Today is Mother’s Day in America, it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in many countries, a day set aside by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. The day was organized by Anna Jarvis, a Philadelphia native, who had no children of her own, she just had an astonishing mother. Anna organized a national celebration of Mother’s Day in honor of her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had held Mothers Day work clubs to to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination. Note the difference in Mother and Daughter’s focus. The Mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, organized days for mothers to gather in civil service, her daughter memorialized her mother with a day to celebrate “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
Anna Jarvis saw a day where you’d go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she had done. It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter. Not generic but personal. That’s why Anna stressed the singular possessive “Mother’s Day,” rather than the plural possessive “Mothers’ Day.” Mothers’ Day is a reflection of the commercialization of Anna’s dream, and she fought to end the mindless profiteering. In 1923 she crashed a convention of confectioners in Philadelphia, she crashed The American War Mothers 1925 convention in Philadelphia and was actually arrested for disturbing the peace because they used Mother’s Day for fund-raising, and even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities.
If you have ever questioned the importance of punctuation, put away those thoughts. Without the apostrophe, mothers (plural) gathered to care for civil war soldiers of both sides, and lower infant mortality. With a trailing apostrophe (plural possessive), Hallmark Cards celebrates all mothers with a day of flowers and gifts titled “Mothers’ Day”. Anna Jarvis mourned the loss of her mother and wanted children to appreciate their mothers while they were still alive, with a day for the individual relationship to be celebrated, singular possessive, your mother’s day.
Being a mother isn’t what you think it is when you are a child. As we mature we recognize unconditional love, the way mom still loved us even, perhaps especially, when she wasn’t giving us what we wanted. I have seen far too many separated from mothers due to mortality, never able to express appreciation, before that appreciation was recognized. I spent years when I felt the best way to honor my mother was to avoid her, we were like oil and water at times. Today I am separated from her by a continent, but I have found the place in my life where I can tell her how much I love her. We both know we never stopped loving each other, but it frightens me at this age that I could have lost her when we weren’t speaking, never reaching this point, with her wondering if I had felt as harshly as I acted.
As I have been out today, I have seen a sample of mothers. One woman doing her best to keep the peace as two of her children expressed their anger at the spouses of another of her children, threatening each other while they were supposed to be coming together to honor the mother they shared. Friends whose children have traveled home to spend time with them. Graveyards covered with flowers in honor of mothers who can no longer wipe away the tears brought by their loss.
I am giving this day to my wife, whose nurturing instincts are part of why I love her, so she can spend time with her children. They haven’t reached the point in their lives where they appreciate all she does for them, but she is filled with joy just by their presence. I can’t be with my own mother today, but I can celebrate the nurturing loving woman who I share my life with by allowing her to be the incredible mother I fell in love with. This is how I will be honoring my mother today, by honoring her unconditional love for me, and my wife’s unconditional love for her children.
Anna Jarvis hated the commercialization of Mother’s Day, but not being a mother herself, perhaps she missed the universal nurturing aspect of being a mother. Even though it was not her intent, today we celebrate motherhood. We do it in as many ways as there are mothers, and in doing so, share the love our mothers have shown us.