If you go into virtually any shop from around the end of February onwards, in amidst the Easter chocolates and Easter bunnies on early display (starting from Boxing Day in recent years - sigh) there will be cards and gifts earmarked for Mothering Sunday. Cheerful cards in shades of soft pink and cream, which is of course the colour mothers always prefer (SIGH) all of which tell the tale of how the mother in question is the very *best* mother in the world, who has always unconditionally been there for their children, never put a foot wrong and is basically so wonderful that her photo could be put up next to that of the Virgin Mary and wouldn't look out of place.
I hate those cards.
With only rare exceptions, cards like that don't reflect real motherhood or the complex feelings that surround it for both women and children. Where is the card for the woman who is so frustrated, tired and overwrought that she screams at her children to leave her alone and stop going on...all the time? Where is the card for the woman who is just so tired that she wonders if she can actually carry on? Where is the card that acknowledges the pain of the woman who has miscarried a child, buried a child or (despite her best efforts) has never succeeded in bearing a child? Where is the card for the child of a mother who, in her desperate humanity, has failed - the mother who has abused a child, walked away from a child, or otherwise rejected them? Where is the card that encompasses the complexities of a woman who has drowned her sorrows in a bottle, escaped them through a needle or some other addiction? Where is the card for the woman whose journey towards and through motherhood has been immensely complex, full of as much pain as joy - the mother whose child is disabled, life-limited or desperately ill? Where even are the cards for the adoptive mums, foster mums and honorary mums? Where even is the card for the single mother, who doesn't have a spouse to remind the children to mark the day and so for whom this day is just another long, hard day like any other? Each year, I find myself searching for those cards and I rarely find them in amidst the sea of pink and cream.
I am painting a bleak picture I know and I do appreciate that for many, this day is one of joy - a day to celebrate good mums and good relationships, to say thank you for all that mum does. Some may even have enjoyed a relaxing morning, breakfast in bed and lunch out or otherwise joyful time with their families. For those who genuinely experience Mothering Sunday in this way...I envy you...just a little bit. I hope you know just how lucky you are.
As I said in the church service that I led this morning, my own journey to motherhood has hardly been straightforward and I will never forget my very first Mothering Sunday, being wheeled into Neonatal Intensive Care to visit my week old baby boy who, at the time, was in a coma, on life support and desperately ill with Group B Strep Meningitis. As I sat in my wheelchair, not knowing if I would ever walk again, I remember not knowing if I would still be a mother by Monday - to a living child at least. The staff on NICU made sure that each one of the mothers of children there received a photo of their babies and a card. I think they knew that for some, it would be the only cards they received as their families just didn't know what to say or whether it was ok to celebrate this type of motherhood. There are some experiences that you simply don't forget, even if over time, they slowly grow easier to bear.
Fast forward to this morning when my, now nearly seven-year-old, son charged into my room for the second time (the first was at 1:30am, we won't go there) and threw two cards, one mug and a large wooden seed box of sweet peas directly at my head. I hadn't even started my first cup of coffee at that point! He then grew so excited by the idea of giving presents to Mummy that he charged out again, found the gifts intended for Nanny and charged back into the room, throwing these into my bed as well. By the time 3 seed pots full of soil had been upended in my bed, I can confidently assert that I was indeed awake.
Then, with Daddy's help and repeated instructions, Adam said and signed, "Happy Birthday!" Happy Birthday Mummies Day! Happy Mummies Birthday! Happy Mummies Day!" We were both laughing by the time he got there but needless to say, Adam got a huge hug and a well done from us both. He was so proud of himself that he zoned out on his iPad as, "Party in my Tummy" started up for the 179,000th time...approximately.
Mothering Sunday has, for me, included emotions at the extreme ends of the spectrum and there really is no commercial card that can encompass that. But my husband always buys me tulips because tulips grow in Holland...(even if you had always intended to travel to Italy...*) And I will treasure the beautiful tissue paper card Adam made at school, with a lovely photo of him on the cover, picture symbols on the inside that say, "Happy Mother's Day, Love From..." and then an illegible scrawl that he assures me says Adam (duh...) but I will also never forget that first Mothering Sunday or indeed the many others in which I wondered whether or not I could cope with the particular type of journey through motherhood that I had been asked to walk, even as I wondered what the future held for my beautiful baby boy.
Last night, Adam was once again in my bed and as I cuddled him close, I whispered in his ear, "I love you." To my shock, he replied quietly: "I know." It was a moment that was incredibly special and profound on so many levels for a child who doesn't understand the concept of conversation (Yes/No questions are generally his limit) who has only ever been able to mimic and repeat after me, "I. Love. You." with the accompanying signs. And a child who doesn't really understand a majority of emotion or the words used to describe them. But, apparently, he knows that I love him. I'll take that. Happy Mummies Day.
So here below, at the request of a couple of people in church this morning, are the words to the welcome that I read out as part of the service. I hope somewhere in here, this finds you and your experience, perhaps a bit more than some of those pink and cream cards might have done:
To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
To those who lost a child this year, or any year - we know the pain never ends, whether your child was 1 or 61. We can never truly understand the loss you feel, but we walk beside you and mourn with you.
To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains...and sometimes worse – we appreciate you
To those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things.
We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
To those who are foster mums, mentor mums, and spiritual mums – we need you
To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children
– we sit with you
To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother
– we acknowledge your experience and remember your pain
To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising
– we anticipate with you
This Mother’s Day, we walk with you.
Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst
and in our hearts.
We remember each one of you
and we thank God for you.
Thinking of you this Mothering Sunday.
I would invite you to take a few minutes to watch this immensely touching video in honour of the complexities of this day: https://vimeo.com/255013251
It's produced by the charity, "Home For Good" and also available on their website at: https://www.homeforgood.org.uk
*Many of you will be familiar with the poem "Holland" by Emily Perl Kingsley that I've shared here before and is very special to many families of disabled children.