Posted by Anna Cable

When Mother’s Day comes to my neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, it brings pandemonium. That’s because of the Lilac Festival at the local arboretum. In addition to purple blossoms it brings a host of Mother’s Day Hallmark card scenarios: families with picnic baskets; babies in strollers; kids clutching food truck goodies; mamas posing for pictures. My mother loved lilacs, and if she were here, it would be the perfect way to celebrate. Instead, for the last few years of living here, I’ve looked to the day with a resigned, semi-ironic apprehension.

Since my mother’s death when I was 19, Mother’s Day has always felt like a hurdle. The coincident Lilac Festival just throws that into sharper relief. I’ve tried a variety of strategies to get through the day. A year after my mother died, two of my best friends threw me a “Mother’s Day Brunch,” with the traditional cake-for-breakfast brunch and the less conventional – but more nourishing – crying and cuddling on the sofa. Some years, I’ve made a point of calling or visiting the other mothers in my life: my mother’s closest friends; my stepmother and grandmother. Other years, I’ve made lots of off-color jokes, kept the radio off, and just tried to grin (or grimace) and bear it.

This year will in some ways be different. This year, I will for the first time be a mother, one with a baby out and crawling about the world instead of wrapped tight in the pregnant belly I had last year. I imagine us together, out among the families with their strollers and photos and picnic lunches. Even though, for the first time in a long time, all the proper ingredients are there – mother, child, family – I still can’t quite make it fit. It’s just a little more complicated than that.

This message of complication and poignancy has been echoed in my work time and time again. In my work with postpartum women and families with young children, it’s never that simple. Mothers are mothers, to be sure, but we’re also people. We carry our own wounded parts – lost loves, missed opportunities, moments where we needed one thing and life handed us something else. We bring strengths, for sure, but not always the ones celebrated in idyllic pictures of a mother holding her baby close before a tenderly blossoming lilac tree.

So what will I do this Mother’s Day? Probably what I do most other days: mother. Be a person in this world. Try to hold in mind the mother who is missing, while holding in mind the baby who is here. Like all other mothers I meet, whether through my work or otherwise, I’m doing it one day at a time – even when it’s Mother’s Day.

Anna Cable is a clinical social worker with a special interest in attachment, trauma recovery, and infant-parent work. She is the Clinical Coordinator of Early Connections, a program of the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support®. Anna lives in Jamaica Plain with her husband, her daughter, and her pit bull, Barko. 

Originally published on the JF&CS blog.