Mother’s Day Blues

May 5th, 2010

For many mothers Mother’s Days is tinged with tragedy or sadness. A child’s death or teen suicide, having a child who is a deployed soldier fighting overseas, or one struggling with an illness in the hospital, or one incarcerated can make Mother’s Day a difficult day to get through.

Likewise, not every daughter (or son) looks forward to Mother’s Day. If your relationship with your mother is complicated, or you’re estranged from her, or if she’s no longer with you because of death or she no longer even knows your name because she has Alzheimer, waking up to a day called “Mother’s Day” can be painful.

Such reality was driven home to me recently on a listserv I belong to where one of the members on the list wrote honestly about not looking forward to church this Sunday. As you can see, her complaint was not about Mother’s Day only. It’s about the way the black church celebrates mothers and motherhood on that day.

Others on the listserv weighed in prompting me to ask permission to post for Something Within readers the provocative conversation about motherhood, Mother’s Day, and the church’s clumsy way of talking about motherhood that ensued.

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With Mom gone 7 years, mothers day is a mixed bag for me. I’ve got some incredibly wonderful memories of the day but find that since Mom has died, i often avoid church (black or otherwise) on Mothers Day now. I thought i’d send a shout out to you all to see what you think of the ways black churches celebrate Mothers Day.

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mother daughterLike many of the people weighing in, I’ve gotten to where I wince during Mother’s Day. My own mother died just before Mother’s Day weekend, 2002. I preached her funeral the Saturday before Mother’s Day. And she was my greatest theological inspiration and most quoted person. When I had to preach Mother’s Day in youth church 3 years later, I started the sermon out with “I don’t like Mother’s Day celebrations.” I talk about the joy and pain of being a mother, the joy and pain of being a daughter, the fact that not everyone in the room had “warm, fuzzies” about their moms, some didn’t know their moms, some moms were strung out, etc. The altar filled up with young people wanting to pour out their pain around “mother loss” and “mother grief” and “mother struggles.” It lasted longer than the sermon as they prayed, cried, repented, went to find their moms and beg forgiveness, accepted the notion that God had provided many mothers and aunts and cousins and sisters and friends to help shepherd them into womanhood and manhood. Upstairs, of course, the service was sugary sweet about mothers.

I don’t know what that says, but there it is. I will be with a friend on a beach of Mother’s Day. I don’t expect to hear from my younger son and grandchild because he doesn’t celebrate anything anymore. I will hear from my older son. I will feel loss and joy.

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I think also for me such celebrations tend to be insensitive to women
who have lost mothers, lost children, or who are not biological
mothers. And this is just symbolic of how they are looked upon beyond
the mother’s day celebration. Also while we emphasize that every
father is not a dad or vice versa, we do not emphasize that mothering
is about more than giving birth, more than being an incubator. Maybe
I’ve become too cynical. I am planning to become a foster or adoptive
mother soon– it’s a scary thing as I get closer to the reality of my
promise. Maybe mother’s day celebrations should intentionally
celebrate acts of mothering in the village and should be a platform
for extending our mothering impact on the global village.

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My mother has been dead for over twenty-five years, but I can’t say that’s the reason church Mother’s Day celebrations don’t get under my skin the way others describe. I have fond memories of my mother for sure, but not a lot. But I’ve learned not to resent other women’s Hallmark Card rhapsodies about their moms nor gag when the church goes off on one of its paeans to motherhood. I went to church on Mother’s Day when I wasn’t someone’s mother and still show up now that I am someone’s mother. I go, in part because I’m a woman who goes to church, but also because church is where lots and lots and lots of black mothers/black women are on Sundays. And as a womanist I relish the presence of black women and believe that despite my mother’s flaws there’s something healing and comforting about losing myself on Mother’s Day in a sea of black mothers asking God’s help to mother from a place of healing.

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What do you think Something Within readers? What do you think about “Mother’s Day”?

Let’s be honest:  “Mother’s Day” has strayed from is original anti-war movement origins. Today’s celebration has nothing to do with appealing to the justice loving nature of women in general and mothers in particular. Maybe it should. Perhaps we need to go back to the roots of the celebration.

What do you think? What does “Mother Day” mean to you? How is the day celebrated at the churches you attend?

The Child That’s Not Your Own

April 28th, 2010
On Children by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Good-bye Ms. Height, See You in the Morning.

April 20th, 2010

Height

Our matriarch of justice passed this morning.

Dorothy I. Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) who fought for most of her life on behalf of women and blacks, died at the age of 98.

The last time I saw Ms. Height she was in her wheel chair, poised, eagle-eye alert, wearing her signature church lady wide brim hat, and in full control of everyone and everything.

President of the National Council of Negro Women for more than 40 years, advising presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton on both civil and gender rights, Ms. Height helped advance landmark legislation on school desegregation, voting rights and equality in the workplace.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Make no mistake about it, Ms. Height was among the coalition of African American leaders who pushed civil rights to the center of the American political stage in the years after World War II, often standing alone as a woman amidst a den of black male preachers, challenging sexism, decrying foolishness, negotiating between factions, calling egos on the carpet, making deals without losing her soul, and calling movements to moral order.

I remember the first time I met Ms. Height. She called me on the phone to invite me to speak at a NCNW meeting. I couldn’t believe it was Ms. Dorothy Height on the other line. It was 9pm where I was, 10pm there in her office in DC.  She was in her 80s back then. “Ms. Dorothy, what are you doing in your office this time time of night?” I asked incredulously. “Where else do you suppose I’m  supposed to be, Renita?” “Yes Mam.” I answered.

A few weeks ago after speaking at Howard University Rankin Chapel I was greeted by my mentor and friend, Dr. Marian Wright Edelman who mentioned that she was off to visit Ms. Dorothy who was in the hospital.  “How’s she doing” I asked. “Ms. Dorothy is doing what she’s always doing –even from her sick bed– in charge and giving out orders to everyone.” We laughed.  “She ordering even you around, Dr. Marian?” I asked. “Child, all any of us can say in reply to anything Ms. Height tells us is, ‘Yes Mam. That includes me!’”

Yes Mam.

You have to admire a woman who didn’t mind taking care of business.

Happy Birthday Ms. Billie

April 7th, 2010

Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagin 95 years ago today to Sadie a teenage mother there in Baltimore, Md. She took the stage name “Billie Holiday” from a famous actress at the time “Billie Dove ” and the man widely believed to be her father, jazz trumpeter, Clarence Holiday. One of the most influential jazz singers of all time, Billie Holiday had a thriving career for many years before her battles with substance abuse got the better of her.

Men not worth loving, drugs, jail, and the memory of a mother who was always leaving her with other people to raise when she was a little girl. Her 1956 autobiography “Lady Sings the Blues” (title taken from one of her famous songs) would later be adapted into a movie starring Diana Ross and Billie Dee Williams.

Here’s to you, Ms. Billie. Hopefully, you don’t have to sing the blues no more where you are.