First, a secret: Stepmothers don't like Mothers Day. Some non-stepmothers also don’t like Mothers Day, but I maintain that ALL stepmothers face the day with dread. Mothers Day is the annual day of reckoning, when children in blended families get anxiety rashes from trying to figure out how to celebrate all of their mothers, and stepmothers try to prepare for the moment when they will be reminded of their legendary status as fairytale villains and the not quite “real” mothers to the children they love.
In my advice column, I frequently encounter questions from people who are thrown into a mini-crisis over Mothers Day. Husbands worry: “Can I celebrate this day with my own mother when my wife is also tapping her foot and looking at me expectantly? And what about her mother? And our stepmothers? Can we somehow squeeze them in for a third brunch?
And, not to put too fine a point on it, but Hallmark just doesn’t make cards to cover all of the varieties of mothering that many families encounter — including of course, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and older siblings who sometimes raise children on their own. Those of us who are grieving the loss of our own mothers find this day especially hard.
My typical response to the awkwardness of Mothers Day is to want to basically hide out until the day is over. This year I handled it by writing notes to all of my daughters, acknowledging them and thanking them for making me who I am. Notably, they have at times needed to forgive me for being a flawed and occasionally grouchy parent.
Marrying my husband later in life, I thought I had more or less completed the mothering phase of my life. And then I became a parent in a family with four additional daughters, all in various phases of adolescence, and I realized that my mothering had only just begun.
Fortunately for me, I have one sterling and perfect Mothers Day memory that I return to, each year. I think of this as the MOTHER of all Mothers Days, and my memory of this day proves to me that I only need to experience something perfectly once.
On this particular day, about ten years ago, I was bidden by my stepdaughters to the beautiful nearby slope underneath the iconic clocktower at nearby Cornell University for a picnic.
I drove to Cornell’s campus — lush and greening and gorgeously blossom-struck on this hot spring day — and found the spot on the steep slope overlooking the spectacular slash of Cayuga Lake and the vineyards and dairy farms on its opposite shore. My husband, stepdaughters and young granddaughters were all there. It was a joyous and silly gathering, there on our blankets. I almost forgot how much I don’t like Mothers Day.
Then the massive clock at the top of the tower started chiming … BOONNNNGGGG.
And the carillon started to play. The bells from high atop the tower started ringing out some of my favorite songs. I heard Gershwin, Cole Porter, the theme from Star Wars. This was a musical sampling of everything I love.
I imagined the music sweeping down the slope and across the lake, entering the falling-down dairy barns and the farmhouses, running up wooden staircases, brushing over quilted beds and spilling out of open windows before disappearing into the fields and forests beyond.
One of my daughters had set this up in advance with her friend, who played the carillon all through her time as a student at Cornell and who still had the keys to the clock tower. The bells on that day were tolling for me!
I thought of my own mother, who bequeathed me my love of music and who had died the year before, in a home a short walk from where I was sitting. How she would have loved that concert, and how she would have appreciated the way my five daughters had each forded their own individual pathway into having a relationship.
I wrote about this experience in my memoir “Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things,” and I chose this particular Mothers Day as the way to reflect on my experience mothering, daughtering, and step-mothering. This is (spoiler alert!) the happy ending of my memoir:
“There are a lot of ways to be in a family. But here is how to BE a family: You have to spend time together. You have to try to be honest so that people trust you. You have to forgive others their failings and disappointments and ask for forgiveness for your own. You have to let things happen, to surrender to events, and to accept that no matter what you do, life unspools anyway — whether you are alone and crying in your car, or holding hands with your beloved. You have to embrace those fleeting moments when everyone is healthy and happy. And sometimes, you have to make a spectacular celebration, just because you can.”
The new documentary “Duty Free” tells the story of what might be the ultimate Mothers Day gift, from a grateful son to his hardworking mother:
After his 75-year-old mother, Rebecca Danigelis, was laid off from her lifelong job as a housekeeper in 2016, filmmaker Sian-Pierre Regis stepped up in a big way. In addition to helping her navigate the digital job-hunting landscape, Regis developed a plan to spend more time with her by creating a bucket list of activities she’d been too busy to do throughout her life because of her career.
Danigelis was not only laid off from her job as a housekeeper at a hotel, she was evicted from her apartment that came along with that job. (All of this at the age of 75.) Her son decided to get to know his mother in a new way, introducing her to new activities and helping her to achieve a few of her dreams, that she had always deferred because of her need to work and take care of her sons.
LAURA LIKES (Where my friend Laura recommends great stuff):
“Next time you're having some sort of a get-together -- whether it's a family post-vaccination reunion, or an appropriately socially distanced "I think we used to hang out? Do you remember me? You were one of my bridesmaids, is this ringing any bells?" meet-up, or a videoconferenced "hey, it's spring, wanna watch me cook a thing on a grill?" situation -- it's always nice to kind of change up the things you usually serve, trot out the good glassware, and do something a little bit fancy. Allow me to suggest the Pimm's Cup, if you're looking for a nice, spring-y libation that's not completely unknown here in the U.S. of A., but not exactly something common as mud, either.
