Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Day, Part II..and this one has nothing to do with Jackie Turner driving me crazy.

In a post long, long ago, I discussed my contradictory feelings toward rather randomly-and/or-arbitrarily-date-selected "holidays" like Groundhog Day, Labor Day, President's Day, Mother's Day (if you can find the exact post, good work you little sleuth you...because I sure can't find it). The basic point was as follows: Sure, most holidays benefit card companies and inspire us to give the impression, via words and actions that seem offered as much for our own self-aggrandizement as for an expression of gratitude, that we are far more sentimental than we actually are. At the same time, however, those who get on high horses and go on and on about appreciating parents, service men and women, and blue collar workers EVERY day rather than on one designated date on the calendar can be just as annoying as all those hokey, pastel, calligraphized cards I mentioned in the last post. Quit being dumb. Of course I love my country on more days than July 4. Of course I find my mother worthy of recognition on more days than a particular Sunday in May. Of course I know in non-November months that white settlers stole land from Native Americans. Holidays are fun and sometimes it is nice to do something, or buy a gift, for someone you love. How about we just leave it at that?

One article in connection with this discussion that has particularly interested me since I read it a few years ago, is one written by Anne Lamott (a favorite author of mine).  In this article, which I by no means agree with in its entirety, Lamott questions Mother's Day on the basis of these arguments: 1. it elevates mothers above other women who have chosen to or cannot have children. 2. it tends to ignore all those non-birth "mothers" who have nurtured us perhaps as much as, if not more so, than our actual mothers. 3. it plays into the notion that "true" love and self-sacrifice can only be known through parenthood.

As a non-mother, here is my take...

I didn't feel bad last Sunday.  I would never want pity or for others to assume that I sat around wondering, "Why isn't there a day for ME?" If I rolled my eyes when glancing at Facebook it was because public displays of affection of any sort tend to make me gag, not because it was some defensive physical embodiment of my biological clock. I would never want mothers to feel bad about recognition simply because there are those of us who do not have children, just as I would never want someone to feel guilty for mentioning their dad around me on Father's Day. Just because I do not have something, does not mean that I'm so selfish that I can't be happy for those who do.

In regard to Lamott's third point, I do think she is on to something here. Although I am not sure on the accuracy or source of her data, she mentions that roughly 98% of American parents seem to feel that unless one has been a parent, their capacity for love is diminished, that "non-parents can't possibly know what it is to love unconditionally." This point also reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert's in Committed (I highly recommend) whereby she argues, "all too often, those of us who choose to remain childless are accused of being somehow unwomanly or unnatural or selfish." In both cases, the conclusion is the same: "they are not like us." Regardless of the validity of these general claims (and really, how could we ever really test this?), I would guess that they are assumptions most parents do secretly hold to some degree.

And you know, you parents might be right. I'm sure you want to roll your eyes when I talk about how I love my dogs like they are my children.  I know that when I talk about the privilege of being a stepmother to a wonderful, wonderful child, most of you probably think "that doesn't really count." I realize that being an aunt carries very little of the responsibility of a parent.  Nevertheless, I also know, without hesitation, that I would give my life for any of those mentioned above.  I know what I feel is not just something "kind of like" love.

I can't be defined by something I am not; thus to suggest that my ability to give of myself is relative to, and less than, a parent seems just as arbitrary as our national fascination with a groundhog coming out of a hole.
I am fully aware that this quote somewhat challenges the point I just made (that the roles we play do not have to be in competition with one another), but I love Jane Austen and I love that being an aunt is one of the roles that does define me.

"I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible. Now that you have become an Aunt, you are a person of some consequence." - Jane Austen

1 comment:

  1. "I love my dogs like they are my children." It made me think of this story, which I heard while driving to Baltimore and listening to "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage." By another one of our favorite Anns :)