Friday was the Mothers’ Day celebration at the boys’ preschool, which meant that I scored myself a heart pin with rhinestones, a beaded necklace that Benjamin continually told me he had made for me while at the same time insisting he wanted it, a card Ben’s teachers had made and a card on which Zach had written “I love you Mommy, Zachary,” a keychain with my eldest child’s name on it, and a puppet that was supposed to look like me. That last was wearing an awful lot of jewelry, so it was really Bling Emily, and Zach’s teacher confided that he had informed her, “My mommy doesn’t wear jewelry.” I guess he was hoping I’d take the hint and learn to accessorize.
All in all, a mighty fine haul.
The bummer about the day is that the school combines Teacher Appreciation Day with Mothers’ Day, as though they can just sort of glom all the women in these children’s lives together. The “Buddies” get their own day, the “Grand-pals” get their own day, but mothers and teachers don’t really do all that much, so we have to share our day.
The first part of the event is an assembly for Shabbat and Teacher Appreciation. Come to think of it, that means the mothers are actually sharing the day with both the teachers and God, who frankly gets plenty of attention as it is. At any rate, the Rabbi and the other Rabbi were up front, leading a large crowd of mothers, children and teachers in the service, although “leading” is a dubious term when dealing with a hundred preschoolers. Zach sat next to me and Ben sat on my lap, an arrangement that made me rather nervous, given the hit-or-miss nature of the child’s potty training. Next to me there was an empty seat. Gil, a little friend of Zach’s, sat on the other side, continually turning about and craning his neck to look at the entrance.
“Your mommy is coming,” I told him. “It’s just hard to find parking out there.” I looked back at the entrance, noticing a family seated a little behind me to my right. All four children were there, as were both of their parents. There was, however, no mother. Because these children, although they have two parents, have no mother.
I don’t remember how I felt about events like these when I was a preschooler, sitting there without a mother while those around me cuddled in the maternal lap. As I grew older, though, I was bitter about the assumption that everyone has a loving mother and a father. I felt marginalized by the institutionalization of the family model. This past Friday, I wondered how those four children felt at the Mothers’ Day assembly. Was it different for them than it was for me because they have (to all appearances) a happy home and two parents, even if neither of those parents is a woman?
Sure enough, a few minutes in, Gil’s mother arrived, and he settled down, assured that he had the Mommy required for the Mothers’ Day event.
It is not uncommon for me, this vacillation between assuming a certain status in my children’s lives because I am their mother and resenting the whole Cult of Traditional Families that oozes through every event I attend. I can’t even define “mother,” because the truth is that there are biological mothers and adoptive mothers and foster mothers and people who mother who are not female and bad mothers and do they get to be called mothers because they aren’t mothering but they begot the child. Yet I am such a plain-vanilla, easily-defined-as mother that I am loathe to give up the built-in recognition for the sake of the children with families that are not so clear-cut, such as the one that tore me into little pieces.
Who shows up for Mothers’ Day when there is no mother? In an ideal world, is there always someone mothering? And what the hell does that mean, exactly? Was my abusive step-mother closer to a mother than either of those two Dads sitting a little behind me to my right, simply by virtue of being a woman? That sure as shit doesn’t make any sense.
They occupied a moment, these doubts, and then we moved on to the brunch downstairs, where I got all teary in Zachary’s four-year-old room as he sang the sappy songs with the hand motions and in Benjamin’s two-year-old room as he stared blankly at the ceiling while all the girls sang the sappy songs with the hand motions. And when we got home, I went to get my hair cut (it looks fabulous – check out my About page) as a little Mothers’ Day treat for myself. After all, I have no mother to buy for and no mother who will think of me on this day.
Most of the time, I wander about, any old mama in a sea of other mamas. On Saturday, we went to another event. I had been invited because I am apparently part of the New Media (a relief, since the old media doesn’t want me). I am getting solicitations to review crap here on my blog, despite the fact that anyone looking at this place for twelve seconds will realize that I don’t even carry ads. I won’t try to sell shit to my readers, but I am more than happy to bring my family to your promotional concert, because I’m cheap as hell and times are hard.
We arrived late because we have three kids and simply going to the toilet and putting on shoes before leaving takes fifteen minutes. The concert had already begun, so I sat in the back in the shade with the kids where I could assess whether my new haircut was within the category of all the other mothers about my age. Betcha didn’t know I was so insecure.
The singer was doing a little number about a kid who eats way too much ice cream, resulting in the requisite giggles from the under-seven crowd. (And yes, I did like the songs, mostly because I am sick to death of children’s musicians who seem intent upon appealing to the adults as well, while Debi Derryberry sings songs the children actually understand without asking 72 questions. They gave us a CD on the way out, for which I am incredibly grateful, as my children have kept me on a steady Peter and the Wolf, Dame Edna version diet for the past two weeks.) There were chocolate covered bananas and fruit-kabobs, all meant to tie in to the theme of the Flying Banana puppet that Debi conversed with throughout the concert, which was really much less annoying that it sounds, although both of my sons now want a banana puppet.
The whole thing was impossibly cute and well-rehearsed. Except. There was one moment, right near the end, when Debi mentioned something about “your moms and dads.” We all do it. Hell, I even do it, and I, of all people, ought to be more sensitive to the fact that not everyone is the Cleavers. No one would have thought twice, but that perky little performer in her orange pants and teal top caught herself. “And your grown-ups,” she added, stumbling a bit as she said, “We have so many wonderfully diverse families here today.”
You had me at “hello,” lady. You want to know how to get props here at Wheels on the Bus? All it takes is recognition that one size does not fit all.
As we headed back to the car, the kids were worn out and whiny. Lilah was wearing strawberries all over her face, and Zach had a drip from a chocolate-covered banana straight down his shirt as he clutched the gift bag and the card with the singer’s signature. And Benjamin insisted, “I want Peter Wolf.”
The definition of a mother? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I reached over and turned on Dame Edna.