May 8, 2016
To All Mothers, Wives, and Super Moms: Thanks for Lighting Up our Lives
By Fanny Bucheli
It’s Mother’s Day. It’s breakfast-in-bed-day. Buying-overpriced-flowers-day. I’ll-do-the-dishes-for-you-today-day.While we all have our very own rituals tied to the second Sunday in May, and while we celebrate our truly deserving mothers today, what do we really know about the origins of Mother’s Day?
Like many of our traditional holidays, Mother’s Day seems to have its roots in ancient mythology. Historians claim that it developed from the Greek spring festivals honouring Rhea, mother of all gods and goddesses, and Cybele the ultimate Roman mother goddess. Modern day moms might want to educate their flower-bearing offspring of this fact, since Hilaria, the Roman celebration lasted for three days and included parades, games and masquerades.
The modern take on the festivities however, originates in a much gloomier tradition. In the 1850s, Ann Jarvis recognised the need for women to unite and work together towards better life conditions for mothers and their children. The idea gained additional momentum when activist and poet Julia Ward Howe suggested in 1872 that women stand up for peace and against war. “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?” she declared, witnessing the grief caused by the senseless massacre that was the American Civil War.
Mother’s Day has become a fierce mercantile competition today. A quarter of all flowers bought in the United States annually are bought on Mother’s Day, and telcos register a 35% activity spike each year. It has grown into a multi billion dollar business, which would have most definitely infuriated Ann Jarvis, who had conceived of it as a private celebration within families.
Merchants of flowers, chocolates and spa treatments are not the only ones to engage in an intense contest for supremacy on Mother’s Day. Mothers themselves fight on the battlefield of modern mothering. Who’s to win the good mom award on the playground? The cool one who encourages her child to try daring antics on the monkey bars, or the considerate one who watches her youngster’s every step and walks home in spotless white trousers at the end of the play date? Who will take home the trophy after a birthday party? The one who provides the super bash with professional entertainment and live pets for goodie bags or the one who braves the messy clay studio and lets each guest take home their own creation? And let’s not even mention soccer moms. Scrutiny is ruthless and performance pressure immense.
Yet there are many possible ways to have a shot at taking home the Uber-mother crown. How about the five year-old Peruvian girl who delivered a baby in 1939 and still holds the dubious record of youngest mother ever? Or will it be Rajo Devi Lohan of India, the oldest mother to ever deliver a live child at 70? Maybe the honour goes to Valentina Vassilyeva, a peasant woman from Russia and most prolific mother ever having given birth to a staggering 69 children in 27 confinements.
Then again, maybe the Best Mom accolade goes to a famously accomplished mother like Marie Curie, widow and single mother of two who won two Nobel Prizes. Or Florence Owen Thompson, aka Migrant Mother, whose portrait photo moved President F D Roosevelt to send food rations to her community during the Great Depression. Or how about Ma Baker, who went down in a blaze of gunfire after masterminding her four sons’ criminal escapades in the early 1900s and was made famous through a Boney M song. Closer to home, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail deserves an honourable mention. As a de facto single mother of four while her husband was in jail, she managed both her and his jobs in a successful balancing act.
And then there is Gloria Vanderbilt, famous mother to famous Anderson Cooper. She has gone from riches to rags more than once, lost her parents as an infant, lost her husband and witnessed her eldest commit suicide. Yet, Cooper says his inheritance from his mother isn’t tragedy, and it isn’t money; it’s resilience, made springier by a sense of humour. ‘‘She rejoices in everything I do. I can do no wrong,” he says. “You couldn’t rebel against her. There is nothing you could do that she hadn’t already done, and she wouldn’t be fine with.’’
But wait; maybe Supermom isn’t a famous mother, or a notorious one. Maybe Supermom is just simply your mom. And mine. The one that gave me resilience, the one that gave you your sense of humour. The one that did her very best at the most difficult job of all; the one job that comes without a handbook, without a diploma, degree or retirement age.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Fanny Bucheli is an FMT columnist.
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