It's Mother's Day here in the States. In every corner of my city, folks are taking their mothers to brunch, or presenting them with flowers, chocolates, world's-best-mom cards, jewellery – all in an effort to say thanks.
Or in an effort to avoid the ill-effects of forgetting, or – heaven forbid! – willfully ignoring Mother's Day.
Or some combination of all the above.
Great moms grow great kids, we are told. These great moms, living and deceased (for this is also a day of memory, and of missing the first loved one), are already the topic of so many editorials, blogs, coffee mugs, and facebook comments that I want to take a moment to consider the other mother. The not-all-that-good mother. The bad mother. Because surely, somewhere, somebody had her.
And if great moms grow great kids, as the coffee mug says, what do bad moms grow?
Children who grow up with moms who beat them, physically and/or emotionally, whose moms couldn't be trusted, who forced their children to choose between mother and father – might be having a hard time with this particular holiday, and who can blame them? "I can never repay you for the gift of life," sing the cards. "Thanks, Mom." There is no flowery, verse-y card, though, for the gifts of the fist to the face and the assault on the soul.
We have a tendency to want to make things pretty, to look back fondly at a past that may never have actually happened. The happy Thanksgiving family dinner. The forefathers of our country agreeing on everything. Our foremothers happily consenting to be less than citizens. Many of us are taught, in childhood, that the Bible is a cohesive single text, and that everyone coming to America came for and received religious freedom – that kind of thing. But the truth is that life has always been complex, people have always endured great difficulties and confusions, and tried to do their best. And often failed, with consequences.
One of the best mothers I know is the thoughtful daughter of a bad mother, and I know she is not the only one out there. I want to celebrate the kids who had the not-so-good moms, but have carried on, teaching themselves how to trust, how to make friends, how to give and receive love. For these, the good mother is the one they have become to themselves. To all of you: you've done well. You are magnificent. Happy mother's day.