Mother’s Day Tornadoes
When you’re a teenager, May equals prom season. There is this sharp focus on this one day — a dance that fills some with dread and others with elation. When you’re an infertile woman, May equals Mother’s Day season, a minefield-of-a-holiday that is uniquely painful because it’s filled with our desires for the future and memories of celebrating our mothers from our past (and this doesn’t even touch on the more complicated situations of those going through the day without a mother either due to death or estrangement).
And it is also tornado season.
Every week I get the episode of This American Life, a radio show that plays on NPR. This week, the theme was prom, and the podcast was a rerun from 2001 that I somehow missed prior to this point (or maybe heard and just don’t remember).
As I listened to the first act, I inexplicably kept thinking about Mother’s Day. Which was strange because there is nothing in the act about Mother’s Day.
The radio show starts out with the story of the prom in Hoisington, Kansas when a tornado ripped through the town while the kids were dancing, destroying 1/3rd of the buildings. Their prom theme was “Lost in the Moment” and that pretty much summed up this bizarre story — the kids, accustomed to the lights flickering and random blackouts in their town, kept dancing, oblivious that anything beyond a rainstorm was happening outside. And then they left the building to confront this enormous devastation. Their homes were gone. Their town was leveled.
Why the hell did I keep thinking of Mother’s Day through their story?
When I sat down to write about Mother’s Day about a half hour ago, I decided to look back at what I wrote last year. Apparently, I likened the entire holiday to tornadoes. Not remembering this post at all but rereading my words felt eerie, like I was walking through the aftermath of a storm. That strange stillness.
I think — for me — the analogy still holds.
That’s the best way I can explain how Mother’s Day sometimes felt. That you think you’re prepared and you do things to protect yourself, but the day howls through you. But afterward, while there is a surge of sadness and it feels like it should be more of…something…the day also sort of gets written off with a shrug of nervous laughter when you realize that Mother’s Day is no more painful than Monday.
By which I mean that Monday is pretty damn painful. It is no harder to not be able to build your family on a holiday than it is to not be able to build your family on an ordinary day. Infertility is emotionally painful whether or not you are experiencing it on a day that has greeting card exchanges as part of the rhythm or not. But, at the same time, just as it would be foolish to ignore the tornado alarms and say to yourself, “suck it up–nothing bad is going to happen” it would be equally foolish (and G-d help the person who suggests it) for you to just write off whatever internal alarms go off when you think about the holiday. Everyone should be wrapping themselves in a virtual comforter whenever they hear those alarms go off–whether they occur on Mother’s Day or Christmas or a random third Wednesday in the month of June.
As does the explanation of Mother’s Day when you are parenting after infertility.
Mother’s Day after infertility has that eerie quality that comes after you’ve weathered a dangerous storm–the sort of storm where you could really lose yourself, and some do. It is a beautiful calm, one that I feel lucky to get to experience and wish all of my friends could too. And at the same time, as you celebrate the day, it comes with this acknowledgment that within all of this beauty is also the figurative branches down and overturned signs signaling your friends back in the trenches. And it’s not just about your friends back in the trenches–it’s about your old self too. Remembering that woman.
The South is still reeling from the recent storms that devastated towns and took more than 300 lives. It is the second deadliest tornado outbreak in America, the last one being in 1925. The prom story above, the storms in the South… these are the third sort of tornado, the ones mirrored analogously in the emotional experiences of those navigating loss; of facing another reminder of life without their children. There is no wiping of the brow from dodging a bullet, no marveling of the strange beauty. It’s simply devastation.
In the This American Life episode, the reporter and a prom-goer state:
Usually the story of prom is one of disappointment. You’re in the bathroom crying during the slow dance, or you throw up at the hotel room party, or you go home feeling silly for having been so excited about something so meaningless. The teenagers in Hoisington got the kind of prom story everybody wants. They got a legendary prom; the night that actually did change their lives.
It was a prom that taught a lesson. You know? It became… our cars and clothes weren’t so important and family and friends… it taught a big lesson about humanity, I think, to everybody there. Everybody had a new perspective of life walking out of that prom.
None of these subjects intertwine, they are more like tines on the same fork. It’s May. It’s prom season. It’s tornado season. It’s Mother’s Day. And yet, there is something that we can learn when we hold up each one against the other. The way prom can become inflated, and how it behooves us to spend more time thinking about our high school friendships and relationships than thinking about the perfect corsage. The way a tornado can either leave us unscathed or level us — and how we don’t know how it will go until after it happens.
The way Mother’s Day can be a fantastic moment for one person and a day of dread for another — and neither person should be made to feel terrible about their reaction. It’s sort of in the same vein as the fact that no two people will experience prom in the same way. And two houses, standing right next to one another, can have very different outcomes when the same storm passes through the town.
All of this is a long way of saying (beyond listen to This American Life if you’re looking for a distraction this weekend) that if you’re celebrating the holiday this weekend, have a wonderful time and don’t feel guilty about enjoying it. And if Mother’s Day is salt in the wound, know that I’m holding you in my heart and thinking about you. And if Mother’s Day simply fills you with anger and makes you want to spit, may I suggest throwing ice cubes outside? I learned that from Our Family Beginnings — brilliant because unlike using cheap dishes, there is no clean-up; the ice simply melts and is gone.
May your life-prom be filled with pink tulle, may you weather every storm, and may a future Mother’s Day hold exactly what your heart needs.