A few years ago, my daughter and I were browsing through the card kiosk, trying to select a Mother’s Day card. “Mom you’re the best!” read one. “#1 mom” raved another. “Queen mother!” pronounced yet another. I got to choose because she couldn’t yet read, and I chose none of the above. Let’s go home and make homemade cards, OK?
On cream-colored card stock, those bards at Hallmark have put their finger on the problem I have with Mother’s Day: For me, it can’t be about bests and greatests and onlys and queen bees. It can’t be all about the superlative me. My child has two moms. And while Mother’s Day may strike some as an occasion for our family to double our pleasure/double our fun, the second Sunday in May has become the thorn in my bouquet of roses. I don’t particularly feel like sharing the holiday.
My girlfriend and I had been together for more than 10 years before our daughter was born. She read the pee stick, and I carried the baby. She cut the cord. I nursed.
The major upside was that I got to be a rock star in the tiny universe of my kindergartener. Until she hits her pre-teens (which, I understand, now start at 8), I am a Glinda among munchkins; I can still dazzle with my magical goodness and breathtaking beauty. Any toddler knows that sharing is good. But, as the toddlers always say “I don’t want to.”
The bad-mommy zeitgeist has made it OK, even cathartic (and sometimes actually profitable) to complain about motherhood. In bitter “momoirs” and neurotic blogs, moms grumble about, confess to, and even celebrate imperfect parenting. But gay parenting isn’t ready for this kind of warts-and-all close-up. We need to be cheerleaders and role models. Our primary emotion toward parenting is supposed to be bliss and gratitude. Not a sense of redundancy and pettiness.
But then, I wouldn’t ask my daughter to share her birthday party with her friend Zoe, who has the same birthday. (Even though Zoe’s mom suggested it.) They should each get their own moment in their own spotlight. As should I.
For the last two years, I happened to be out of town on Mother’s Day, traveling with my daughter. One year there was a wedding, the next, a grandma that needed visiting and airlines miles that were expiring. My partner has a sneaking suspicion that I scheduled these trips to keep our daughter all to myself on Mother’s Day. The timing was coincidental (Really. Iswear!)–but I can’t say I minded much.
Last year, I took my mother and my daughter to Tavern on the Green (that over-obvious Mother’s Day destination in Central Park). Even though I managed to be my child’s only mother for miles around, I still didn’t really get to be on the receiving end of special attention. As a dutiful daughter, I of course treated my own mom to brunch. Meanwhile, I didn’t get especially fussed over—5-year-olds have yet to learn the value of suck-up-age and guilt-dodging. Worse, my 5-year-old took the occasion to miss her other mom intensely, which meant we spent much of the day calling home and making cards with lots of hearts on them. According to my partner, my stab at flying solo on Mother’s Day backfired. Of this, she is highly amused.
In my better moments, I am of course relieved she got the last laugh out of my Mother’s Day faux pas last year. Non-bio moms are permitted to get touchy about these things. Most people know better than to question their maternal legitimacy, but once in a while someone will ask “who gave birth?” in a way that implies, “Which one of you is the real mom?”
I don’t believe there’s any genetic favoritism that results in disproportionate bonding, emotional dependency, or climbing all over my body and giving me no room to breathe. But she does tend to treat my body as her personal jumpy house. Maybe because it was her personal milk bar for a while. Maybe there is some subtle difference that opens up, one that begins with breast-feeding and ends with you being the default person for mommy sanctuary.
Mother’s Day aside, I don’t even like to share the term mommy. I find it a little jarring when I hear my partner on the phone saying, “This is Nora’s mother…” And I’m always aware—when my daughter and I are out and about—that when I say, “We should call mama” or “Mama’s waiting for us” that, to an eavesdropper’s ear, I am someone other than this child’s mother.
Our daughter switches back and forth between Mommy and Mama indiscriminately, so much so that my partner and I often both ignore her hollers or both answer to either Mama or Mommy. To bypass the mayhem, Nora sometimes just calls us by name. “Don’t call me Erika!” I plead. “I like being called Mommy. You’re the only one on this planet who can call me Mommy.” But I’m not the only person on this planet she can call Mommy.
I have no idea how Mother’s Day is going to go down this year. My daughter is now 6, and she may have her own ideas. I just hope it doesn’t involve stairs and hot coffee. Even if I get breakfast in bed or a card, I’ll have to help her buy, do, or make something nice for my partner. And then I’ll have to clean up. And that pretty much cancels out the specialness of the day, doesn’t it? Like the massage you have to give after you just got one. Not so relaxing.
But maybe it’s really my daughter who should be griping (should she inherit the gripe gene) about the second Sunday in May. After all, it is she who is forever the designated doter on a double shift.