Mother’s Day: Only Once a Year?

After giving birth to the world’s population, one might think mothers would rate more than a single day to celebrate to their contribution to humanity. But, being the planet of spoiled children we are, we allot just the one day. And it’s a Sunday at that.
In the US alone there are more than 85 million mothers — nearly a third of our nation’s population. In the “mom and apple pie” formulation by which our country traditionally defines its character, mothers are easily fifty percent. And yet, moms get little more than a kiss on the cheek and maybe brunch (for more about the Mother’s Day industry, click here).

Q: Why is “brunch with Mom” a traditional way to celebrate Mother’s Day?
A: For us wayward sons coming off Saturday night, breakfast would be too damn early.

The enormity of Humanity’s selfishness as regards its moms is rivaled only by our mothers’ own selflessness. From the local (“I carried you in my body for nine months, kid!”) to the global (our yen for pollution has sent Mother Earth into early menopause, hence all the hot flashes), we’re just terrible to our mothers. We never call, we never write, we take, take, take. It’s like we’ve been using Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree as a user manual — emphasis on “user.”

Moms are superheroes. I know this because five years ago my wife became a mother and acquired several superpowers — among them: the ability to locate unseen playthings, heal wounds with kisses and function without sleeping for weeks at a time. I also suspect she has x-ray vision and can read minds since she regards most of my antics by shaking her head and saying “That doesn’t surprise me.”

My wife has also developed a psychic link with our son such that she remains in some kind of emotional geosynchronous orbit. It’s like a spiritual umbilical cord that can’t be cut. Despite the fact that she says her body feels like her own again, she can’t shake the sensation that part of her is always in danger of skinning a knee whilst playing t-ball. And she doesn’t play t-ball. But she can feel it.

Between failures in Hollywood, I had a gig writing a column for the L.A. Downtown News under the pseudonym “Sophie Dover.” Why, in their infinite wisdom, the paper hired a dude to pretend to be a woman and write what amounted to female confessional fiction, is beyond me. Suffice it to say, I was under-qualified by at least a chromosome but I was probably cheaper than a real woman and, hey, I needed the work. One of my early assignments was to pen a Mother’s Day-themed story predicated on a mother-daughter dialogue about men. The result was an exercise in mental menstruation from which I’m still trying to recover.

Looking at the piece 12 years hence, I see it’s a mish-mash of stylistic tics and trite observations that betrays little understanding of women, motherhood and possibly English. But in the course of writing it, I did come to the realization that the mysteries of motherhood are ancient and weird and the best I could do in the face of them is to simply be a better son.

These days, I’d readily cut 90 percent of the story and given its lack of everything including length (they paid by the word so concision was emphasized) the editing would leave me with something akin to a haiku:

This Mother’s Day piece
Was written by a man, not
By someone’s daughter

My own mother has the psychological constitution of guano, which is to say she’s batshitt crazy. I’m not in the mood to write a weeper otherwise I’d tell the tale but suffice it to say, I think raising my brother and I contributed some. That notwithstanding, I know that even 40 years hence, part of her still frets the skinning of a knee, wherever we are, which is always too far. For moms, their children can never be near enough. No matter what. Not even on that certain Sunday.

Happy Moloch’s Day: The Mother of All Holidays

When activist Anna Jarvis originally conceived of Mothers’ Day, it was intended as an intimate, perhaps even somber event, during which children can acknowledge the myriad sacrifices endured by the women who birthed and raised them. By 1914, her campaigning led to President Woodrow Wilson’s signature on a bill establishing Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May.
Nearly a century later, that “intimate” event, according to estimates of the National Retail Federation, is a $20.7 billion business. Naturally, our moms deserve every bit of that $20.7 billion brunch they get from us but Jarvis would not have approved. She brought numerous lawsuits against organizations that used the “holiday” in conjunction with charity causes and even petitioned the government to remove it from the calendar after having worked so hard to get it on there in the first place.

History.com reports an incident that occured in 1925 in which “…an organization called the American War Mothers used Mother’s Day as an occasion for fundraising and selling carnations. Jarvis crashed their convention in Philadelphia and was arrested for disturbing the peace…” Find me a national holiday invented in the 20th century that hasn’t become a marketing bonanza and I’ll kindly direct you to my birthday and call you all slackers (be assured, my day will come).

That said, I do find some aspects of all this consumer spending disturbing, especially since among the Mother’s Day profiteers is Hallmark, the monolithic greeting card company that has metastasized into its own TV channel among other atrocities. This is my fear – born from a drunken conversation with Trane DeVore sometime in the mid 90s: In the deep future, alien archeologists will visit a quiet, dead earth and exhume countless greeting cards from the rubble. They will evaluate the treacly one-liners and sanctimonious couplets and, in a moment of cosmic bathos, conclude that “Hallmark” must have been the earth’s poet laureate since his name is printed on all of them. At which point, they would stop digging and go home never to learn of the poetic genius of DeVore and Howell. And maybe Shakespeare. And Pound before the war.

So, in some regards, I empathize with Anna Jarvis, who, ironically died childless and destitute in a sanitarium in 1948. Perhaps if she had offspring of her own to shower her in flowers and mimosas she would have felt differently (probably sticky). That said, the kids would probably put her in a sanitorium anyway, given all that muttering, like an anti-capitalist Cassandra, on and on about the evils of Moloch. You remember Moloch? The ancient god whose name translates from the Phoenician literally as “Mark on the Hall of the Gods.” Just say’n.

