Mother’s Day — that annual festival of last-minute teleflorism — is once again upon our sorry selves. It is not the worst Hallmark Holiday of the year, of course. That honor would go to Father’s Day, for which there is not even an accepted, go-to, eleventh-hour gift alternative. Still, it is a celebration we’d do well to drop from the calendar.
I’m sure there are a few mothers deserving of praise for their efforts, including (I grudgingly admit) the one pictured above. Possibly some fathers too, at least hypothetically. Still, I’ve been to too many confessional dinner parties with people claiming to be children of parents to believe that there are so many truly outstanding (or even passably competent) child-rearers as to justify a whole day in their collective honor. (And a prime spring weekend slot, to boot!)
Which puts me in mind of a favorite joke. A guy says to his psychiatrist, “I made a horrible Freudian slip this morning at breakfast.” What was it? “My father asked me to pass the coffee, and I accidentally replied: ‘You fucked-up my whole life you son-of-a-bitch!'”
But bad parents are not really the problem. Having them allows us to participate in the nearly-universal kvetch that is so central to the American cultural myth of the self-made child. To have loving parents who offered generally sound adult supervision and served as half-decent role models is to be excluded from the mainstream of American thought and a substantial amount of intra-generational conversation. And that’s not even the worst of it.
Good parents generally make for bad children. Not awful in every respect, of course; but under-appreciative of their parents in a morally reprehensible way. The better the parents, the more necessarily inadequate the filial piety. This model doesn’t hold in every culture, mind you. In lots of places, kids are obsequiously reverential of even the most abominable parents. But in America, sucking-up to your parents isn’t cool. It’s enough to get you beat-up on the playground or dinner-for-one in front of the TV on prom night. It just isn’t done.
Which brings me to my own mother, by all accounts a superstar of the genre. Her last Mother’s Day gift was probably a card I drew in crayon. This is the woman I taunt with claims that I’m searching-out “my true biological mother, who is very rich and misses me very much.” Whose every illness is met with my differential diagnosis of insanity. Who has to make her own breakfast on Mother’s Day morning. This year she was determined to receive at least token recognition of the fact that she fed, sheltered, and otherwise raised me. She gave me a task: for Mother’s Day, I was to compose a list of all the reasons she had been a good mother.
Naturally, I protested mightily against the injustice of this assignment. Mother’s Day is not like Christmas, where you sit on Santa’s knee and get to say what you want for a present. You smile and take the flowers — or, if you are lucky, half-decent chocolates. Shamelessly, she stuck to her demand, leaving me in a predicament somewhere between Oedipus and Elisabeth Barrett Browning. O mother, how do I love thee, let me count the ways.
Reluctantly, I pulled-out a pencil and stared at the blank page, willing my list into existence. Hell, it didn’t even have to be all that accurate! If I wrote that she was the model of decorum and taught me beautiful manners, was she really going to remind anyone that it was she who taught me to swear like a longshoreman? (What-the-fuck is it with those longshoremen, anyway?) And I very nearly wrote the thing; until something more meaningful came up, like checking the European football scores.
Besides, I still harbor hopes of someday getting a date to the prom.