It’s Mothers’ Day, and again I feel the slight sense of disorientation that settles upon me on this day every year since I became a mother. I’ve never known quite how to feel about it, and usually I settle for slightly cynical. After all, it’s yet another of those greeting-card holidays manufactured so that some probably non-mothers can make money by convincing us that if we don’t buy stuff as some kind of homage to the women who gave us life, then we’re just not good kids.
At the risk of sounding like the Grinch, I’m not keen on this holiday. Motherhood should be celebrated, sure, but having a day for it suggests that as long as we buy the right stuff–flowers, cards, meals at restaurants–we’ve somehow shown mothers that we appreciate the fact that they’ve completely upended their lives for us every day of the year, for years and years, forever. And what about the women who would love to be mothers but can’t, for a thousand heartbreaking reasons? What about the children whose mothers were never really there for them, or worse, were truly cruel? What is this day for them but a reminder of old sorrows?
I’m fortunate to be a mother, and to have a really wonderful one, as well as a panoply of other mothers, dear family friends who’ve always treated me as one of their own little chicks. But I’ve realized that Mothers’ Day itself doesn’t particularly mean anything to me. It’s not the anniversary of the day I became a mother. It’s a day in May that somebody decided would be a great time to sell greeting cards, one of several little oases in that vast commercial desert between Valentine’s Day and Christmas.
And yet I feel obligated. I feel like an antisocial grouch for resisting it, for feeling cynical. Those greeting-card people got me. They get me every time.
On one long-gone Mothers’ Day, in my obnoxious childhood, I asked my mother why there wasn’t a Kids’ Day. Without missing a beat, she replied, “Kids’ day is 365 days a year.” Now that I’m a mother, I realize that once again, as in so many other matters, my mother was right, much to my dismay.
The work of motherhood is constant and grueling. It never ends. There is no break. When you’re away from your kids, you worry about them, or you feel guilty for enjoying being away. When you’re asleep, your dreams are all too often haunted by nightmares in which you fail to save your children. When they learn to drive, you never sleep again, from what I’ve heard. And when they grow up and move away, you long for them to return, and worry. Motherhood is something you can’t turn off. You’re a mother forever, even if the unthinkable happens and your children leave this world before you.
The work of writing is like this–yet another labor of creation, a painful birthing of precious ideas into a world that may reject them, may not accept them for who they are, may demand that they change beyond recognition. And your work is constant. You can’t turn off being a writer; even when you’re not actually typing or forming letters on a page, you’re stringing words like pearls in your mind, gleaning everyday experiences for the extraordinary, searching for flashes of insight, or just worrying that your words will never make it, that they’ll vanish into obscurity, that somehow you’ll fail them. You have faith in what you want to say, but not always in your own ability to say it.
There is no Writers’ Day that I know of, and there’s almost certainly no Writer.moms’ day. The work of writing, like the work of mothering, is constant. Usually, it is a grind. Usually, it means just making it–just getting to the end of the day with nobody bleeding or on fire, just sitting down and pounding out so many words on a keyboard. Most of my writing hours don’t end in revelation. Most of my moments with my children are not profoundly joyous. Most of writing, like most of mothering, is just plain work.
But we do it because it matters. And maybe the greeting-card people accidentally stumbled on something they still don’t realize. One day in a year we celebrate mothers. Once in a while a mother has a golden moment with her child, a moment that will live in her memory forever, replacing a thousand other memories of sleepless nights, words spoken in anger, the tedium of scrubbing playdough out of the dog’s fur–again. Once in a while, a writer weaves words that sing, that illuminate the wonders of the human heart and mind, the beauties of the cosmos.
Like Mothers’ Day, these things don’t happen all the time. They don’t happen often at all. So maybe the truth of Mothers’ Day is that there are processes that last a lifetime or longer, evolutions of the soul, that on any given day are just work. They’re not fun. They’re not glamorous or sexy or hilarious or profound or earth-shattering. But every once in a while, maybe one time in 365, something shines through, and for a moment that lingers in the imagination forever, we stand in the presence of possibility, breathing in wonder and exhaling joy.
If you’re a writer, you’re a mother. If you’re a mother, you’re a writer. You may not be raising a child. You may not be crafting a novel. But we’re all in it together, this painful, beautiful act of creation.