Those of us who aren’t flesh mothers tend to brace ourselves for the annual American florists’ holiday known as Mother’s Day. (We still want our honorary gardenia, of course, and the tributes to being mothers in spirit; something like a horse of a different color but a thoroughbred just the same.)
But today, in 2019, welcoming from afar my family’s newest little prince, Oliver, and his first days of life in the neonatal ICU (yes, he will be coming home in a day or so)—I love the dedicated Day of Mothers. He is a child of my blood, birthed by my sister’s son’s wife.
There is no list of 11 how-to’s for the childless on how to survive Mother’s Day, in what I once described as “America’s great secular religion of repeated lifts of champagne goblets, odes to sacrifice and endurance, piles of presents and roses, roses, roses.” I also used to refer to myself as “a refugee from the Island of Misfit Toys,” as a cute device to, sympathetically, brand myself.
The fact is that we live in a world of families, by any definition. The world markets to families—from kids-free all-you-can-eat-pancakes to entice new customers into IHOP, to Disney anything the typical family cannot afford, to more subtle forms of parenting pressure, always with a price tag attached.
If there is any how-to on surviving Mother’s Day, it’s only to observe the relentless forces competing for the souls and wallets of children and their parents. And along with guilt-free freedom from responsibility for day-to-day mothering, consider compassionate ways to empower and help them, however small and simple. This may well be by just showing up, intuitively, at a moment of need. Picking up and handing back a dropped binky, with a smile. Not scowling when a stroller is parked next to you, at the jammed gate waiting for your regional jet to finally make it in for your next connection. Making an anonymous present of the free paper samples in your studio—with a few of those very cheap acrylic brushes you keep around just to mix mediums, not paint with. Not intruding on young mothers by offering to hold their babies when neither really know you, but instead finding a way to create a clean, sweet little cone of calm. For mother and child, I’ve discovered there is no price tag for that.
In such ways, I’ve discovered I am not sitting at a table for one on Mother’s Day. With me are billions of mothers and children, aching hearts and empty arms. I see you and with uncynical, odd wonder realize that on a certain date and time all my own, I myself was, and still am that new one, given or chosen, immense with possibility.
Mother’s Day, as every day a day to celebrate—not just to survive, but thrive. Teach us what you, your little ones and your families need most from us.