Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Mother's Day! Now Can You Please Leave Me Alone...

Well, once again, that special day of the year has come and gone. Long, long ago (historians argue over the exact date, but it’s believed to be about three years after the Pilgrims arrived in the New World) Hallmark decided there should be a day to acknowledge mothers: the most important and often most neglected members of our society – after garbage collectors, of course. This would be a day to call the nation’s attention to all those thankless jobs we do that make our households tick along. It’s the one day our role is publicly acknowledged, we’re appreciated, and if we’re lucky, perhaps even pampered.

If your house is anything like mine, your Mother’s Day probably starts with a leisurely breakfast in bed, followed by complete quiet so you can read the Sunday paper while the date on it still coincides with the actual day. While reading the paper you sip your Viennese coffee, miraculously finishing it while it’s still warm – long before that usual ugly skin of separated cream in the shape of various continents has formed on the top. Next comes the calorie-free box of chocolates and the dozen roses, and the homemade presents from the kids that make Martha Stewart’s creations look like the work of some thumbless being. Later in the afternoon, after your pedicure and champagne lunch, you artfully arrange these homemade crafts of love in your Pottery barn faux-provincial sideboard. The day is like a mini-retreat, free of laundry and cooking. No nappies to change, no fights to break up. Luckily, it only comes once a year, because with any more frequency you might feel as if you’re losing your sense of purpose.

Not with me on this one? See if this sounds more familiar:

It’s 5:23 a.m. Toddler with ever-curious index finger kicks open the door to your bedroom, a la Dirty Harry with a score to settle. Toddler sits on your chest with the subtlety of an elephant and proceeds to give you a good working over, probing every orifice on your head and proudly reciting the name of each part. Repeat 33 times. Hours later (it’s now 5:31 a.m.) Toddler treats you to a special Mother’s Day epic version of ‘Baa-baa Black Sheep’: think traditional nursery rhyme meets ‘Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’ Curling up in the bathtub to escape from Toddler suddenly seems more appealing.

Lolling about in bed on a Sunday morning perusing the lifestyle column and sipping coffee used to be a referred to as a lazy Sunday morning. See if you can recall the last time you used phrases like this: ‘On Saturday night we tried that new Japanese/Brazilian/Thai restaurant that just opened. So good, but it was a late night, so we just had a lazy Sunday.’ I know I can’t remember.

Even if you felt a bit of guilt by about 11 a.m. when that nagging feeling that you’d wasted a whole morning began to set in, it was still enjoyable. Now when I ‘waste a whole morning’ it’s usually spent engaged in some unfulfilling, mundane but necessary chore, like picking dried Cheerios out of the crack between the carpet and the baseboard where no vacuum attachment can reach, ever. How did I ever become convinced that a Sunday morning spent catching up on world affairs was a waste of time (even if those ‘world affairs’ constituted column analysing Sarah Jessica Parker’s latest shoe and dress combination)? And remember when you could take the occasional sick day from work under the guilt-free moniker of ‘Mental Health Day’ and read an entire magazine cover-to-cover? The trade offs we make never end.

In theory, Mother’s Day should mean a day free of obligations and expectations – a day to do what ever you want to do. For some mums – I’m assuming those mostly in the mature lady age bracket – this means spending the day surrounded by their families, enjoying quality time together, bonding over a nice meal. I probably wouldn’t mind that option either if everyone in my family could safely navigate a spoon from their plate to their mouth without spilling. But not now. And I love my kids. Honestly, I do. But frankly I see quite enough of them every damn day.

Therefore, I move to rename Mother’s Day as ‘Mental Health Day for Mum’s’. The day designated to celebrate your role in the family now gives you license to run as far away from them as possible if you want to – without feeling guilty. Ironic, no? But what this means is that if you want to go out for coffee and a chic flick with your girlfriends, go. If you want to lounge in bed in a quiet house (maybe not your own) and read a Jackie Collins novel, do it. If you want to take your kids to the park and have a picnic because you work and your time together is precious, do that too. But do what you need to do to make yourself thrive in your role as a mum. Sometimes that might mean recharging those batteries; sometimes that just means being appreciated.

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