May 12, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Congratulations, Mom, whoever you are

Mother’s Day is a fine idea. We should honor the women who brought us into this world, even though they were also the ones who could take us out at any moment and sometimes did, if only figuratively.

The thing is, mothers are so various it’s hard to pin down exactly what motherly qualities we’re honoring. Moms range from being like Beaver Cleaver’s mother, June, to (God forbid) Mommie Dearest, with everything in between.

This is true despite the mystique of the superiority of mothers, which has been promulgated now and then throughout history. For example, tomes have been written to the effect that men fear the opposite sex because women alone have the “power” to give birth. Or the goddess ideas that maternity bestows a unique wisdom upon women that’s not available to men.

We also have sanctified motherhood in the person of the Blessed Virgin. She alone, of all human creatures, surpassed her humanity by her eternal openness to God’s will. Here we have the ideal of motherhood, a model available to all women, whether or not they are believers in her Son.

We like to think mothers fit certain clichés that our culture assigns them. We wish moms to be sweet, kindly caregivers who supply us with a welcoming home, and support our every ambition without argument. They are always there for us.

However, all mothers have faults, never approaching the perfection of Mary. I include myself in this category, as my kids and husband would no doubt be happy to verify. It’s when the faults outweigh the virtues that we have a hard time celebrating Mother’s Day, but those are the stories that wind up on the front page of the newspaper.

Most of us claim moms who are not that bad; they just have personality quirks and, sometimes, weird behaviors. Often, these are endearing, but they also may be irritating or embarrassing. They’re the qualities that cause us to cry, “I’ll never do [say, behave] like my mother did, when I have kids!” Famous last words, as we discover one day in the future, when we look into a mirror and see, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all!”

My mom is a case in point. She would lose her temper and yell, gaining momentum as she went along. However, the flyswatter was her ultimate weapon of discipline. My husband’s mother used a cane switch for such purposes. It disappeared mysteriously one day after it was put to use until, when the family moved some years later, it was found wedged behind a sofa.

My mother also liked to let loose with salty language when provoked. But even she was no match for one of the mothers who lived down our block. She was a churchgoing woman, a straight arrow in every way, but she could tell dirty jokes that would curl a longshoreman’s hair. She seemed oblivious to the incongruity of her behavior, and her family just grinned when she did it.

Some mothers are wonderful cooks, while others could not feed their family without a can opener and a husband who grills outdoors. Some are always fashionable, and others are listed under “rummage sale” in the dictionary.

In short, all mothers are different except for two things: they love us, and we love them. Deeply and forever.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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