Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Martyrs' Day

I've never liked Valentine's Day. When I was single, it just made me feel conspicuous and lonely. When I was first dating somebody, it was awkward. In an established relationship, it feels canned and corny to do something romantic on one prescribed day. It makes me feel that the relationship is empty if romantic gestures have to be prescribed, if expressions of passion and tenderness are things to avoid shirking rather than extemporaneous outlets of genuine feeling. I'm not sure yet if I feel the same about Mothers' Day. I have a feeling that I will, though, since it's kind of the same deal: being told I'm loved and appreciated because today is the day for it just makes me feel unloved and taken for granted.

I was talking to friends the other day, and one woman expressed outrage at an acquaintance's husband's failure to thank his wife properly (by celebrating Mothers' Day properly) for raising his children, giving up her career to stay home with them, and so forth. It took me aback. I stay home with my kid, but it wouldn't occur to me to feel martyred about it. For one thing, I didn't give up anything meaningful to do it. But if I'd been invested in a career, I would have made a choice about working or not working that was mine to make, and I'd have owned it. More than that, I see my ability to stay home with Ben as a luxury provided by Andy. Not only do I not think he should be especially grateful to me for staying home, I think I should be grateful to him. And most importantly, I never want Ben to think that parenting him the way I chose to was anything other than what I wanted.

Which is not to say that being the at-home parent of a baby or toddler isn't full of drudgery and mostly thankless. It is. When Andy performs particularly well at his job, it's because he overcame an interesting challenge, and he gets praise from people whose opinions he respects. When I perform particularly well at mine, it's because I overcame Ben's crabbiness and got the grocery shopping done and dinner on the table, and nobody but me tends to notice.

So if there's a part of Mothers' Day I might actually cherish, it's being told in all seriousness by someone whose opinion I respect that what I do matters, and that I'm good at it. And even so, if I only hear it once a year, it's just going to piss me off.


Shopkeeper said...

I feel the same about both of those "holidays". I have always wanted spontaneous flowers and admiration, not some synthetic version of appreciation. You have your head screwed on right, kid!

Carrie Frederick Frost said...

I cannot resist: Happy Mother's Day!

Seriously, from where I sit you are a lovely, compassionate, and thoughtful mother. (Mental note to self: tell Holly this every day, not just today.)

Native West Virginian that I am, I recall the fellow West Virginian woman who brought us Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis. Her idea for the holiday was that everyone take pen to paper and write their mother a heartfelt letter expressing gratitude on the second Sunday in May. If I recall correctly from West Virginia civics, she was so appalled by pre-printed greeting cards generated for the holiday within her lifetime that she died broke in her campaign to bring an end to the holiday which she had created.

It's an honor to share motherhood with you, Holly. And in that spirit I do wish you a happy day.