Where mamís matter
I am not really the biggest fan of Mother’s Day.
It’s one of those holidays that seems to be set up for disappointment, with Hallmark-inspired fantasies of perfectly behaved children that the real world can never live up to. The very act of mothering seems to conflict with Mother’s Day dreams of a pampered day ‘off,’ despite the fact that mothering is what we’re supposed to be celebrating. Never mind when real life (read: AP exams) requires Dad to work all weekend and Mom to do double child-care duty. Or when your rambunctious toddler makes a lovely meal out (or in!) seem more stressful than that easy box of mac-and-cheese. Or when your four-month-old cries his little heart out as the soundtrack to your day (or worse: night). This year, I really could have done without Mother’s Day. I would have been happy with a Let Mom Sleep Just a Little Day.
And there are other reasons to question the spectacle that is Mother’s Day. Anne Lamott wrote a compelling piece about gender norms and Mother’s Day, and the bloggers at Hopeful World reminded us of how exclusionary the holiday can be for a multitude of folks. For me, though, my objection was much more self-interested: If it weren’t Mother’s Day, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to non-stop mom duty all weekend long. But since it was Mother’s Day, I kind of resented having to actually mother. Ironic, no?
That was my American Mother’s Day—Sunday, May 12—a day of disappointments and exhaustion.
But there was also my Mexican Mother’s Day—Friday, May 10—which was an entirely different story.
Here in Mexico, Mother’s Day is something completely different. Okay, not completely different. There are still flowers and chocolates and hand-made cards. Except here, those tokens of gratitude seem much more like symbols of deep, heart-felt thanks for mamas rather than Hallmark-profiting holiday fabrications.
I had forgotten about the separate Mexican Mother’s Day, but I was reminded first thing in a very busy Friday morning when one of my students came bounding up to me with a hearty, “Congratulations, Miss!” I was taken aback. Congratulations? For what? He smiled: “It’s Mother’s Day. Congratulations!”
How different a greeting on Mother’s Day. Congratulations. Felicidades. A sentiment expressed over and over throughout the day, by children, parents, staff, colleagues. A sentiment that seems to remind you that you have done something—worked so. freaking. hard. at something—that is actually an accomplishment to be celebrated. For a moment, I finally felt like someone recognized that since January, when the Little Ones I am responsible for doubled in quantity, I have been working harder (and on far less sleep) than I ever have before in my life. And my Little Ones are not just alive but thriving. So yes! I think I’ll take that hearty congratulations, however strange it may have seemed the first few times it came my way on Friday. But by the end of the day, I was graciously accepting those flying felicidades as my Mother’s Day right.
I thought of this as I visited Anna’s Montessori school for its belated celebration of mamas on Tuesday. Anna’s comunidad infantil, the Littlest of the Littles, were herded on stage where they arranged themselves by the letters on their sandwich boards: ¡Te amo, Mamí! And then the mamís were invited on stage, where our Littlest Ones clamored over one another to hand deliver abrazos and giant, gorgeous calla lilies to each of us. Not merely an assembly for us, the moms, but an assembly of us, where we were called on stage so our Littlest Ones could tell us, face to face, in their burgeoning (and carefully coached) Spanish, “Gracias, mamí,” with a slobbery beso on the cheeks. So much more than a hand-made card. A public declaration of gratitude and love being instilled in our children from the get-go. (Followed up with private gift-giving of hand-sewn aprons made by the teachers and our decorating toddlers.)
Each grade followed with a declaration even more heartfelt. I was most moved by the pre-teens, who are on the verge of sass and storm in the US. But here in Mexico, they all donned princess dresses and sweater vests (in 90-degree heat) to sing and dance “Gracias a Ti” to their mamís. No hesitation, no embarrassment, just blown kisses and fingers pointing to their own mothers in the audience. Of course there were teachers dancing and coaching at the back of the plaza, reminding the students when to clap, when to turn, and when to head bob. But here’s what wasn’t coached: The not-so-secret waves mid-song to mommy, the public abrazos fuertes at the end as pre-teens sought out their mothers, the emotion as they belted out the serenade’s sweet lyrics. You couldn’t miss the fact that they meant it. They might have been coached how to sing and dance, they might have been reminded to say thanks, but it was clear that these kids did not need coaching or reminding that they loved and valued their mothers. At two, at ten, even at fourteen, these kids meant it when they said gracias and felicidades to the mamís.
I’m used to the US—especially the adolescent culture of the US—where moms are ignored, chided, even an embarrassment. And I’m used to a culture where moms are taken for granted, where they do a lot of heavy lifting without a lot of recognition. Where moms are martyrs. And while I don’t know enough of Mexican culture to know if the Mama Martyr syndrome runs as deeply here, I do know that it seems like mothers are truly, genuinely beloved. I mean, where else will you see fathers shepherding children at the mall so mama can get another pair of skinny jeans and stilettos? Where else do grown men live at home as long as possible and let go of obligations to girlfriends and friends at the drop of a hat just because mom needs something? Where else do middle schoolers unapologetically hug and kiss their moms…in front of their friends??? Where else will colleagues go out of their way to rearrange schedules so you can attend an assembly at your kid’s school because, as our nanny reminded me, “Es muy importante para una niña a tener su mamí en el Día de las Madres”?
(And of course, none of this is to say that there aren’t all sorts of problematic aspects to Mother’s Day, mothering, family roles, and gender norms here in Mexico, too. Far, far from it. But it is to say that the esteem granted to my hard work as a mom is palpable in a way that I hadn’t realized was missing in the US.)
Here’s the other thing: This all happened on a weekday, as families and mothers went about the daily work of parenting and life. Chocolates delivered to teachers between classes, breakfast and coffee as mothers dropped their children at school, assemblies short enough for even working mothers to attend. The point isn’t to escape motherhood on Mother’s Day; the point is to thank mothers in the midst of all that they do for their children and families.
And so, while I might have told Fresh snarkily on Sunday morning that my Mother’s Day gift this year was to spend even more time with my children, the truth is, that really was my gift. And while in the States, I might be left grumbling that I hope one day my kids appreciate it, here, I know I’m appreciated. Not one day. But now. With besos and felicidades and hand-made aprons to remind me of it.
So to all the mamís out there–felicidades. You matter. Deeply.
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While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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