Like a lot of women my age, I sometimes get a card on Mother’s Day. It’s less routine for me, however, because I don’t have any children. I also don’t have any parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or siblings.
But this cherished young woman sometimes sends me a Mother’s Day card. Her parents have been friends of mine for 20 years. The meaning is clear -- you’ve been a little like a mother to me, or, if I had to choose a replacement mom, I might choose you.
Needless to say, I love Erin, the sender of the cards. I also love her sister Shawn and several other kids who came of age with them, children of our peace-nerd friends. We carried them in marches against President Reagan’s Iran-Contra and Star Wars policies, we watched them cartwheel through the shantytown built on the University of Utah campus to protest apartheid in South Africa, we sent postcards to them from rallies at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, knowing they should stay away from the dubious dust and sand that cover the desert there.
Now these kids, in their late teens, 20s, and even verging on 30, are the closest I have to my own children. I see them around town. They wait on me in stores and restaurants, they invite me to graduations and weddings, they come to my house for holidays and parties. I love them all and I think of them as my peace kids.
Peace was actually the sentiment behind the original declaration of Mother’s Day. Cynics probably think it was created by greeting card companies, and they have certainly made it their own, but in the beginning it was named Mother’s Peace Day by Julia Ward Howe.
Howe, a poet and writer who lived from 1819 to 1910, initiated this U.S. observance to protest the Franco-Prussian war. She said of that war, “the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest [shows] a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed.”
She was a one-woman peace movement, publishing an anti-slavery newsletter, lecturing on college campuses, crusading for women’s rights and writing essays that she translated herself into several of the many languages she spoke. Her proclamation of Mother’s Peace Day reads in part:
“Arise, then, women of this day! ... Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’ From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, Disarm!’”
I’d like to talk with Julia Ward Howe today. I wish she was here; I’d take her to Mother’s Day brunch. What would she say about what’s going on in her country? What would she think of the wars taking place in 2004? How would she feel about how far Mother’s Day has traveled from her original vision? I think the answers are clear, but I’d love to have her wisdom and her indignation nearby now.
This is my first Mother’s Day without my mom. She is finally at peace this year, but I wish our country was, too.
Anyway, like my dear friend Erin, I’ll be on the lookout for extra mothers now, women who can be like a mom to me, women who I might choose as a replacement, not that there is such a thing. One mother has already chosen me. I’ve been invited by a friend of my mom’s to the annual mother-daughter banquet that my mother and I used to attend. I’ll be standing in for Aleta’s out-of-town daughter (and a lost infant daughter) and Aleta will be standing in for my mom.
That’s how it works, I think. You may have a family of your own and then lose it, or you may not have really ever had one that loved or understood you. But in any case, people who can serve as family present themselves to you. They send you cards, they invite you to banquets, they wish you peace. They are family.
Barb Guy is a freelance writer living in Salt Lake City.