(In England, if you’re lucky, you’ll drink your Pimm’s Cup from a cool silver “Julep” cup)
Wildly popular in the U.K., it's made with Pimm's No. 1 liqueur...hence, the name (obviously). It's a gin-based liqueur that tastes like spice and fruit. It tends to be drunk in a tall glass, with a citrus or spice mixer, jammed full of fruit slices, garnished with mint and more fruit...it's a wonderfully adaptable drink, and there's no hard-and-fast rule about it outside of using, you know, Pimm's. And a cup. Because it is a Pimm's Cup.
You can find recipes galore for this drink online, but my favorite variety leans heavily on cucumber, because I like cucumber. In the version I like best, I use Pimm's, a cucumber-y tasting gin like Hendrick's, strongly gingered ginger ale, a slice of cucumber, a sliced orange, a sliced strawberry, and garnish the whole thing with mint. I tend to make this with an aggressively gingery ginger ale I make from scratch myself, but a good commercial ginger ale gets the job done. You are likely to find recipes for this drink that call for ginger beer as a mixer, others that call for sparkling lemonade...also totally fine. It's a relaxed drink, a cool drink, and you should make it with what you like. The point is, it's unusual, it's beautiful, it tastes good, and makes you feel a bit like you're a supporting character in a P.G. Wodehouse novel, coolly drinking your Pimm's Cup as Bertie Wooster stumbles through a minor familial crisis, or a cricket match. A cool spring drink for a cool spring fling.
(In the US, Pimm’s Cups are usually served in a nice, tall highball glass — all the better to view your ingredients — here a slice of green apple and a cucumber slice)
You can of course make something similar completely non-alcoholic if you like. Sometimes I put all the stuff in the glass along with some cherries and a lime slice, and pour in a Dr Pepper instead of the Pimm's and ginger ale, and call it a Dave Robicheaux, after the James Lee Burke book character, since that's what I picture Dave drinking down there in Iberia Parish while the world's falling down around him. I imagine it is the drink that provides him with the necessary cool Cajun fortitude to handle it.) “
[Laura Lorson is a writer and radio producer and newsreader in Lawrence, Kansas. You should definitely follow her on Twitter @prairielaura]
Railey Jane Savage presents:
JUNK FOOD: Stuff I consume to feel better
“I had intended to wax intellectual this Mother’s Day, submitting for your reading pleasure a dense unpacking of Ridley Scott’s treatment of the feminine and the maternal in the Alien franchise. Yeehaw.
In preparation I re-watched the whole shooting match (including Alien vs. Predator, whose trashy merits are wildly under-sung), and took notes on Ripley’s femininity vs. her power, vs. the xenomorph and her maternal power. These notes are a car crash of semiotics and the third wave; for all their feminist power these characters remain framed by the lens of Scott’s own mommy issues—which seem innumerable—and for all their tenacity, these characters are fictional. And for all their challenges and victories, they pale compared to the real thing: my fearless mother.
So I will spare you more Alien alien talk, and leave you with three images of my mom seeing the world through the lens of her camera.
My mom is super smart, fiercely independent, and an expert at unexpected things. Just like Ripley.
(Scratch that; reverse it.)
Ripley is one of the baddest Bs out there. Just like my mom.
(Railey Jane Savage writes, lives and works in her home in Ludlowville, NY. You can follow her on Instagram @cartoonsandcats)
TARGETED UPSELL, By Emily Mason
(Where our consumer correspondent reports on products the Internet wants her to buy)
“The newest thing to bombard my targeted ads is Cove! It bills itself as “a hug for your mind” which sounds both comforting, and when taken literally, terrifying.
I know it seems strange to wonder if a product literally wants to hug my mind, but given the things I’ve been pitched I take nothing for granted.
Thankfully, this is figurative.
Cove is a device that, if you wear it on your head for 20 minutes every day, it reduces stress, improves mental well-being and helps you sleep better.
A bold statement, and in trying times like these it’s certainly appealing.
But...I see Cove, and I’m immediately reminded of something else:
(Surely you remember Lobot, the true hero of The Empire Strikes Back?)
I guess the benefits are two-fold; you can sleep better and answer any distress calls from Lando Calrissian in Cloud City!
Why am I seeing this?
Like many other people, pandemic life has me a bit twitchy. I may have looked up ways to reduce stress at some point, but time has lost all meaning so I genuinely can’t remember.
Did they sell me?
Well, I could point out that naming a product (COVE) is, perhaps, a bit unfortunate, given that a similar word has caused many people a great deal of stress for the last year.
But...I won’t. What’s really got me balking is (what else?) the price tag.
(Take me to your leader...)
Why are the “easy fixes” for things all so prohibitively expensive? Cove is currently a “steal” at $490, which is not appealing to me, the person trying to spend less money on items that can only do one thing and may not even be able to do that— I was not able to find any scientific confirmation this actually reduces stress or helps you sleep.
I’ll try the free options for stress reduction before hitting up Cove, such as yoga on the mat I already own, or drinking some nice free tap water.
If Lando and the other rebels need a lift — they can text me.
God knows, I am always here — scrolling the Interwebs for things NOT to buy.”
(Emily Mason lives in Chicago. You can find her on Twitter @themistakemaven)
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