I’ve seen many posts on Facebook today, people honoring their mothers and motherhood in general. I don’t want to take away anything from the sentiments there expressed, but I do feel the need to say something about my own feelings.
My parents brought us to Canada from England in 1952, seeking a better life than they thought they would get at home at the time. In many ways, they found what they were looking for, but they still resisted many of the customs of the land they had come to. One of those was Mothers Day. Even in the 50’s, when I was in elementary school, we had some societal pressure to celebrate this day. My parents thought it was just “American stuff and nonsense,” and forbade us to observe the event. Nonetheless, my mother sometimes got a bit shirty with us on the day if we didn’t acknowledge it. Against her upbringing, it seems she had absorbed some of the local culture, and hoped that her children would have done the same.
Every Mothers Day reminds me of my mother, and the contradictions I experienced around it as a child. Every Mothers Day recalls for me a woman who helped to make me who I am today. Every Mothers Day fills me with both thanksgiving and regret.
I had an interesting relationship with both of my parents. Can we use the word “complicated?” I never had any doubt that they cared for me and wanted the best for me, but it sometimes seemed that they had an odd way of expressing it. I don’t remember ever hugging my mother, and my father only once, when I was installed as a Canon of the Diocese of Edmonton. He was never sure about my career as a priest, but becoming a Canon meant something important to him, and he showed it.
As for my mother (after all, this is Mothers Day), she was a person whose life had largely been determined by other people’s ideas. I’m not going to trot out a lot of family history here, but suffice it to say that if she had done what she felt called to do, I would probably not be here today. She met my father when he was a medical student and she a student nurse, something she never wanted to do, but it was “the family business.”
Life with my mother could be interesting. I recall many wonderful times with her, and I also recall other not so wonderful times. When other people post laudatory things about their mothers, it raises in me a welter of very mixed emotions.
My mother died almost 22 years ago, in June of 1998. I still think of her often, remembering especially how difficult her last years were. Even without the illness that claimed her, it is very unlikely that she would still be with us. After all, she was born in 1917. Nonetheless, I still miss her, with all the tensions that my memories of her bring to mind — the good, the loving, and all the other things.
One of the things that has helped to redeem this day for me is learning of its early history. The first Mothers Day was the result of the work of Julia Ward Howe, who wanted a day for mothers to pray for the day when mothers would not have to send their sons off to die, as had happened so much in the American Civil War. My mother was resolutely opposed to war (more family history here…). During the Viet Nam era, when many young American men were coming to Canada, she had told my father that if we had gone to the US (a possibility in 1952), she would have expected my brother and me to come to Canada. She wouldn’t ever have sacrificed her sons to the cause of war. It was a cause of deep disagreement between her and my father, but I celebrate her for her stand, which resonates with the original movement. It’s too bad that Mothers Day has become such a “Hallmark event.”
Thank you, my dear Mother. I remember you with deep love.
….. but it’s still complicated.