In Ireland, Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent thereby falling on a different date every year. In America, Mother’s Day arrives each year on the second Sunday in May. As a mother living in America with a mother living in Northern Ireland, I should by now have developed a strategy to cope with this annual conundrum. Especially this year when I have depended so heavily – and daily since the breast cancer diagnosis – on the comforting colloquialisms from the woman on the other end of the line, on the other side of the world. My mother.
Without the email reminders from online florists and the showy Hallmark displays that will soon pop up in the grocery store, I missed Mothering Sunday. Again. I’m perplexed by my failure to outsmart the calendar, given that I have been rather clever in the past, proactively purchasing two Mother’s Day cards in May, so I’d have a spare one for the “real” Mother’s Day, the subsequent year. Invariably, however, the extra card has disappeared for a time and then mocked me by reappearing in a folder with “other important papers” before it’s time to file our taxes on April 15th.
I am drawn to an enduring childhood memory of my younger brother and me. In our Sunday best, we are falling into line with the other children to proceed up the aisle of Antrim’s All Saints Parish Church, and finally collect from the beaming minister a single fresh flower to give to our mother. Our mother, who when I called her today, told me the only thing she wanted this Mother’s Day was to hear my voice and to know that I am healthy. Of course that is all she wants. Regardless, I still feel guilty about having missed the deadline for same-day delivery of flowers, and the time difference didn’t help matters either. To be rational, I know all the flowers in the world mean little to this woman who has tossed and turned too many nights since November 11th, when she cried out in disbelief that “her wee girl has cancer.” Cruel and ironic that at 74, just when she thought she didn’t need to watch over me any more, she must experience the sleeplessness I imagine is known only by mothers whose children are lost or sick or in trouble. But it is difficult to be rational and sentimental at the same time.
After our conversation today, I found myself pondering all those Mothering Sunday cards we dutifully made as children, year after year, at Antrim Primary School. As a little girl, I was unaware that this day, its very existence on a calendar, could sting and shun. As a grown woman, I know better. I know there is a greeting card to capture almost every sentiment and exploit every ounce of guilt. Why then would I be surprised to discover there are even online greeting card companies where I can customize a cancer greeting card, to let “my friend or loved one with cancer” know I’m thinking about them?
For my mother, I have gladly handed over a small fortune on greeting cards. Admittedly, some were perhaps a little less about making her day and a little more about assuaging my guilt about having put down roots so far away from home.
To confirm my suspicion that others know how to make a penny or two off this guilt, I took a quick trip via Google to the corporate page of undisputed heavy-weight champion of the greeting card industry, Hallmark Inc. Ruefully, I learned that along with millions of other people, my loyal patronage has led Hallmark to report what the Kansas City Business Journal describes as a “flat” $4.1 billion in revenue for 2011. $4.1 billion in revenue. Flat? Flat enough for me to consider never again handing over a fistful of dollars for a folded piece of card-stock with a generic message and a stock photograph.
Marie over at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer posits the notion of “reclaiming this day so all women can feel included.” I think I’ll heed her call. I do not know how the “Mothering Sunday” tradition began; it may, like a lot of things, have its origins in mythology. I suppose the cancer and getting older has me thinking about what can happen when myth and religion, culture and politics collide. With that, when the American Mother’s Day appears on my calendar this year, I hope I think of reclaiming it in the way Marie suggests. I hope that what crosses my mind is not whether I get a Hallmark card, a handmade card, a bunch of flowers, or all three, but that I consider the day as one that also belongs to children without mothers and to mothers with sick children, to women who ache to be biological mothers but are unable, to mothers whose children no longer speak to them and to children whose mothers have disowned them.
Mostly, on the upcoming Mother’s Day, I will miss my mother. A phone call or a chat on Skype will help close the distance between the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and Phoenix, Arizona, but it will not be the same as handing her a bunch of fresh flowers that she will immediately arrange in a crystal vase on the hall table. My mother is wholly responsible for my appreciation and, as my husband will attest, my expectation of a bunch of flowers as an apology, a get-well wish, a thank-you, a birthday greeting, or a just-because (like the fresh bouquets my father used to pull from our garden and hastily wrap in newspaper as a present for my primary school teachers).
It moves me to imagine my mother this Mothering Sunday, placing tulips of remembrance on the grave of her mother, my granny. Tomorrow, March 19th would be the date of granny’s birthday, and my mother will weep. She tells me she was pregnant with my brother in 1969 when my granny fell so ill. My mother had wanted to surprise her on a day when she was feeling better, with the wonderful news that a new grandchild was on the way, but a better day stayed just out of reach. So the 2012 calendar is doubly cruel for my mother with its American Mother’s Day still to come, falling, as it always does, on the second Sunday in May. This year, it arrives on May 13th. The following day will be the 43rd anniversary of the day her mother died. I know she will miss her all over again, as if it happened just yesterday.
Miss you every day, ma.