An introduction

We devote a week to Mother's Day and the messages that don't fit on the cards.

Published May 8, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Holidays that revolve around relationships are tricky. To enjoy them, to even recognize them, one has to clear the mental hurdles presented by their shaky provenance or commercial underpinnings. Then, traveling from the head to the heart, it becomes necessary to contend with the more complicated issue of their timing. These fetes don't always come at a convenient moment for the displays of affection or devotion that they require. The high holy days of happy family -- Thanksgiving comes to mind -- can be dreaded marathons of discomfort for those of us with, well, families. The romantic pinnacles of the year -- Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve -- often are the nadir of loneliness if not observed with a kiss.

And Mother's Day? Complex, to say the least. It is, in theory, a legal timeout to indulge in universal joy and sentimental reflection. After all, everybody has -- or had -- a mother. Gratitude, at minimum, would seem to rule the day. But that assumes so much -- too much -- about so many. It can be hard to be thankful without also being furious or miserable or full of regret. And then there is guilt, divvied in uneven portions, consumed in reflexive gulps -- the coin of the motherhood realm.

We love them and leave them. We hate them and bring them our laundry. We only wish they were different. We don't even know who they are. Of course there is room for hearts and flowers, the adorable and inedible breakfast in bed. But there is occasion too, unavoidable on the day, for ugly epiphanies, expressions of loss and widespread confusion.

We devote a week, starting today, to Mother's Day and the messages that don't fit on the cards. Essays in this fine collection veer from pillar to post, exploring mother as nun, comparing bohemian mom to conventional mom, meeting the mom who hates Mother's Day. Look also for the small portraits of motherhood offered by a different novelist -- Amy Bloom, Kathryn Harrison, Elissa Schappell, Lisa Zeidner, Colin Harrison -- each day.

By Jennifer Foote Sweeney

Jennifer Foote Sweeney, CMT, formerly a Salon editor, is a massage therapist in northern California, practicing on staff at the Institutes for Health and Healing in San Francisco and Larkspur, and on the campuses of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

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Motherhood Mother's Day