The month of May plays host to a variety of important events: Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, junior and senior proms, high school and college graduations, NBA play-offs and Mother's Day. Although all events hold a special place in the hearts of various populations, Mother's Day is a day that resonates with all people because mothers are important to every population. They are truly loved by their children, so much so that even when mothers make mistakes, children are able to forgive them. They allow us to take over their bodies for nine months and then push us out into the world, making sure that we are loved. They are our first protectors, our first best friends and our first advocates, which is why they are first in our hearts.
It is interesting to watch superstores and major retail chains roll out advertising and special products for Mother's Day. Although I deplore the commercialization of "special" days throughout the year, Mother's Day does not bother me as much because it is important to pay homage to mothers. I'm not talking about the sanguine, mushy cards that deify mothers and promote this "ideal" version of motherhood. I am talking about the real mothers that we all know and love -- the complicated women with whom many of us have complicated relationships. Retailers truly do a disservice to the complex lives of mothers by painting "motherhood" with a broad brush of happiness and joy. We often perpetuate this notion by pretending that our mothers are perfect, when in fact they are not. Mothers are perfectly imperfect, which is what makes them perfect for us.
Mothers are not these pure and gentle creatures who simply bring joy and happiness to our lives. Mothers are somewhat implicated in this broad characterization because they are skilled at making what is perhaps the toughest job in the world look easy. Many women accomplish this task with the help of spouses, siblings, lovers and fathers, but just as many do it without adequate help or support.
Contrary to popular belief, women are not always prepared to be mothers. I am not just talking about teenagers. I am talking about women who become mothers because they believe that it is expected of them as opposed to truly wanting to be mothers. Thus, many find themselves overwhelmed by the responsibilities that constantly consume their lives. Women are often socialized to think that they are "born" to be mothers, but find out quite quickly that it is a constant process of learning, adjusting, growing and sacrificing. This constant state of stress, flux and activity can create chaos, resulting in a range of emotions. Anger, fear, sadness, guilt, stress, and anxiety are feelings that mothers experience regularly but are not frequently discussed in wide circles.
Many of us remember when model/actress Brooke Shields dared to discuss postpartum depression publicly. Shields was assailed by many, not just kooky Tom Cruise, but others who insisted that her symptoms were all in her head because she stated that she was not happy when she first became a mother. God forbid if a woman has trouble transitioning into the role of mother. We are supposed to jump in feet first and pray away the anxiety and stress that motherhood can bring. In the meantime, society promotes this image of the perfect mother, which so many of us try to embody. Ironically it is striving to meet this ideal that brings on a lot of the stress. What's even more paradoxical is that this sanitized image is the one that is most often circulated in Mother's Day promotions and products.
In spite of it all, many women are able to succeed as mothers, albeit different types of mothers. Mother's Day is important, but it is just as important to celebrate our mothers as whole people -- thinking, feeling, round people. They are not perfect, but they are present and many learn how to love, nurture and care for us throughout our entire lives. It is usually mothers who take care of their mothers in old age. It is mothers who nurture those without mothers. It is mothers who expand the very definition of motherhood through their successes and failures in all parts of life. It is mothers who stand with you when no one else will. It is mothers who keep our communities, churches and educational institutions going, even when they are struggling. It is mothers who sacrifice so that we have what we need -- not always what we want -- but what we need.
It is because of this that I salute all mothers for embarking on this uncertain journey called motherhood.