Thursday, 31 March 2011

Happy Mothers Day

This weekend in the UK we recognise ("celebrate" may be over-stating things a little) Mother's Day.

Mothers can put their feet up for a day while Dad and the kids take care of them - bringing them breakfast in bed and little pink trinkets, flowers, a restaurant lunch perhaps. So lovely.

I'm really looking forward to it. Especially since Saturday will be so busy - preparing. I will have to organise the Off-Spring to make their cards for me while I clean the house for Sunday's guests, then bake some tea-time treats, replace the broken vase in case anyone buys flowers for me and best of all, guide the Off-Spring away from the kiddie soaps and towards the chocolate/wine or books, in the local Waitrose as they search, my money in hand, for the perfect treat for Mummy. Then after long deliberations and purchases, which will serve to fray the nerves and delay the exit from the store, we will all grow more tired and more fretful (after a big week at school) and enjoy one of those walks home, replete with bickering and whining along the lines of "his gift is better" and "he always copies me" and "can we open it now and have some?" and "I can't walk another step" and "it's not fair, why are you so mean Mummy?".

What's there not to love about Mother's Day?

Maybe I'm building it up too much. After all, last year's passed without event. I have absolutely no recollection of what happened...

No - none at all.

I do remember the Australian Mother's Day last year which is observed in May. What a morbid and lonely day. I spent it with the delightful Off-Spring contemplating my dear mother (Mrs Springgirl) who died just three days after Mother's Day in 2009. Poignant and sorrowful is about all I can say for it. 


The truth is that I personally derive minimal pleasure from these socially appointed celebrations. Perhaps I'm a miserable kill-joy or a cynic. 

No - I definitely am a miserable kill-joy and a cynic, but nevertheless, the pink trinkets and the crumbs in the bed really don't mean that much to me. 

Admittedly, the special displays at the supermarket are very pretty and quite irresistible. Pastel marshmallows and Turkish Delight so temptingly offered to us (as if we would ever buy this for ourselves or our mothers on any day of the year), to tantalise us as we queue with our too-heavy baskets and to tug at our consciences as we finally reach the cashier and remember amidst all the other detritus cluttering our weary brains, that our mothers-in-law do like rosewater, don't they, and hadn't we better get a box just in case, ooh and a card, since Fred/Hank/Jim/Ian never remembers these things...

And where would we be without those displays, the full-page ads in the paper and the catchy jingles on the radio? We could hardly be expected to come up with a gift idea without them, given our mothers are such strange and unfamiliar creatures whose actual tastes and preferences are so mysterious and hidden. The safe (and sage) option is to buy pink and purple cards, sickly sweets and flowered coffee cups, little floral tea towels and bouquets of flowers for these most strange, yet cherished of people. 

Any excuse to spend a little money eh?

Some of you may wonder why I am so ambivalent - even negative - about Mother's Day. Let me assure you that I know all the tried and tested rationales for these special days.

They just don't resonate with me. Here is why:

1.  I am tired of being told what to think, buy and feel by the stores, the media and the pundits. I am weary of being guided in all of my choices by what B-list Celebrity-So-and-So will be doing, wearing or eating this Sunday.

2.  I rail against commercially motivated contrivances conceived to remind us not to take our loved one's for granted. The truth is that no matter what we say or spend once or twice a year, we do, and always will, take our mothers for granted. It's human nature to take the good things for granted. Not wilfully or maliciously; it's just how we are. Mothers, fathers too, our friends, our health, our good fortune, good weather, employment, safety, clean water. One day devoted to mothers/fathers will not change that.

3.  What about all the others whose contributions go unacknowledged? Those who do not have a "Day"? The unsung heroes? Mothers are just the tip of an immense iceberg made up of all those who carry the community - fathers (they have a day and various other perks, admittedly), teachers (despite great holidays), soldiers (some travel hardly makes up for death, mutilation and poor sanitation), nurses, scientists, rubbish collectors, cleaners and those lorry drivers tirelessly bringing all the pink treats to the high street for us? 

