May 8, 2003
My Yiddishe Mamma Day
Yesterday, I got three messages from my mother, a long distance Jewish mother joke from my brother in London ("A homeless man approaches a Jewish mother on the street. 'Lady, I haven't eaten in three days,' he said. 'Force yourself,' she replied.") and the last was from the Loews Hotel confirming my reservation for Mother's Day brunch.
The messages from my mom were typical: "Darrrling, I was at Smart & Final and I bought food for your cat; it's cheaper there," "Darrrling, I just wanted you to know that we are going to the theater tonight and we will be back at 11" and "Darrrling, I got your message regarding Mother's Day and I would like to talk to you about it."
I phoned my mom on her cellphone: "Hi, I got your messages. Thanks for the cat food."
"Darrrling, I would like to talk to you about Mother's Day. It's not a Jewish holiday, we don't need to celebrate," she said.
"Would you rather do something else?"
"Mother's Day, Shmother's Day, they make such a big deal of holidays in America. In Europe, only the florists have special Mother's Day bouquets," she explained.
"Do you not want to do anything?" I asked.
"I don't need a special day. Every day is special with my children. It's not a Jewish holiday. I think the Greeks started it and then the Church of England called it Mothering Day. It's for goyim."
I was stumped and not quite sure how to argue the point. I learned -- at 40 -- that circular conversations with Mom tend to lead to nowhere but aggravation.
But maybe she has a point. Do you have to celebrate Mother's Day because Hallmark, Godiva, Amazon.com and every restaurant in town tell you to? In some ways, for a Jewish daughter, every day is Mother's Day (or daughter's day). When you are connected to your mother 365 days a year, do you need Hallmark to remind you to make your mom feel special one day a year?
My family does celebrate many non-Jewish holidays: Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, Bastille Day (we lived in France for a long time) and Cinco De Mayo. But my mother also reacts strongly to celebrating certain non-Jewish holidays: Halloween, which reminds her of the pogroms, and she finds the American celebrations of Christmas, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day excessive. She prefers to express and receive love in a more understated, European way.
I was intrigued to find out how my girlfriends were handling Mother's Day. I called my pal, Merav, who is Israeli, and she laughed at all the retail extravaganza. She did share, however, that in Israel there is an annual Mother's Day, but for some reason no Father's Day on the calendar.
Judith, my Orthodox friend, told me point-blank that she does not feel a need to celebrate Mother's Day. She and her family just live their lives according to the Jewish calendar.
I called Elliot, my best friend, who recently lost his mother. This was going to be his first Mother's Day alone. When I shared with him my mother's resistance to celebrating Mother's Day, Elliot paused and said: "They can be a pain, but when they're gone, you sure miss them."
In the end, I found a way to celebrate my mother Jewishly -- by attending the Israel Independence Day Festival in the Valley.
"I'll cancel the brunch reservation," my mother said.
"You don't have to. We can have brunch first," I countered.
"We don't have to," she offered.
"It's all right. I'll go," I insisted.
So, I am set to celebrate with my mother and Elliot on May 11. It was worth the effort to try and figure it out; it is an important day. Despite the complexities of our relationship, there is deep caring between me and my mother -- on Mother's Day and all the other days of the year.
Annabelle Stevens is the director of public relations at Gary Wexler + Associates/Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes. She can be reached at email@example.com.