Who's Your Mama?
May 09, 2008
In honor of Mother's Day, Beacon Broadside solicited different perspectives on the holiday. Today's post is from Harlyn Aizley. Aizley edited Confessions of the Other Mother: Nonbiological Lesbian Moms Tell All! and is the author of Buying Dad: One Woman's Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor. (Cross-posted at her personal blog.)
You'd think Mother's Day among lesbian moms would be an awesome, Doublemint occasion – double your pleasure, double your fun. After all, Mother's Day is not even a Judeo-Christian/Hallmark creation. It actually was birthed in the US some 150 years ago by Appalachian mom Ann Jarvis, who wanted to raise awareness of the poor health conditions in her community. She called it "Mother's Work Day." So for those vernal equinox lesbians more inclined to celebrate the cycles of the moon than the Old or New Testament, Mother's Day is perfect. It's pro-mom, pro-woman, pro-justice.
Then why the angst? Why does this lesbian mom secretly dread Mother's Day? Why do I sadden rather than rejoice when approaching this women fest (an event even bigger and more far-reaching than the Michigan's Women's Festival?)
Because in addition to amplifying the joy, Mother's Day in two-mom households also can shed light on just how complicated it is to share the role of "mother."
Never mind who gets to be called "mom", who gets to sleep in?
Who takes care of dinner and makes a cake?
Who gets the card made from glue and glitter in kindergarten?
Judeo-Christian/Hallmark marketing has co-opted Mother's Day and turned it into yet another celebration of the hetero-nuclear paradigm. Any and all advertisements for Mother's Day hoo-ha consist of precisely one woman receiving one bouquet of flowers or one diamond necklace or one tray of coffee and toast in bed from her one husband and two children.
It's enough to make you feel like you're faking it. Yes, despite it all (birthing, nursing, carpooling, making lunches, tushy wiping, comforting, band-aiding and singing to sleep), a lot of times I feel I'm faking it in the parental department, playing at a game I'm not really at liberty to participate in.
Even though after Ms. Jarvis there was Julia Ward Howe, Boston poet and suffragist (her best known work: the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic") who believed mothers "bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else," and so called for a day during which mothers rallied for peace.
That's no diamond ad. That's no perfectly made up mom in bed while her husband balances coffee on a silver tray.
In the early years, before I had regained enough consciousness to feel like an imposter, when my c-section scar still tingled on rainy days, the post-partum skin on my stomach had not yet figured out what to do with itself, and I was up three times a night nursing our daughter, I wanted Mother's Day all to myself. I didn't even want to consider my partner (we since have split) a mother. I could as much imagine treating her to breakfast in bed as I could picture myself replacing the brakes on my car. I wanted to be the one who was taken care of and indulged à la Hallmark. Hadn't I earned it in that Hallmark way?
If you stick to the Hallmark scenario, there's only room for one mother, and it's a fight to the death to determine who that is. Anything different from that is not real motherhood. Hence my conflict.
In 1905, after Ann Jarvis died, her daughter, Anna, sought to honor her mother's work and lobbied businessmen and politicians to assist her in the creation of a special day to honor mothers. Said Anna Jarvis, "There are many days for men, but none for mothers." After years of Anna. determinedly distributing white carnations each makeshift mother's day to the boys in Washington, Woodrow Wilson signed a bill declaring Mother's Day a national holiday. This was 1914. It wasn't long before religion and marketing got involved and turned Mother's Day into the exact opposite of what it's supposed to be: a day that causes me to doubt my credibility as a mother.
The Jarvises would roll over in their graves.
Of course, no mother is faking it. The problem, I remind myself, is not being a lesbian mom on Mother's Day. It's being a lesbian mom in a culture that crams a narrow and ridiculous image of motherhood down your throat: one mom per household, with hair highlighted and makeup on.
How then to embrace the day, to do justice to the Jarvis' vision and to our family, to reclaim my role as mother rather than deny it?
Some lesbians divide Mother's Day: you get from 7 a.m. to noon, I get from noon to 7 p.m. Some divide the years: 2008 for me, 2009 for you. Some offer up Father's Day as Mom Day #2. In our family we ad-lib. One of us races off with our daughter to make something for the other, while the other makes plans to do the same.
It still would be great to have a day all to myself. But I've learned that this has less to do with me being more of a mother than my ex, and everything to do with me being exhausted.
Anna was so pissed at what happened to the Mother's Day of her dreams that in 1923 she filed a lawsuit to prevent a festival she believed was endorsing greed and profit over the memorialization of motherhood. She even got herself arrested once for disturbing the peace. Just before she died in 1948, she admitted to regretting having started Mother's Day.
Well, I say it's time to take back Mother's Day. Lesbians moms, straight moms, caregiving grandmothers, aunts and sisters, in honor of the Annas, may we all sleep in.
Recommended reading: Harlyn Aizley's earlier post "Color Me Gay," Sarah LeVine on Mother's Day's around the globe, and Mombian's "She Got Me Pregnant" video log.