Saturday, May 10, 2008

Last year's Mother's Day essay to be discussed on LA talk show

Surprised was I to find an email last night from "Neshia's Radio Show" a radio call in talk show from LA. Tonight, 10PM Pacific, she is going to discuss part of an essay I wrote last year for mother's day. Neshia has invited me to call in, but I'll likely be asleep as I am on the road gathering up my daugher from college. She did send me a link so I could listen, as you can too.

Below I reproduce the essay which appeared last year in the Terre Haute Tribune Star

Thomas Steiger: What is it that we celebrate on Mother’s Day?
By Thomas L. Steiger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE Sat, May 10 2008

— Officially, today is the 93rd Mother’s Day. Unofficially, this is perhaps the 150th Mother’s Day in America. Based on my 15 minutes of Internet research, celebrations of mothers can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. Both sound to me like fertility rites. Ancient Christians began to celebrate the fourth Sunday in May to honor Mary, Jesus’ Mother.

The origin of Mother’s Day in the United States is credited to Anna Jarvis, who organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her Appalachian community. She thought mothers would be natural advocates. Fifteen years later, Juliet Ward Howe, a poet and activist, organized a day for mothers to rally for peace (today’s celebration won’t carry any political overtones I’m sure).
Then in 1905, the daughter of Anna Jarvis, began organizing a memorial to her mother’s work. Many of today’s symbols of Mother’s Day originated in the memorial to Anna Jarvis. In 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed a bill to recognize Mother’s Day as a national holiday on the second Sunday in May. I thought it was a “Hallmark Holiday.”

Early on, Mother’s Day was celebrated by going to church. Pretty quickly gift-giving and more secular activities began. Anna Jarvis’ daughter, the founder of our Mother’s Day, didn’t care for the materialistic turn of Mother’s Day and actually sued to try to stop a Mother’s Day festival. Before her death in 1948, she expressed regret at what the holiday had become.

I found some statistics related to Mother’s Day. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are more than 80 million mothers in the U.S. According to Hallmark, about 96 percent of consumers take part somehow in celebrating Mother’s Day. Cards are popular. So are telephone calls as it is a peak day for long distance service. I know that on more than one occasion over the years I have gotten the recording telling me “all circuits are busy.” Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for many restaurants. After Christmas, Mother’s Day is the biggest gift-giving holiday of the year. I didn’t see any statistics for church attendance on Mother’s Day. Perhaps it follows Christmas and Easter.

Now what I am going to write next will seem just downright odd, but give me to the end of the paragraph. What exactly are we celebrating? Are we celebrating fertility like the ancient Greeks and Romans? Or are we celebrating the work of mothering children? I wonder because as an adopted child, I have a “birth mother” and my mother, the one who raised me. All these years, I’ve never given any thought on Mother’s Day to my birth mother. Have I been disrespecting her all these years?
As a kid, other kids used to give me grief about not living with my “real” mother. I thought that was nonsense then and still do. I only know one mother. Yet, what if the telephone rings today and the voice says, “I gave you life nearly 49 years ago.” Should I buy that woman a card and invite her out to dinner?

About now, my mother is probably beginning to shake because she thinks this has actually happened. “No Mom, I’m just writing an essay. Nothing like that happened.”

What about kids who are conceived using donor eggs, dad’s sperm, but implanted in mom’s uterus? One mom or two on Mother’s Day? I know a young woman who gave up her son for adoption, but it is an open adoption and she knows the family and gets regular updates on her “birth son”(?). Does he buy two Mother’s Day cards? I should check more closely the card selections to see if they have cards that differentiate the birthing from the raising portions of motherhood. Maybe they are color-coded.

What about those folks walking around with a donor heart, lung, liver, or kidney from someone other than a sibling? Without another mom, they’d not have life now. Does one send a card to the mother of the donor? How about moms who abandon their kids? Do they still get an invite to Olive Garden today?

I take for granted my entry into this world. As I suspect most do. What I celebrate today is not the giving of life but the sustaining of it, not the biological role of reproduction but the social role of mothering, not the genetic material but the support, the guidance, the love, and never ending parenting.
Thanks, Mom, and happy Mother’s Day.

Thomas L. Steiger is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Indiana State University. E-mail

Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

UPDATE (5/11/2008). After driving for several hours, stopping in to see a colleague and friend, I decided to join the radio call in show. Only to discover, that the mother's day segment was cancelled. Turns out Neshia's show focuses on music, she was to have a rapper on who was having all kinds of domestic troubles, he canceled and my article was a fill in. I'm guessing the rapper returned. Anyway, kind of cool to be thought useful for such an endeavor. Who knows, sometime in the future.

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