Mothers Against Brunch

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A dainty gift, a nosegay, Hallmark poesy, Sunday brunch…it must be Mother’s Day. I don’t know about you other mothers, but when this day approaches and I see all the glittery offerings, the sentimental commercials and the media awash in pastel, I think, Who are they talking about? I also think, Brunch? Is that all we get? It’s an inferior meal, as good as neither breakfast nor lunch, and I’m against it on all counts.

“Mother,” as pushed by the day’s commercial interests, is a peculiar sort of female: perky, vaguely sporty, healthy, blandly pretty, not too womanly, not sexy, good teeth, skin and hair. One senses she smells a bit like warm cookies. She’s our cheerleader—that’s her job. Mother’s Day mom doesn’t smoke, curse or anticipate the evening cocktail with unseemly desperation; she doesn’t carry a few extra pounds; she isn’t cranky or exhausted or a terrible cook; she isn’t critical or demanding; she doesn’t hover or smother. Her kids aren’t brats; she doesn’t have to struggle to make ends meet; she isn’t too busy at work to take our calls. Nor is she really smart, funny or cool. She’s a mush. In other words, she doesn’t look like my mother or your mother or any mother.

The main advocate for our modern Mother’s Day in the United States, Anna Jarvis, wasn’t a mom and apparently wasn’t on great terms with her own. But her idea eventually caught the attention of, as The New York Times wrote, the “biggest boob in Congress”—the virulently racist J. Howard Teflin of Alabama, who became the “bum who fathered Mother’s Day” when he pushed the resolution through for Woodrow Wilson’s signature in 1914. And so the holiday was born, on the second Sunday in May. To Jarvis’s dismay, the hawkers of cards, charm bracelets, flowers, sweater sets and other dreck cheered, “It’s a bonanza!”

But what does it take to be a mother? One way is by bearing a child, which doesn’t require anything too special—it’s a biological function and billions have done it. And we are all of a mother. Her blood and flesh became ours. Gustave Courbet may have been hinting at this incredible power and mystery when he named his painting of a woman’s vagina L’Origine du monde. That the painting is still displayed like a peep show image behind a curtain (as it was at the Met a few years ago) may be proof of how uncomfortable we are with the fleshiness, the carnality, the viscera of our passageway into life. Maybe the painting is treated as pornography so we can ignore that we are all, as the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy wrote, “local colors and shadows, fragments, grains, areolas, lunules, nails, hairs, tendons, skulls, ribs, pelvises, bellies, meatuses, foams, tears, teeth, droolings, slits, blocks, tongues, sweat, liquors, veins, pains and joys, and me, and you.”

The mothers we celebrate (or curse) on Mother’s Day are many things. Some are ours thanks to biology, others came by choice or happenstance. Despite the advertisements, not all mothers are good mothers—and not all good mothers are even mothers. If we’re lucky, our Mother’s Day honoree performed her societal obligation, which at its simplest is: import babies, export adults. This means that parenthood is ultimately a process of separating. As the child grows, the mother’s job is to encourage independence, to push the baby bird out of the nest so it can fly—not too early, but not too late.

And so, as you ponder how to honor the flawed human who launched you into adulthood, think about this: Do you really want to take the Origin of the World to brunch?

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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