Opinion Column

Community editorial board: The Gordian knot of Mother’s Day Celebrations

By Patricia Anne Elford

A crowded place — a mall, an arena, a playground.
“Mom!  Mom!” a child’s voice calls frantically.
Most mothers’ heads swivel around. Their child may not even be with them today. Their child may have grown up. Their child may be married with a child of his/her own. Their child may have called them Mommy, not Mom, but that link, once triggered, has lasting effects.
 A new mother’s milk may leak embarrassingly at the sound of any baby’s voice. If she’s lost a child, she may suddenly weep, actually feeling an infant’s tiny touch when another mother’s cheek is being caressed.
When I emptied Mom’s house after she’d died, I found boxes of cards which she’d received from my brother and me. In addition to the commercial ones, carefully chosen, some quite lavish, she’d saved every card I’d made for her, one with crumbling pussy-willows still  taped onto it, bearing this verse: “Pussy-willows tall and straight, have a story to relate, how a mother came to be, how that great mother was given to me. How I mean much more than I can say, when I shout ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’”. Even poor poetry was appreciated.
Once we had allowances to save, there might also have been a costume-jewellery pin, with green stones (her favourite colour), or, until I’d learned that she preferred Tweed, a tiny dark blue bottle of Evening in Paris cologne. She’d never said she didn’t like the former choice. Mom always seemed grateful for any gifts we gave or made for her.
Also tucked in one of those boxes was something I think she appreciated more than anything else I’d ever given her. First, let me say that my parents and I always hugged when I left or returned to the house, even for a date (unless my mother and I, both being somewhat “ahem” strong-willed, had had one of our spats).
My mother, having been orphaned by age seven, wore herself out trying to be the “perfect” mother, so much so that she’d become too tired, and then, ill-tempered, undermining that which she’d tried to achieve. This is a tendency I’ve also showed. Mom was a worrier. She never knew that I’d left home after early high-school graduation because I felt I caused her far too much distress; yet, having been taught to think for myself, wasn’t ready to conform. Dad, though a frequent peace-maker, never thanked me for the fact that he had many more calm days after I’d left home.
I visited only once a month, because I felt I should get to know Ottawa and enjoy living there. Lengthy letters kept my parents better informed about what I was doing, thinking and feeling, than were many parents who had their offspring right under their noses. 
It’s often when daughters (and sons) have their own child, that they begin to realize, and duplicate, the good that was done for them. However, living at the Ottawa YWCA, remembering all that Mom (and Dad) had done for me and with me, hearing from other girls of how different their homes had been, I wrote that special long letter that Mom had saved. It acknowledged, gratefully listing, so many of the specific things both of them had done and tried to do, on my brother’s and my behalf, gaining joy from giving us pleasure , but sacrificing energy, money, time, and opportunities in order to do them. Still, my mother and I argued periodically through the years.
We also had strong, warm links. One day while working at York University, some of us were trying to remember the name of an earworm tune we were all humming. I knew who would recognize it! Without warning, I phoned my mother long distance (usually reserved for emergencies and special occasions in our family), to hum the tune. “What’s it called, Mom?”
“Why, it’s ‘In an English Country Garden’!”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUyxCP5Rvco  Jimmie Rodgers, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_e-wfnp7rE, English Coronation Orchestra, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzPKU4hYTyQ , Nana Mouskouri .
“Thank you, Mom. I told them you’d know it. Have to get back to work.”
I remember when Mother’s Day, a commercial enterprise indeed, invaded the churches. I recall wondering how it felt to be divided from other women by the carnations pinned on our lapels—red or pink if your mother were alive; white, if your mother were dead.
What was it like to not be a mother, when flowers were handed to those who were, to be someone who wished she’d had a child, or had secretly had a baby she’d been told to give up, or who’d had suffered only repeated miscarriages?
Years later, in a little church, I was somewhat appalled to hear someone sing “What a Friend We Have in Mothers” to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. It wasn’t his singing voice that I troubled me.  Despite my long letter of appreciation, and my hugs and kisses, I felt that the musical parallel was a little over the top. Wonderful as mothers may be, we were there to worship God, not re-tailor a hymn about Jesus for the day. Apparently, in 1855, Joseph Scriven wrote the actual hymn (tune composed by Charles Crozat Converse) to comfort his mother, rather than about, his mother, who was across the sea from him in Ireland.
More recently, when I’ve been at a church on Mother’s Day, every woman present was given a flower, I suppose for potential, and well as actual, motherhood. Perhaps, like many things, the day has become so much a part of our culture that we don’t really think about why we do what we do. It’s just done.
I, too, have saved cards and gifts, and memories of gifts, which my children have given me. I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get a card, or a call from distant grown children on that day or just before or after it, but, what is most important to me is how my children—when they were young and now that they are on their own— what is most important is how they treat me on the other 364 days of the year, and, whether they, too, remember some of the happy times we shared: the games, the child-matched birthday parties, the special ballet and Hallowe’en costumes, the family experiments and baking, the hikes and fossil-hunting, the cross-Canada camping trips, the family prayers, the evening story times, the silliness occasions, and, the times when they could turn to me for some comfort and support when life was tough.
And, that they forgive me for my own lapses as a mother, when I didn’t always understand, when I, also, became too weary or upset to be as empathetic and warm as I could have been, foolishly believing they just knew how I felt about them.
Whether a mother, a mother-to-be, or a childless woman who actually prefers it that way, may you celebrate anything that is/was good, no matter how tiny, in your own mother by birth, adoption or marriage. May God bless your Mother’s Day!

What A Friend We Have in Mother:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hM63EoRt9iA ,
What A Friend We Have in Jesus:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XRmGEbH0qs

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