Mother's Day Manifesto
I’m standing in my kitchen at dinnertime, staring at the door of the fridge. One kid is asking for a second taco and the little kid hates everything I made. The little one, whom we call the Badger, wants cereal, but before I can even answer he’s changed his mind for granola, while also reiterating how much he despises what I cooked. I’m focused on my fridge door in a mini mental timeout before I trudge ahead with trying to convince a kid to actually just eat.
Maybe I’ll magically think of new tactic to try with him before the dreaded Mother’s Day brunch rears its ugly pastel head again this year, when I get to endure these antics in public while wearing pumps and a frilly dress. I. just. can’t. wait.
Why is it that so much of Mother’s Day isn’t based on what mothers actually want or need? I want equal pay. Oh wait, actually I need equal pay. I need access to safe, legal, and affordable (better yet free) abortion and contraceptives on demand and without apology for all people with uteruses. I need all women and self-identified women to be safe from domestic and sexual violence and harassment. I need my trans sisters and non-binary siblings to be respected and appreciated. I need all these wealthy white people to step aside and support people of color in running for office. Certainly, I love brunch as much as the next person, but really what I need is to bash the hell outta the capitalist patriarchal white supremacist system that has effectively tricked me into meekly accepting that my big reward for enduring all this crap is to look pretty, quietly beg my picky kid to eat and try to ignore it when he licks pats of butter instead, and then eat my own waffles demurely (impossible).
I’m staring at my fridge, feeling equal parts rage and despair over the endless onslaught of suffering and abasement that women and self-identified women endure on a daily basis. I didn’t really see the fridge though, with the art, and photos, the mundane stuff like parking tickets. None of those things really registered because I was regrouping to try and make sure that I could be the patient, firm mom that my kids need me to be.
Although society denies it, we all know that that it’s a full-time job to be a mom, plus we need actual paid jobs to feed those kids, and then it’s another full-time job to identify and rage against all the ways that society makes it so damn hard to be a woman and a mother. No wonder I’m staring exhaustedly at my fridge on a Wednesday night, instead of making a second taco! It’s practically impossible to be a calm and effective mother when we’re pulled in a zillion directions and rarely afforded any support or recognition! No wonder Mother’s Day misses the mark so profoundly; the reality that most mothers face can’t be soothed or repaired over brunch.
For a moment, I recall that an email that needs to be sent, an appointment that needs to be made, a thought that would love to be completed. I wonder if maybe my I should write about Mother’s Day rage, to help other women not feel so alone. I pull my eyes away from the fridge, grope for a pen to write all these thoughts down before they evaporate like ether through my mental fingers. I almost make it to the drawer with the pens when my kids start cheerfully yelling at each other about Ninjas. I can feel my thoughts clinging to the little soft folds of my mind, until the sandblaster stream of their voices is turned on me, insisting that I weigh in and take a side. I can feel the pressure of their voices forcing open the delicate folds of my brain where my precious little coherent thoughts and ideas were hiding, and they finally give up and dissolve. What email did I need to send? What other thing? I’m holding a blank piece of paper in my hand, trying to remember. I give up for the moment, and go back to making that second taco, pouring a bowl of cereal, and gently extolling the virtues of different types of ninjas because I refuse to pick a side in their spirited debate.
We get through dinner, clean up, and the long cajoling journey upstairs towards bed. We brush teeth, sing songs, and snuggle down for stories. They bicker over who gets to lay next to me for a backrub with my free hand during storytime, Badger can’t decide on which pajamas while the other does a ridiculous dance in front of the mirror in my bedroom while wearing one of the dress-up wigs. One kid tells me the long-winded drama from snack time at school, the other is kicking around some band names for when he’s a better drummer and preparing for his world tour. “Arlo and Blue Doughnuts? Stinky Sock Party? Angry Burrito Massacre?” The list goes on. They finally lay down and listen to me read aloud, although they’re still bickering about who goes first for the backrub. I get through most of a chapter with alternating backrubs.
The comfort of our nighttime rituals mostly kept my little Badger in line, but once the lights went out, he finally unraveled, letting out worries, tears, and screams. The bigger kid scuttled off to his bed, thankful to be able to close his door and read in peace, and I brace myself to help my youngest child expend the very last drops of his energy for the day with a hearty tantrum. I let him yell and unfurl against me, never shutting him down nor meeting him there, just being the terra firma beneath him to catch him as he fell, in fits and starts, back to earth and into sleep. He fought the calm, fought the encroaching sleep, even tried to fight me, but I breathed deeper and let him spin. In the quiet that gradually ensued after he drifted off, I realized that it’s up to me to not only find the still point in the chaos, but to actually be the stillpoint. Being a kid is scary and confusing and exhausting (not that being an adult is any better), but we can’t all freak out at once, right?
