Mother’s Day, Observed by Rebekah Spicuglia
May 9, 2008
Mother’s Day brunch at Jack’s Restaurant had a line out the door. I was barely 18, weeks from graduating high school, but living on my own and bussing tables to pay the rent. As my boyfriend—mi novio—cooked omelets in the country kitchen, another cook, my future brother-in-law, pinned a carnation to my shirt. “Happy Mother’s Day, cuñada.”
Suddenly I realized, surrounded by a mix of strangers and unexpected new family, that this special day was mine now, to celebrate. But I was young, and few people knew I was pregnant—so I kept it to myself. And so it began: passing as an ordinary woman, with a secret joy pinned to my breast.
Excitement kicks on the rare occasion I get to talk about my son Oscar, a thrill that for many years was more of an anxious dread. I have spent my entire adult life in various metropolitan areas, surrounded by undergrads and Sex-and-the-City crowds (translation: single, childless). It’s partly my youth, partly the city life I’m living, but how people look at me at me changes once I reveal that I am a mom. Surprise, curiosity, and mixed feelings.
Mother’s Day at Its Root
Last May, the Women’s Media Center posted a commentary by Gloria Steinem, “Mother as a Verb.” Below is an excerpt. Click here for the full article.
[W]hen mother is a verb—as in to mother, to be mothered—then the best of human possibilities come into our imaginations. To mother is to care about the welfare of another person as much as one’s own.
To mother depends on empathy and thoughtfulness, noticing and caring. To mother is the only paradigm in which the strong and the weak are perfectly matched in mutual interest. Besides, one may be forced to be a mother, but one cannot be forced to mother.
So perhaps what Julia Ward Howe had in mind when she created this day in 1870—a day of opposing war and uniting for peace—was not so much a Mother’s Day as a Mothering Day; a day that reminds us all, whether we are young or old, male or female, of the possibilities within us.
I thank Julia. Forever more, we will be reminded that peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence and possibility of mothering.
This is because Oscar lives 3,000 miles away with his father, a non-traditional arrangement that somehow makes the best of things, yet a physical distance that is completely foreign to most parents. At first mention of Oscar, another parent will ask what school he goes to—and our experience of mothering has so little in common, conversation comes to a standstill. I suddenly feel compelled to share intimately, to validate difficult choices and thereby keep questions of my maternal instincts at bay. I want to lay the foundation for later conversations that will move beyond the leftover pain and get to the remaining joy. My confessionals are exhausting, however, and I’m often not sure whether I have said too much or too little. I have sometimes found that it is easier to not even mention Oscar. Except it has never been that easy.
I am a mom—it’s part of my identity, and I work hard at it daily. Yet as a non-custodial, long-distance mom, I have often felt I lacked bragging rights as I struggled for recognition from his school, from other parents, and even from those closest to me.
Coming of age in a town with one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in California, and marrying into a large Mexican family, this isolation was not a problem in the beginning. I quickly made friends with other mamas as my fellow honor student friends moved on to university. I went to community college—doing homework at the park, in the McDonald’s playground, anywhere my son could be kept safely and happily occupied. But life has a way of intervening, and soon miles separated me from the immediacy of being a parent.
It wasn’t until recently that I began to feel comfortable again in my own mama-skin. For that, I must credit the women I now have around me—I never had a sense of community until I started working in feminist circles that gave me supportive environments in which to live and work. One group essential to me is Mamapalooza, with its president Joy Rose. It is an international performing arts and music festival created to celebrate women as mothers and artists. At the New York City conference last year, I was impressed with how moms were highlighted in all their diversity. Joy was the first person who immediately “got” me once I’d shared my story—the first time I felt free to talk about Oscar and myself without caution. I realized how withdrawn and protective I had been as Joy joked about “outing” me as a mom to a friend of hers.
This is the first Mother’s Day I have identified as a member of the feminist mamasphere and appreciate coming together as a community to honor our mother figures. Because it’s in the middle of the school year, I do not get to spend it with Oscar. But it is a special day for mothering, regardless of the distance. I can educate my son about the importance of meaningful gestures—not for my own sake, but so that he understands who he is, as he grows into a thoughtful, responsible person, generous in spirit and rich in love. Oscar and I have learned to value every moment, and like other children and mothers, we will look back together, every Mother’s Day, and reminisce on the intertwined nature of our history.
We celebrate those who have played a maternal role in our lives by acknowledging them, often by pinning them with a carnation or with flowers and gifts. However, it is also an opportunity to take the love we have received and pay it forward to the larger community of women. Demonstrate your love by supporting moms as a political force with Momsrising, lending money to a woman entrepreneur at Kiva, providing critical support in global conflict zones by donating to MADRE, attending a Mamapalooza event, or finding a cause meaningful to you.
Make your mother proud. I can tell you that it is the best gift of all.