The Secrets of Mother’s Day

Three days before Mother’s Day, my six-year-old kindergartner, Corbin, cannot contain himself any longer and blurts out over our fine dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese (with which he is making quite realistic bomb-like sound effects), “MOM! Mommy! Mama! Monica!” I always know it’s going to be big when he uses all three of my motherly names and my given name too. “I got you a plant for Mother’s Day, we made it at school, can I give it to you now?!!” After three days of coaching him on the idea that he has to let whatever it is be a surprise, he can no longer hold off and his burning desire for me to know what the surprise was overcomes him in a burst of energy and spaghetti sauce.

Every year the school-aged children of this country give their moms, or guardian moms, or dads, friends, aunts, etc.,  a plant, maybe planted in a milk carton, and maybe, hopefully, some homemade art for Mother’s Day, fostered by their wonderful (hopefully) teachers, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other grown-up helpers.  I’m not surprised at all to be getting a plant, wrapped in a crumpled, yet beautifully decorated with hearts and puppies, brown paper lunch bag.

He is so clearly thrilled to be giving me something that I get a little catch in my throat before I tell him that I will wait to open it until Sunday if he doesn’t mind. I hope my kid retains his enthusiasm for such things. I allow myself another moment of satisfaction too. I am delighted he is telling me. Early.

I, for one, am quite happy that my kid is unable to keep a secret.  Not just so I can learn what he and his father are giving me for birthdays and other me-oriented occasions. But also because I am banking on his enthusiasm, our incredible gift of the parent-child bond, and his inability to keep quiet to tell me if there are more serious things we need to know. I am banking on his need to verbalize his day, so in the future as he grows, he won’t feel he has to keep secrets. Sometimes I don’t hear that he’s had a tough day until right before bed, when he tells me that he didn’t like what one of his friends said or did, or that reading is hard. Reading is hard when you don’t know how to do it.

So far, it’s become pretty clear that the kid is a bad liar and will tell anyone and everyone what gifts he and his parents are giving out weeks before the big event. If we, his parents, have let him in on the deal of buying or making a gift for someone, we can basically guarantee that he will tell that person all about their art, or book, or gift card, given half a chance. He will make an announcement to the birthday kid upon our arrival at the party that we got him a bug-catching kit and please open it right now. And forget about his grandparents; they haven’t been surprised about anything we’ve given. He loves giving and he wants everyone to know it.

I don’t make it easy–this surprise-ruining. He tried blurting it out in the car after I picked him up from school on Tuesday. He tried convincing me on Wednesday that if he said it while he was brushing his teeth that I wouldn’t be able to guess because his mouth was full of toothpaste. He tried telling me when I dropped him off Thursday morning when the teacher shooed me out of the room. He almost blurted it out in his sleep too. He’s a big sleep talker. Each time, I have told him that he has to wait. It’s a surprise, after all.

We talk about what we will get his grandmothers and when we will see them and what I gave my mom when I was a kid. Plants, naturally. That’s what she’s getting this year too. Then we come to the moment of truth. “Mommy, do the Marines have Mother’s Day?”

I tell him wearily, “Yeeesss.”

He then tells me the same thing he’s been saying since last October, that when he grows up, AFTER college, he will be a Marine, but that he will still give me Mother’s Day flowers because Marines are nice. I try to tell him, with limited success, that the first Mother’s Day started as a proclamation and a demand for peace and an end to war.

“But, Mommy, Marines shoot guns to help people, don’t they?” He is practically jumping up and down just like he was when he revealed the surprise.

I say not always. Rarely do guns help people. I am not ready to give my sweet baby boy over to the military industrial complex just yet. I ain’t a liberal feminist for nothing.

We look up the origins of the day, and even though it was President Woodrow Wilson, after much hard work by Anna Jarvis, who proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, it was the great abolitionist Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” who first came up with the idea in 1870 with her Mother’s Day Proclamation:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Right now, my son needs to tell me his secrets. And I will keep them and grow the good ones. I have a little bit of time to encourage him to seek other directions as an adult and to maybe teach him that while being a Marine sounds exciting now, waking up before the crack of dawn and doing everything he is told to do without question may not be his forte. Of course, he also wants to be an archaeologist, an animal doctor, and a filmmaker.

Monica Wittstock lives in Minneapolis and writes about food, family and feminism.

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2 Responses to “The Secrets of Mother’s Day”

  1. May 12th, 2009 at 7:41 am

    a daughter's mother says:

    I loved your story and your son’s enthusiasm – as well as your love of his enthusiasm. It fades all too soon. Your story renewed my fond memories of those way-back times. Thank you for that gift.

    This Mother’s day was celebrated at the other end of life’s spectrum, with my father who turned 95 on Mother’s Day. If you can count back, he was born on the very first official US Mother’s Day, in 1914, and there can’t be a whole lot of those folks sharing that event left. Motherhood was nothing new for his mother that day, as he was 9th of 10 children, but she got special recognition that day. I have no idea how many of her children brought her plants for how many Mother’s days, though living to 92, she gave her children many opportunities.

    I hope you and your son will have as many and enjoy them as much as you do now.

  2. May 12th, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Monica says:

    Very cool! Thanks for your lovely comment. I hope you had a great day with your dad! That’s a pretty awesome thing to commemorate!

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