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Bending Mother’s Day with Gwyneth Paltrow*

It’s staring at you like a fish eye in the glass case at Whole Foods; dead, unseeing eyes, watching you walk past like a challenge.  It fills me with the same sort of dread as those red snapper corpses.  Mother’s Day is coming.


Image: Vintagedept via Flickr

This weekend is the dreaded/eagerly anticipated holiday of Mother’s Day in the US.  I love my mother very very much, and I need to apologize to her for messing up on the yearly Mother’s Day gift.  If I was a smarter woman, I would have taken care of the gifts last month when I had more time vs. waiting until the busiest time of year which coincides with a new book coming out.  So know that I love you dearly, even if you don’t get your plate until June.

As for being celebrated, well, my plan is to read The 5th Wave in one sitting and freak myself out.  Coffee will be brought to me vs. having to go down the stairs to fetch my own coffee.  I’ll spend the day with family, and for 24 hours, I won’t cook.  Mother’s Day will pass without too much fanfare; just the right mix of thank you and recognition and eye-rolling.


This is how I think of Mother’s Day.

When we were little, we went to River Country in Disney.  It looked like a lake.  It felt like a lake.  But I was stunned when my parents told me that it was a man-made creation.

(This is because I saw a goldfish in the water, which made me think that just maybe there could be a shark in there as well.  I wasn’t very knowledgeable about where sharks lived beyond “water.”  So they needed to reassure me that (1) no sharks could exist in a lake and (2) this was a man-made lake, therefore, Disney would not stock said-amusement park with sharks.  Little did they know that years later, Disney would create Typhoon Lagoon, where you could SWIM WITH SHARKS!  So there… mum and dad.)

Finding out that a person dug a huge hole in the ground and filled it with water was a bit of a let-down.  This wasn’t like the Potomac River, a completely out-of-control, natural body of water snaking across the landscape.  This was a commercialized, unnatural water-filled hole.  It felt like a lake; but this wasn’t a real lake.

That’s how I feel about Mother’s Day.  When the ChickieNob makes me a card on a random Tuesday, leaving it on my pillow, telling me that I’m her favourite mother, it’s a spontaneous, unbridled act of love.  It’s the real lake.  When the ChickieNob makes me a card for Mother’s Day, it’s still an act of love.  But it’s now an obligation.  A checkmark on a to-do list.  It’s that ersatz body of water, imagineered by Disney for our pleasure.

Maybe I just prefer wild over processed emotions.  It’s all good; it’s all love.  But it’s the difference between someone saying, “I love you” and someone saying, “I love you” after you’ve said, “tell me you love me.”

As much as some people look forward to Mother’s Day, the holiday also stresses out a lot of people.  But if we recognize it for what it is — a person-made holiday (I guess like all holidays) — then it begs the question why we’re not molding it to fit us rather than trying to fit ourselves into the current shape of Mother’s Day.  We’re allowed to bend it.  Hallmark and Flowers.com don’t have the final say on how you spend Sunday.


I was at an EMILY’s List event, and I started talking with this woman who told me about the Mama’s Day initiative by Strong Families.  It’s a wonderful idea, and I’d like to take it a step further.  Motherhood comes in all shapes, sizes, ages, and colours, so we also need to recognize invisible mothers this Sunday.

There are women who have been making parenting choices for their children as they attempt to bring them into the world, yet the world doesn’t recognize them as mothers.

There are women who have filled out tons of paperwork and have been judged by social workers, but because they don’t have a child yet, they aren’t considered mothers.

There are women who wanted to be mothers and took that journey emotionally, but due to circumstances could not reach physical parenthood.

There are women who were mothers, either secretly or visibly for weeks or months, but lost their children before birth.

There are women who were mothers and got to hold their child before they lost them forever, and those women are still mothers who carry their children inside their heart.

And then there are the invisible motherless.  Those people who no longer have their mother.

This Mother’s Day, rather than only looking to celebrate the obvious mothers, the ones that are clearly, visibly parenting, dig deep and use the day to also reach out to someone who is an invisible mother; not recognized by society as such but a type of mother nonetheless.  Reach out to the invisible motherless who may be struggling on a day that is meant to celebrate someone who is out of their life or dead.


The apology section.

I wondered if it was intelligent to put an image of dead fish at the top of this post.  And maybe it repulsed you, but it’s also truthful.  Really, can you think of anything more honest and exposed than a glass case of dead fish?  Maybe we need a picture like that to wake us up, to take a good hard look at how we structure our holidays.

Maybe we need a reminder to look at the water in front of us and consider whether it’s natural or ersatz.  Because if it’s person-made, that means that we can build it and bend it to fit us.  I’m bending Mother’s Day.

* You may note that this post has no mention of Gwyneth Paltrow.  I noticed this to.  I realized recently — based on a multitude of articles on Jezebel — that the number one way to get people outside our community to read what you have to say is to mention Gwyneth Paltrow.  A cheap trick.  I’m sorry to use you like that, Gwyneth (oh, and Happy Mother’s Day if you celebrate it).  But here’s the thing: When I write here, I’m preaching to the choir; so many of us are invisible mothers or were invisible mothers.  You know I’m thinking about you this weekend.  I want people outside our community to think about invisible mothers too.


1 loribeth { 05.06.14 at 9:45 am }

I have to admit, I wondered what a picture of dead fish was doing at the top of a post about M-Day (or as I prefer to call it, Voldemort Day — That Which Shall Not Be Named). But I did find it kind of funny. 😉

Some of my online friends were posting stuff about “International Bereaved Mothers Day” last weekend — and while I appreciated the thought, there was something that bothered me about it. I thought, “It’s just a made up holiday to try to compensate for the fact that we’re totally ignored on Mother’s Day a week later.” But then I thought (as you pointed out), what else is Mother’s Day but a made-up holiday (& one that has been hijacked & strayed far from its original purpose, as envisioned by Anna Jarvis)?

