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Maxed Out: An ode to mother

After all, without her labour...

M is for the many things she gave me

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. That’s not how the song/poem goes. It’s the million things she gave me. Whatever. My mother shuffled off this mortal coil a number of years ago, after giving me many millions of things. She’d understand.

So, it is upon us again. Unlike Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Canada Day and others, all of which have a fixed date on the calendar, Mother’s Day is one of those things you have to think about to remember. Fair enough. Mothers are worth the effort.

Second Sunday in May. The only trick is to remember whether there’s been a first Sunday in May yet. That’s not as easy for the many people in a resort community for whom weekends have no real meaning—except perhaps as days we don’t want to fight the crowds on the mountains—to remember... especially if you work weekends.

I mean, it’s not nearly as difficult as remembering, or calculating, when Easter falls.

This year, with a spring season of discontent, it’s probably a good year to focus on Mother’s Day, unless you were unfortunate enough to have a Mommie Dearest kind of relationship with your mother. But even then, let us at least celebrate her. After all, without her labour...

O is for the other things she gave me

Told you I’d forgotten the words. Of all the things we celebrate, with the possible exception of spot prawn season, mothers are a no-brainer. We’ve all had them. Some of the oldest works of art are totemic carvings of fecund women, immortalized in stone, unspeaking, long suffering, life-giving. Mothers have been celebrated since pagan times, or whatever came before pagan times. This is probably puzzling to those of you who are convinced we still live in pagan times and, if pressed, I couldn’t tell you exactly when pagan times were or, if pressed further, if pagan times wasn’t actually the name of a newspaper as opposed to an historical epoch. But in a world where we measure things by comparing their size to football fields—and none of the three fields something called football is played on are the same size—cut me some slack already. Mother’s Day has been around a very, very long time.

The very first celebrations in honour of mothers were held during spring in Ancient Greece, a time of year when the Greeks weren’t celebrating much of anything other than spring lamb with mint sauce. The Greeks paid tribute to Rhea, the Mother of the Formaldehyde, who begot Naugahyde, who begot the twins Tuck & Roll, Patron Saints of hotrodders everywhere. As so many things ancient and Greek, it is lost to antiquity exactly how the Greeks celebrated motherhood, but rumour has it there was definitely a tie-in with the whole spring lamb thing, nudge, nudge, wink, wink—what happens in the pasture stays in the pasture.

T is for the torture I put her through

There was even a period of several centuries, predating the Enlightenment, when men—whose natural place in the scheme of things it was to promulgate explanations for everything, regardless of their lack of understanding—were so out of touch with what women did on a day-to-day basis, no one except other women actually knew where babies came from. This was the historical epoch know as Stork Days, named for men’s popular conceptions of how babies managed to arrive at their houses on a regular basis. Women, knowing men wouldn’t believe them if they were told how things really worked, kept them in the dark and let them go about the business of pretending they knew what they were doing.

H is for her heart of purest gold

Hah! I remember that line. When men finally understood their rather limited role in childbirth, it became popular once again to celebrate Mother’s Day. Of course by then, religious men decided Mothering Sunday would be the fourth Sunday of Lent, its floating nature cast in quicksand forever. Since Lent was the sadistic celebration of guilt, penance and fasting, England’s upper class, addled by inbreeding, lackadaisical servants and poor dental hygiene, went along with this plan. In an uncharacteristic act of noblesse oblige, wealthy Brits gave their serfs the day off to celebrate their mamas with song, celebrations and something called mothering cakes, a confection made of boiled grains, floor sweepings, sugar and molasses. It was during these early years that mothers everywhere popularized the phrase, “But you shouldn’t have.”

Despite bad food, the popularity of Mothering Sunday quickly drew the attention of the power brokers of Christianity. Always quick to spoil a good party or cash in on any gift giving, the Holy Men moved to co-opt the celebration to one of honouring not only one’s own mother but the Mother Church as well. Remembering the Inquisition, people acquiesced to this unwarranted power grab.

E is for everything she gave me

Rut? Me?

Like all things New World except corn, Mother’s Day as we now know it in Canada was invented in the United States. The idea of celebrating Mother’s Day, a day dedicated to peace, was first floated in 1872 by Julie Howe, a genteel southern woman. Ms. Howe, whose claim to fame was penning the words to Battle Hymn of the Republic and inadvertently giving John Steinbeck a title for a great book—The Grapes of Wrath—failed in her efforts, possibly because she couldn’t come up with another good song for the occasion.

R is for something I can’t remember

Anna Jarvis succeeded where Julie Howe failed, and Mother’s Day became a holiday filled with irony. Ms. Jarvis was, herself, a single woman and never a mother. After throwing a party to celebrate her own mama, two years dead, Ms. Jarvis agitated to have the day formally declared a holiday. In 1914, Woody Wilson, then president, capitulated to what had become a groundswell of populism and proclaimed Mother’s Day.

By 1923, Ms. Jarvis was protesting what Mother’s Day had become, a manipulative, commercial celebration, tearing at the guilt and regret we all feel for never being able to repay the debt we owe our mothers. When she died in 1948, having spent her modest fortune and the last quarter century of her life trying to put the genie back into the bottle, Ms. Jarvis was sorry she’d ever started Mother’s Day. Strange, but true.

So that’s probably more than you want to know about Mother’s Day. If she’s still around and not living off the grid or moved somewhere she won’t admit to you, give her a call Sunday... if for no other reason than to let her know you forgot to send a card.