Mother’s Day is a lie

ERIKA SCHICKEL is the author of the memoir "You're Not the Boss of Me."

I LOVE BEING A MOTHER, but I hate Mother’s Day. It is the most cooked-up holiday on the books.

I hate Mother’s Day cards with their treacly, pastel sentiments, and all the sachet-scented lady gifts designed to flatter the Angel in the House. I hate carnations and baby’s breath and the dozen sherbet-colored roses that invariably end up browning in a vase in my dining room. I don’t care much for perfume or fancy sleepwear. I cannot stand Mother’s Day drag. I’m 100% for tea-length dresses and straw hats any other day of the year, but on Mother’s Day they become a costume, that of polite, self-satisfied, neutered American womanhood.

What is harder than the Mother’s Day brunch? According to the National Restaurant Assn., six out of 10 Americans will be dining out Sunday. That means a long wait with hungry kids at the local waffle shack. On the other hand, it’s better than breakfast in bed, which is to me the Seventh Circle of Hell. Burnt toast and bed sheets are a tragic combination. I hate trying to negotiate a newspaper while I balance a tray on my knees, making my little slave girls run for the jelly when all I want in the world is to get it myself and sit at the breakfast table, comfortably catching up on the news.

As long as I’m being a complete Scrooge here, I confess to not being as psyched about the homemade kid gift as I once was. I have portfolios bulging with doily-encrusted cards, “roses-are-red” poems and melted crayons smooshed between wax paper. All the sentimental detritus manufactured in our nation’s classrooms, supervised into being by our children’s teachers, who are mandated by our government to leave no child behind when it comes to toeing the corporate-sponsored party line on Mother’s Day. I prefer the many spontaneous gifts that just spin off my kids on a daily basis: the love notes and bookmarks, poems and doodles, the goodnight kisses.

I recognize that most of my Mother’s Day issues may stem from an early childhood trauma. In second grade, my class hand-dyed silk scarves for our moms. Mine came out in lovely, muted fawn-and-purple hues. As I waited in line for the ironing board, I trembled with excitement, fantasizing about how beautiful the scarf would look against my mommy’s pretty, pretty auburn hair. When I got my turn, I lay the iron down on my creation, not knowing the kid before me had cranked the setting up to “linen.” It burned a gaping black hole through the center of my scarf.

I was horrified and heartbroken. My valiant teacher tried to help me by sewing a huge, green felt patch over the hole, killing the drape, making it look like some kind of stiff, arthritic jelly fish. When I gave it to my mother, she told me she loved it. That was how I learned that mothers lie.

Mother’s Day as it is practiced in this country is a total lie. It was originally conceived by social activist and poet Julia Ward Howe as a day for American women to unite in peace against the Civil War. She passionately declared in her Mother’s Day proclamation: “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.” She was saying that war makes obscenely moot all our hard work. Do you think if Howe were alive today, with so many of our sons in Iraq, she’d be out drinking mimosas and hoping for a CZ tennis bracelet?

Not that you’ll find me in a breastplate of macaroni necklaces, militating in the streets against the war Sunday. I will be out cravenly hawking my mommy book, trying to cash in on the holiday with the rest of the Mother’s Day profiteers, and no doubt I’ll tuck into a stack of waffles with my family.

Why? Because as much as I hate Mother’s Day, my kids just love it. They love any opportunity to demonstrate the passionate, obsessive, sticky, demanding, unspeakably tender love that animates them almost every day of their lives. That is the covenant that keeps us moms going through the tantrums and the lunch-making, the butt-wiping and the school assemblies. So even though I hate Mother’s Day, I’ll suck it up and celebrate it because I really, really love my kids. OK, and waffles.