helped start “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to help local women (and later organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day” when mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to foster reconciliation). Abolitionist Julia Ward Howe (best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” calling on mothers to pursue world peace. Temperance fighters and other activists organized other local Mother’s Day celebrations in the late 19th century, and the official holiday arose in the 1900s as the result of Ann Reeves Jarvis’s daughter Anna’s efforts to honor her mother after she died in 1905.
The pandemic has been a wake-up call that it’s time to take Mother’s Day back to its revolutionary roots. This didn’t start out as a greeting-card holiday. It came into being as a series of grassroots expressions of the need for a better world.
This is a year when we need – as much as we ever have – to build that world. If you were lucky, like we were, you eventually sent your kids to school outdoors in a tent up the street and showed up to put the tent back up again after it blew down in the winter rainstorms. As you rebuilt the tent in the damp cold air you repeated how lucky you were to have this option, to send your kids to school in the rickety tent you were rebuilding between rainstorms.
But basically, the infrastructure of caring for kids in America, even with things reopening, still feels too much like that blown over tent. The people who care for our kids so we can work deserve so much more. The work they and we do to keep our kids safe and well should be recognized. The care economy has been broken for so long. This Mother’s Day, let’s make a vow to stop living with this broken system.
There have been some silver linings to the pandemic: I used to be on the road way too much; I felt like I could never say no to work travel. Now I know squarely that I love being home. Despite long exhaustion, I have come to know my kids more deeply. I’m grateful for the spaces of play we found, the big garden we grew, the chickens that became our pandemic pets. My son learned to sight-read on his violin. My daughter discovered she loves math. We deepened our community on our block. I don’t want to go back to a world that tells me that I have to work so hard to have it all: I want to live in a more just world that also allows me to savor and invest in what is already here.
But I am also a mother. And what is more here, and more worthy of real investment, than all of our kids? Excellent structures for the care of all our kids is pivotal to our health as mothers, as families, as a society. It makes perfect sense to me that Biden would have put support for working parents forward on its own and in an infrastructure bill. We need a village that supports our caretakers, our children and our mothers—in all of their myriad forms of work.
The original Mother’s Day emerged in the spirit of social transformation, of urging mothers to unite for peace so that our children would not grow up and be sent off into senseless combat.
I envision that same radical spirit today: that investing in deep care for children and families is central to our well-being of our society, of our planet. The women of the first Mother’s Day wore a red flower. I am ready for a new kind of Mother’s Day. Are you, too? I wonder what our new symbol should be.
#Opinion #ready #kind #Mothers #Day