Finally, his breathing deepens, and he begins to ease the curve of his body into the soft welcoming rolls of my mom gut; he’s the tart little apple easing back into my buttery belly, like a pie baking in the oven. He quiets and mellows against me, sweetening, softening into sleep. I hold him, and think of the balancing act that so many parents perform; healing from trauma, working full-time/overtime/multiple jobs/unemployment, fighting addiction, raising multiple kids, enduring heartbreak, fighting cancer, supporting an aging/wounded/dying spouse, friend, or parent, or simply struggling to just get through the day. It’s not so simple for so many of us to be the calm loving presence that we may want to be, because life is so darn difficult every day.
I strive to be the stillpoint. I strive, and more often than not, I fail at being the mom I want to be, and yet I keep trying. Sometimes I shout, or lose my patience, or forget to mail in the thing, or pay that parking ticket, yet I endeavor to be the calm center for the spinning exuberance of the little beings who are growing up around me with shocking speed and beauty. Despite the fact that birthing, mothering, and feeding my three babies has practically drained my living essence, it simultaneously fills my heartwells with a concoction that is far more exquisite, and a sense of place in the endlessly long line of parents before me, and after me as well. That sense of place also translates to a responsibility to other mothers, to be the stillpoint for them as I am able. To drop off a pot of soup, take her child to the park for the afternoon, or simply tell her she’s doing a great job. Sometimes I’m the one that needs that pot of soup. Being a mother is challenging in so many ways, and so many aspects of our society make it that much harder for the vast majority of women that are facing any number of impediments.
I feel this pervasive tension of striving to raise innovative confident kids without raising entitled white jerks. I’m working to hopefully bring my children up to have gentle realistic self-confidence and self-awareness, mixed with deep respect for and curiosity about differences. I’m aiming to raise kids that have a true willingness to work toward an unknown and unprecedented future of true equality, because it’s become abundantly clear that the way our systems have been organized only benefits a few while oppressing and harming so many.
My job as a mother includes many things: short order cook, medical form filler-outer, driver, nose wiper, ad-hoc EMT, curious listener, dance partner, cheerleader, boundary setter, mediator, dish-washer, fear soother… But encompassing all these little jobs is my duty to be the stillpoint amidst the chaos, to help guide my kids towards being the unentitled young people that we need to obliterate racism, xenophobia, and the overarching capitalist patriarchal white deathgrip that has kept so many of us oppressed for far too long, and instead help to usher in a new era of legitimate equality. Being a parent these days isn’t about leveraging our relative privileges to give our individual children an advantage, but to actively look out for ways to level the playing field and thus teach our kids to look out for others and use their gifts to work for a better world.
I went back downstairs to the quiet kitchen and looked at the fridge with fresh calm eyes. Suddenly I was able to see the big looping colors of the Badger’s latest wild painting, the tight angles of the bigger kid’s oil crayon drawing, and next to it, the commencement invitation for my daughter’s college graduation in May. Raising a family is often barely contained chaos, with growing humans ricocheting in seemingly endless spiraling directions towards unknown destinations. There’s car payments, stomach flus, and friendships, parking tickets, so many forgotten emails, and the parental career rollercoasters and losses. Through it all my job is to find a place of calm for myself, in order to be the still point my kids need to grow up into competent, sensitive, and compassionate good people, and to be a loving calm friend and ally to women who are juggling far more than me.
So this Mother’s Day, instead of enduring yet another obligation that keeps us silent and siloed, I implore you to find a moment to regroup, take a breath, and shore yourself up. Even if that means just staring at your fridge for a while (ahem), then I pray that you have a respite from the motherhood grind. I pray that you have people in your extended circle that can be a stillpoint for you and allow you a moment of calm to regroup before you have to face another day the in the motherhood trenches., I beseech you to perhaps extend yourself to be a calm, loving support for a friend or acquaintance, because we all need each other now more than ever, and to destroy systems of oppression takes more than just selfcare, but circle care. Caring for ourselves, our circles, and our extended circles will keep us sane, strong, interconnected, and invincible. This is our duty to ourselves, our kids, to one another, and to a shared future that is kinder, gentler, and equal.
An edited version of this article was published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette!