Last year, in honor of my mother, I wrote about the revolutionary roots of Mother’s Day. I invoked the words of Julia Ward Howe, the founder of Mother’s Day, which sound somewhat different than the average Hallmark greeting card.
Arise then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home, for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient and the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
—Julia Ward Howe, 1870
“Mother’s Day wasn’t founded for mothers,” I wrote. “It was founded by them—and with revolution in mind. Acutely aware of the costs of war, industry, and greed, Julia Ward Howe and like-minded women initiated the first Mother’s Day as a day of activism, a day in which women would stand upon the basic principles of motherhood to demand a more peaceful, just world. It wasn’t the first time women made such demands, and it would not be the last. Having gone through the pain and joy and struggle and exhilaration and labor of bringing children into the world and raising them to be caring, responsible, creative, moral members of society, many women have historically found it difficult to stomach the wars and social forces which then twisted the bodies and minds of their children—and the “enemy” children of other mothers—in the interests of ideology and profit.”
These words ring truer than ever for me this year. On some still-unknown day in the next seven weeks, I will bring a child into this world, becoming a mother myself. My mother is becoming a grandmother. My grandmother is becoming a great-grandmother. The lineage is deepening, and so too is my commitment to working for peace.
But today, on this particular mother’s day, my feminism, my activism, my hell-raising looks different. As Ani DiFranco reflected a few years ago:
I find it metaphorically resonant that a pregnant woman looks like she’s just sitting on the couch, but she’s actually exhausting herself constructing a human being. The laborious process of growing a human is analogous to how women’s work is seen… much of women’s work just makes the world quietly turn.
The past week has been filled with ups and downs and ups, and I finished it off by pulling three waitressing shifts in a row, which is a bit of a challenge on this end of the pregnancy. No matter how well I sleep, I tend to wake up tired these days. So, on this mother’s day, I practiced peace close to home and did small things, in honor of mothers.
I filled and hung a birdfeeder; in honor of Annie, the mother who raised six children in this house, and loved birds; in honor of my mother in law, Mary Jane, who gave me the birdfeeder some time ago; and in honor of my mother, Theresa, who has made her backyard into a veritable songbird sanctuary over the years. As I hung the feeder from the wisteria vine, I heard the insistent, high-pitched chirping of baby birds, and realized that one of Annie’s old birdhouses is hosting a family. Here’s hoping that bird mama realizes she can stay a little closer to home to feed the wee ones.
I took a small walk in the Bigleaf Maple forest near our house, with my husband and our dog. The sunlight filtered down through the green canopy, and the forest floor was warm and earthy-smelling.
Back home, Ryan set to work constructing my mother’s day present: four giant raised beds for our vegetable garden. He’s been mapping the pattern of the sunlight in the yard for weeks, and last week he staked out mesh to block weeds and grass from making their way up into the gardens. Last night, he and our friend Ross picked up lumber and hammered together the first bed, and this afternoon he finished the final three.
I moved our three trays of vegetable starts out of the laundry room and into the sunshine, and sat at our picnic table starting seeds. Pattypan squash, three kinds of basil, kentucky wonder pole beans, cilantro and cucumbers. Sorted through the rest of my seeds and lined up the packets I’ll direct seed once we’ve hauled in dirt for the garden beds. Three kinds of carrots, beets, lettuce greens and sugar snap peas… more to come, I’m sure, just haven’t thought of them yet. I know of few things more peaceful than growing food by hand, at home, and I can think of few ways more appropriate to honor the woman who raised me.
After I finished the seeds, I sat in the sun and pulled my shirt up over my belly to let the sun warm the baby, and called my good friend Nora, who’s also pregnant, and expecting in a few weeks. We swapped pregnancy stories and laughed, talked over things like last names and placentas, made plans to visit soon.
As the sun arced out of the yard and the day began slipping into early evening, I wandered inside and sat down at the computer. Made a donation to FINCA international in honor of my mother, my grandmother, and Ryan’s mom. Thought about the small, humble ways we can create peace in our everyday lives, peace which inevitably overflows into the lives of those who we cross paths with. Maybe next year Callum and I will call up Grandma and find a protest to rally at. But this year, we’re celebrating peace quietly, in the name of our mothers.
To my mama-san, Theresa, my grandmother, Marian, my mother-in-law, Mary Jane, and in honor of my Nana, Frances and all the other women worldwide who are loving and struggling and prevailing as they try to raise their children in a peaceful world… Happy mother’s day, and thank you.