I was standing in a checkout line when I heard a man talking loudly on his cell phone. “Remind me never to come shopping with my mother again!” he was complaining to his hapless listener. I looked around and saw the elderly woman who was the subject of his diatribe. She was moving slowly and dawdling over her selections as he stood scowling and impatiently tapping his foot. I felt a rush of compassion for her and hoped she hadn’t heard his boorish comments. I wondered what he had to do that was so important and thought how much I would give to have the chance to go shopping with my mother again.
In contrast to this buffoon I’ve just finished reading The Rainbow Comes and Goes, a collection of e-mail correspondence between Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. Cooper reports his mother rarely talked about her history when he was growing up and said, “I didn’t want there to be anything left unsaid between my mother and me, so on her ninety-first birthday I decided to start a new conversation with her.” They were willing to share their intimate stories to encourage readers to pursue deeper relationships with people they love. It’s a moving and thought provoking book.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. Origins of the holiday are found in ancient history but the founder of our American version can be traced to Anna Jarvis, a woman from West Virginia who organized the first Mother’s Day celebration at her church in 1908 to honor the memory of her own mother. Her idea was to set aside a day for people to spend time with their mothers expressing appreciation for them. She was so dedicated to the idea that she engaged in a one woman campaign that grew until President Woodrow Wilson designated Mother’s Day as an official holiday in 1914. Sadly, she later grew to regret her efforts when she saw her original intent distorted by commercialization. She spent the rest of her life fighting unsuccessfully to remove Mother’s Day as a holiday.
Now I’m not naïve enough to think all mothers are worthy of celebrating. I’ve known some doozies and in my counseling practice I’ve heard stories from survivors of toxic parenting that would make your toenails curl. I remember a man who described his mother as “a black hole of need” because of all her demands on him. I wish every child born had loving parents so they would never have to come see people like me. But if you are fortunate enough to have a mother you cherish, I hope you’ll celebrate this Mother’s Day as Anna Jarvis intended. Spend the day together. Share memories, ask about her life and tell her what she means to you. She’ll remember that far longer than all the flowers, cards and “World’s Best Mom” mugs you can buy—and so will you.
I wish I could say I was always patient with my mother. That I never felt burdened or resentful as her needs increased as she aged. I wish I could undo any pain I caused her through careless words or selfish actions. But mostly I wish I could spend Mother’s Day with her just one more time.