I was shopping for a prom gown with my daughter, when I pulled a peach-colored dress from the rack. “That would look awful on me,” she complained, handing me instead the backless cocktail dress she’d chosen. I returned mine to the rack without mentioning that I’d been thinking of it for myself.
The following months would be filled prom, graduation, college orientation and moving day – all rituals to mark my daughter’s maturation and her journey into adulthood. I was full of pride in her accomplishments and in the woman she was growing up to be. But I couldn’t help wondering: Shouldn’t there be a ceremony for mothers, too?
Not since the baby shower, which takes place before there even is a baby, is there a significant ritual or party to mark one’s role as mother.
We celebrate our children’s milesones: baby namings, birthdays, confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs and graduations. But not since the baby shower, which takes place before there even is a baby, is there a significant ritual or party to mark one’s role as mother.
Mothers Day: the sanitized Hallmark holiday marked by cold eggs in bed doesn’t satisfy the need for a rite of passage to mark the enormity of what mothers really do. Perhaps that’s because of the selfless nature of the role. From the moment a newborn arrives, the mother’s needs (for sleep, for privacy, for dancing the night away) are swept unceremoniously beneath the bassinet. Eighteen years later, most women have forgotten what their own needs are, let alone how to fulfill them.
But now, with my daughter approaching her eighteenth birthday, I sensed that I was approaching a milestone, too. My need for a different kind of celebration for mothers may have been inspired by the unique challenges I’d faced. I had my daughter with another woman, before lesbian parenting was fashionable, and 27 years before gay marriage became legal. As the non-biological mother, I was on flimsy legal ground when my lover became my ex, and the court declared me a “biological stranger” to the child I’d helped welcome into the world, and raise. As a result I lost custody—and all contact with my daughter for five years. Eventually she came back to live with me, but the defeats, battle scars and traumas, have required reserves of courage, commitment, and emotional strength to survive that I never knew I had.
The details of my story are unusual, but every mother has her tale. One of my friends endured the near-fatal illness of her infant, another suffered two miscarriages, one in the sixth month of pregnancy, and another friend drives four hours each way to visit her son in prison every month. Even the everyday sacrifices of putting our children’s needs, hopes and dreams first, skimping on extras for ourselves to give to them, working extra hours — or giving up work — the constant cleaning, planning, researching schools and summer camps, managing mental health issues, mediating media consumption — are in themselves heroic.
For myself, I wanted a ritual that would acknowledge the grief of my losses, my pride and joy in my daughter’s successes, and the fact that I managed to stay the course, and come through—exhausted yes, but also stronger, wiser, and still with a lot of healing work to do.
So, while my daughter celebrated her 18th birthday with friends during her first week away at college, I sat in her uncharacteristically clean, and newly vacated, bedroom, lit a candle and placed two pictures before me: one of her as a newborn baby in her swaddling and pink cotton cap and another of her in her black and purple graduation cap and gown. I said a prayer asking God to care for her and give me the strength to let her go — after all these years of holding tight—so she could be free to start her new, grownup life.
But I also wanted to honor the loyalty, love and support of friends and family who saw us through. So, I invited six women who had stayed with me when I cried, complained, succeeded and failed along the way to gather at a local spa where we treated ourselves to massages, pedicures and facials followed by lunch.
Listen closely when women tell their childbirth stories, adoption stories, and stories of raising, protecting, losing—or saving—their kids. They sound strikingly similar to the way our grandfathers did when they shared their war stories.
After our treatments, we gathered in the blue-lit “relaxation room” and admired our newly painted toes, and radiant post-facial smiles. The table was set with pictures of my daughter from all stages of her life, from birth to graduation. My friends added gifts: a hand-beaded necklace, a beautiful orange plant, a gift certificate to a yoga retreat center, and cards addressed to me.
“I’ll read that one to you,” one friend said, taking the lavender note card from my hand. “On this day,” she proclaimed, “the Motherhood Medal of Honor goes to Tzivia Gover.” She continued to read the certificate, which detailed character traits I’d exhibited in the years I’d raised, fought for, loved and struggled with my daughter. By the time she finished, we were both in tears.
This year on Mother’s Day my daughter and I will celebrate together on Facetime, since she lives on the other side of the country. But despite the geography, we grow closer each year. My Motherhood Medal of Honor is tucked away in a closet, but I have felt the urge to hand out medals to other mothers I know and read about: Medals of Commendation, Bronze Stars, Medals of Meritorious Service. Purple Hearts.
Listen closely when women tell their childbirth stories, adoption stories, and stories of raising, protecting, losing—or saving—their kids. They sound strikingly similar to the way our grandfathers did when they shared their war stories. We’ve been through something. The experience of being a mother transforms us.
A ritual. A party. Whatever it is, every mother when her child is grown deserves at least this: An afternoon with friends. A massage. And a proclamation of valor.
Tzivia Gover is a dreamworker, writer and presenter. She spends lots of time pondering dreams, consciousness and what it all means. She makes her home in western Massachusetts and can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TziviasDream/ and she is the author of Joy in Every Moment and The Mindful Way to a Good Night’s Sleep. She wants to help you wake up to your joyful life, and offers dreamwork sessions, classes and workshops online and in person. Visit here to get in touch: www.tziviagover.com