And it’s not just the day itself, but all the buildup leading to it. Case in point: last night, I noticed that the CBC had changed its Facebook cover photo to one proclaiming “Mom Appreciation Week” (yes, WEEK!!) with the hashtag #ThanksMom.” Someone PLEASE tell me that we’re not going to have to start enduring an entire WEEK of this???!


Thank you, Mel, for thinking about all of us invisible mothers out there. I too wish people outside of our community would give us more thought. But I’m not holding my breath. :p

2 Mel { 05.06.14 at 9:50 am }

You know, I realized that I don’t really mind when businesses tout something for a week. They need to make their money. I don’t expect anything otherwise.

But non-business entities? They don’t need to drag out days into weeks, months, etc.

3 a { 05.06.14 at 9:58 am }

I am no longer required to think about Mother’s Day. My mom is gone, my MIL is not really my responsibility (although I usually do the work, I don’t HAVE to) and my daughter has made my gift and given it to me.

Completely unrelated: For some reason, I am under the impression that weeks now have 9 days. That’s going to make all that advertising last a LOT longer.

4 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 05.06.14 at 11:16 am }

Gwyneth, eh? Well, I give you a free pass on the link bait title because you’ve used it responsibly and for the greater good.

Hope everyone has an alright mother’s day.

5 Tiara { 05.06.14 at 11:29 am }

Thank you for this post.

You’ll have to let us know how The 5th Wave was. It looks compelling.

6 Alexicographer { 05.06.14 at 11:30 am }

I was driving home yesterday evening and passed a church I often drive by that has one of those plastic signs on which it posts messages intended to inspire/promote assorted beliefs, actions and causes. You know what the sign said? I don’t either because I can’t remember exactly, but it it was something along the lines of, “Every woman is special to God.” I was blown away (in a good way; of course we could take a step back and make that every person, but I see this as appropriate rebellion against the nuttiness that is Mother’s Day. Perhaps there’ll be a similar sign around Father’s Day for men.). The church in question is Southern Baptist, so not necessarily associated with the most radical or non-traditional approaches, and yet — there sits the message (not, of course, that it IS a radical or non-traditional message, and, yet …).

If I get my act together (what are the chances?), I will write them and thank them.

7 Mel { 05.06.14 at 11:39 am }

Aerotropolitan Comitissa, I think we can safely call Gwyneth Paltrow the Human Third Rail.

8 Sharon { 05.06.14 at 12:45 pm }

Mel, I’m like you: I prefer my expressions of love and appreciation to be spontaneous and unsolicited. That said, if Mother’s Day makes some mother who would otherwise go unrecognized get some recognition, well then, OK.

I myself have never been a fan of Mother’s Day. Even my infertile years aside, my mother’s birthday is May 2, so I have usually been in the position of having to get her two presents within a very short time span. This wouldn’t be so bad except that my mother is exceptionally hard to shop for.

Second, although I love my mother very much and we have a good relationship, it is not a typical mother/daughter, “hearts and flowers,” Hallmark-y type relationship, so it’s always been hard to find a card that “fits.”

Third, although my father married his wife when I was an 18-year-old college sophomore, each year I am expected to send a card to my stepmother and call her. While I don’t dislike my stepmom, I don’t think of her as a mother. (Mind you, she has her own children and grandchildren, so it’s not as though she’d be “forgotten” but for me.) Yet another awkward card-buying situation and an awkward phone call, too.

So yeah. Not a fan. . . even now that I have my own children.

9 queenjohnsonclan { 05.06.14 at 6:33 pm }

I like mother’s day. Don’t shoot me 🙂 The infertility I suffer now makes it a bitter sweet day but the sweetness is not something I would give up on behalf of the bitter. I also adore my mom and I am her only child, after my life (getting employed, married, having kids, not having kids) split up all my roles and priorities…I use mother’s day as an excuse to just tell everybody else to come second to her without guilt. I think that’s what mothers day is about…of course you could do the same thing on a random Monday but truthfully…for my life that is a rarity. My mom doesn’t work that way either, it’s just easier for her to take attention or spot light on the holiday. My mother graciously became secondary in my life when she had only known first…Mother’s day she gets to be first again. I had to grow up yes and its a naturally part of parenting BUT she could have made it as painful for me as it was for her (even more so). Lots of very moms do exactly that. She didn’t. She only became more selfless and helpful. I would never let mothers day pass without taking advantage of the day that everything and one in my life steps aside for her. She can say she doesn’t want anything (as she always does), she can ask me to just come over and watch beaches (as I always do), and all of my other roles can fall graciously second to her for this one day. That’s what it means to me anyway.

10 kate { 05.06.14 at 8:13 pm }

I hope you don’t mind if I share this as this weekend draws nearer, to help me get through my own Sunday. Thanks, as always, for your words.

11 Pepper { 05.07.14 at 8:33 am }

I have mixed feelings about Mother’s day. I don’t like any “forced” holidays but I do love being a mom. However, I also always remember the Mother’s day 4 years ago when, just days before, I found out my first round of IVF (which we thought was successful) actually resulted in an ectopic pregnancy. So I sat, celebrating at my parents’ house, knowing I had a baby inside of me, but also knowing that I really didn’t. And although we are regular church attendees, I choose not to go on Mother’s day. I am uncomfortable being made to stand and be recognized. It’s awkward and all I can think about are the others around me, not standing – do they want to be mothers? Are they carrying babies that aren’t really babies?

12 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.07.14 at 4:10 pm }

I love the lakes analogy. And “Maybe I just prefer wild over processed emotions” — yes.

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