Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day, Because Being a Mother Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Here is my opinion column in today's edition of Small Newspaper. I've included this link as well, in case someone leaves an online comment calling me names or something. I don't expect much feedback today, but you can never tell what gets people riled.

Mother’s Day is celebrated all over the world on days significant to particular cultures, but in the United States, it’s held on the second Sunday in May because of the tireless passion of one woman, Anna Jarvis, who was driven by the direct influence of her mother.

Jarvis was the daughter of an outspoken pacifist and social activist, Anna Reeves Jarvis, who organized women during the Civil War. Her group worked with local churches to combat poverty and poor sanitation, and they served as nurses to both Union and Confederate soldiers. As a popular speaker and lecturer, the elder Jarvis encouraged audiences to acknowledge a special day honoring mothers as a way to bring divided families together after the war. When she died on the second Sunday of May in 1907, her daughter began a national campaign for an official mother’s day.

Jarvis sponsored the first observance on May 10 the following year in her hometown of Grafton, West Va., and after some years of persistent urging, President Wilson declared an official Mother’s Day to be held on the second Sunday in May.

The day became a commercialized gift-giving occasion, as days of this nature are prone to doing, and the retail focus led Jarvis to later regret ever pushing for the holiday. She once said those responsible for turning Mother’s Day into an occasion for profit “would take the coppers off a dead mother’s eyes.” It wasn’t about sending cards and flowers and candy, as she understood it. It was about taking time to seriously honor mothers as powerhouses of considerable influence outside the sphere of their own homes.

While the job of motherhood can seem crucial in its immediate details, and acknowledging our mothers with a token of gratitude is important, I see her point. It’s a treat to be honored as a mother on a special day, but it’s just as important to recognize and appreciate the influence all mothers have beyond the care and feeding of their individual children.

Some of the most famous and infamous people in history were greatly affected by their mothers, for good and for ill, and the results were lasting ones. Genghis Kahn comes to mind as an historic figure whose mother shaped his worldview in a way that led him to form a vast empire spanning from sea to sea. Enemies abandoned Hoelun and her young children in the wilderness, leaving the family to survive by their wits or die trying. She raised her children for the sole purpose of exacting revenge, and when her fiercest son followed her lead, she remained his close advisor well into her old age.

Zerelda Cole approached mothering in a similar fashion, although her sons didn’t grow to rule throughout Asia and Europe. They became Frank and Jesse James instead, and they terrorized the countryside as notorious bandits; with their mother covering their tracks, providing alibis and threatening witnesses against them, saying, “No mother had better sons.”

In contrast, it took a woman before her time to give us someone like Amelia Earhart. Amy Otis was her adventuresome mother, claiming to be the first woman to climb Pike’s Peak and allowing her daughters to play at “boys” games and to wear controversial bloomers so they could freely run and jump and not be held too closely to the ground. As a feminist and a suffragette, Julia Watson fought the same social restrictions and became the first woman in the States with a driver’s license, and she raised her daughter, Julia Child, to have just such a taste for life.

Strong mothers have shaped world history by influencing society in far-reaching ways, demonstrating their power on a global scale and giving us saints and sinners alike in the process. While Anna Jarvis may have been disappointed at watching her serious day become trivialized with small gifts she considered trifles, she is now one in a long line of people noticeably influenced by just such a mother.

How my own mothering skills and those of my mother may be seen as history unfolds is still in question, but I am humbled to know the echo of my actions and words may reverberate through the generations. The same is true for fathers, but that’s a subject for another day.


savannah said...

when our children were young, i received all the handmade mother's day gifts and cards that grammar school children make, but the mother's day celebrations were for their GRANDMOTHERS and GREAT-GRANDMOTHERS and we all made that party happen. xoxoxox

(i really hate hallmark holidays.)

dive said...

This is a wonderful Mother's Day article, Robyn, and probably the only one ever written that is not sickeningly dripping with gallons of corn syrup.
So nice to see the dark side get a look in, too. Some mothers you really would not want, so reading about them makes me even more grateful for the one I've got.
Excellent stuff!
Oh, and belated Happy Mother's Day!