Mum

I had prepared my answer. I had practiced it in the mirror between applications of lip gloss. I knew when she asked exactly how I would respond: “Yes, yes, damn it. End of story.” And it would be a lie.

We did Mother’s Day because Mom claimed to have forgotten her birthday (at the behest of her publicist). Mother’s Day, however, she took as hers.

“That I’m a mother, I’m sure. You, Little Beast, made sure I’d sit up and notice ? epidural or no. We must remember that the etymological root of mother and martyr is the same,” Mom brayed, sounding very much like one of her own essays, the kind laden with balmy, wistful observations of some exotic locale that inevitably end with an equally embellished, if impossible, recipe.

“One wonders why Christ wasn’t a woman. Probably be too good at it. Healing the sick, fussing with runny noses,” she paused, re-lit a roach, and then purred. “Getting nailed by Romans. . ..”

A lump in her breast had recently landed her at an ashram where she learned to stave off cancer with visualization and marijuana. Though the lump was later found to be benign, she maintained a regimen of preventative care – whenever, wherever.

“That is illegal you know.”

“It’s outdoors. Nature. Ashes to ashes. We’re in L.A. Who gives a rat’s ass?”

“We’re at a restaurant.”

“It’s not a restaurant, dear, it’s a tapas bar.”

Mom had discovered tapas when writing for a gourmand magazine that eventually drifted into soft porn as its publishing mandate had become irretrievably contorted after a drunken office party. Later, she concentrated on writing books, chiding me for being single ? and dope.

Her lips whistled around the shrinking ember, which accentuated her lantern jaw, already set off by her short, sandy hair. She was a circus of scarves and shawls, and could have easily played Peter Pan if she weren’t so damn tall.

Diego, our waiter attempted a compliment while surreptitiously adding an ashtray to our tableware. “Your sister?” he asked me.

This did not impress my mother who thinks flattery should come in the form of designer tchotchkies from faraway friends – usually strapping gay men drenched in cologne, their hairless, bronzed feet naked in their sandals.

Moreover, at 30, I’m not about to accept the notion of sororal likeness to a woman twice my age. Sisters. Unlike some mother-daughter relationships, ours has not matured into a chatty friendship, a sibling-like bond ? we are not “best friends.” From the onset, it was evident that we could never model for, say, Madonna and Child. More like the Bitch and Bastard.

My twice-divorced father never came to this annual brunch. He was the kind of man who seemed to be perpetually stepping off a boat. He ate scores of rabbit, drank retsina and regaled young women with stories about art thieves and mythical college chums. He wore a beard trimmed with rococo intricacies and made impulsive purchases of such items as an ivory drafting pencil set, a steamer trunk that wouldn’t fit through the door and a schnauzer he named Winston. On my 16th birthday, he opened a bottle of wine with a samarai sword and all my girlfriends fell madly in love with him. His saddest moment, he says, was when he parked his vintage sportster “in the ocean.”

Though he loved my mother madly, he said she made him feel like an “old black and white photograph – bent corners and all.” I know what he meant, for any color that we could muster in our own lives would be absorbed by my mother’s dazzling hue. Neither of us is as brilliant as she; we are the dim stars in the familial constellation.

“Aren’t you going to eat,” Mom begged, a doleful eye upon the sprig of foliage that was my salad.

“I am eating. I’m on a diet.”

“That’s not a diet, that’s a hunger strike,” she reprimanded, then called, “Diego!”

“Yes, Madame?” our waiter asked breathlessly. He had applesauce strewn on his coat from a two year-old dominating another table.

“Get this girl a roast beef sandwich,” my mother ordered, then turned to me. “Really, you look damn near anemic. You need iron. You’ll get your period and pass out.”

“Stop being so controlling.”

“I’m not being controlling. I’m trying to feed you. Force feed you if necessary.”

“Would you like horseradish on the side, miss?” poor Diego lobbed into our fray.

I nodded listlessly, but Mom protested. “Don’t be such a plain Jane. Smother the damn thing. I want it to wake the dead.”

Mom took another hit off her joint and passed it to Diego who, somewhat taken aback, took a sheepish drag and returned, hunch-shouldered and giggling into the kitchen. Then she suddenly reached across the table and adjusted my sweater, ruining the incidental decolletage I had carefully engineered from a missing button and a push-up bra.

“Suggestive clothing works better, leaves something to the imagination ? and trust me, Doll, a man’s imagination is going to be better than anything under there.”

Her off-hand raillery was a professional trademark, garnered her mention in magazines and made her an interesting guest on National Public Radio, but stung worse than jellyfish.

“There you are. Five years old again. You’re one in a million, Sophie Dover, which in a city of 12 million such as Los Angeles means that there are 11 more of you,” she backhanded. “Don’t let those little bitches get your job ? or your man.”

She paused as if paying her respects to the inevitable romantic query to follow – a moment she relished as it made me visibly squirm. I took a bite of my sandwich to pass the time.

“Speaking of which,” her enveloping eyes locked on me, flickering almost conspiratorially, “Got a man?”

She had finally asked the question and as I was about to unreel my rehearsed answer, I was overwhelmed by a blaze of horseradish that had kindled in my nostrils and caused me to sputter.

“No. You know, not yet.”

“Sleeping around?”

“No!”

“You oughta be.”

I had betrayed my imaginary boyfriend again, with the truth.

A placidity washed over my mother’s face. She looked suddenly like she did when I was a child. Once I went on assignment with her to the Serengeti ? I spied a pride of lions and noticed that my mother crossed her arms wrist to fist like a great lioness, irresistibly composed.

I had answered correctly.