Where is the day for all of these people?

4.  To spoil us one day a year is ultimately, unkind, inhumane. Like the last meal for the condemned man? For those mothers who do get a treat or a spoiling - some time out, a chance to relax or to be freed from the chores or the responsibility - the fall back down to earth the next day, week, month can be harsh. While it keeps the day itself special, of course, a thing to be longed for or savoured, it is not a kindness, in the long run.

5.  Despite point 2 above, despite the fact that we feel we are not acknowledged enough, feel neglected sometimes, long for peace, uninterrupted sleep or quality alone time, a day for mothers is unnecessary. Because every day is mother's day. 

Every day that they smile back, say thank you nicely and go to bed on time, is mother's day. Every day that they offer to help around the house, beg us to come to school and see their play, read them a story or play a game with them, is mother's day. Every day that they rush to greet us, ask our advice, roll their eyes at said advice or tell us dinner was disgusting - is mother's day. Every time we wave them goodbye and sigh with relief when they come back, is mother's day. Amidst the joy, frustration, pain, worry, heartache and despair that goes with motherhood, not a day goes by without a reminder of the love that they feel for us, of the love we feel for our own mothers, and perhaps most meaningfully, of the love we feel for our children.  A virtuous circle.

So - Mother's Day is not my cup of tea (-in-bed-with-toast).

Thankfully, it's only one day. I'll survive.


On a lighter note I am congratulating myself on being a very good mother this week.

For this week I learnt that:
a) Working mothers in the UK spend 81 minutes a day looking after their children and
b) Non-working mothers in the UK average 2 hours 35 minutes directly caring for their children each day. 

In the world of competitive mothering we all know that any information that validates or vindicates  choices to work or not to work are like manna from Heaven, so thanks to the OECD for commissioning this important survey.

But the results seem flawed. Is it just me or are these figures very low? For working and non-working women alike! Where on earth are the kids the other 21- 22 hours of the day? 

Of course I have done a back of the envelope calculation. I think it only right to aggregate my totals (i.e. times by 3) in relation to each of the Off-Spring. 

Now I should preface my comments by saying that I was (and at heart remain) a tax lawyer, so pedantically allocating time to activities is my bread and butter.  Accordingly, I have reached a somewhat higher figure of 48.38 hours/day which reflects what I consider to be "directly caring" for my children - namely:

  • shopping for their meals, 
  • cooking,
  • washing, 
  • ironing, 
  • cleaning, 
  • tidying, 
  • arranging their social and extra-curricular activities, 
  • attending meetings at school, 
  • Googling their foibles, 
  • leafing through Mini-Boden Catalogues, 
  • listening to other mothers talk about their kids,
  • scraping uneaten food slops off the floor,
  • running the PTA (this is a quiet period which may skew my final tally and does not take into account extraordinary events such as bake sales, fundraisers or big school gate gossip sessions...),
  • planning what to wear on the school run,
  • going on the school run,
  • talking to, bathing, feeding, playing and reading with the children,
  • thinking/worrying about some aspect of their lives or development (lawyers customarily bill for thinking time).
But all of that is beside the real point - which was the third Big Thing I learnt this week.

According to the FAST programme of parenting - 15 quality minutes a day for each child should just about do it (after a few weeks one can build up to more, apparently).

So reconciling the data - it seems that most of the guilt and angst mothers feel is unnecessary provided 15 minutes of the 81 (or 48 hours) is "quality" time. 

I am so happy because let me assure you that my tidying, Googling, worrying and direct play are all very high quality! In fact this blog post has taken almost 115 minutes...

So where am I now?

Celebrating motherhood, of course!

Just don't get me started on Valentine's Day or Halloween.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Zoe,hope your mother's day passed in the best possible way... I am Kajsa in Ghana, a friend of Joe's and of your husbands. I think we have just met briefly at MElting Moments. YOur husband thinks we ought to connect as bloggers and writers witha Ghanaian relation. So, HI!

    My blog is