More than a Hallmark Card

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

THE idea of celebrating a national holiday in honor of mothers began with the British activist, writer and poet Julia Ward Howe who, in 1870, suggested that June 2 be an annual celebration of Mother’s Day and should be dedicated to peace. In her “Mothers Day Proclamation” Howe wrote a passionate appeal to women, urging them to rise against the perils of war. A woman who never became a mother herself, she campaigned tirelessly for a declaration of official holiday on Mothers Day.

Likewise, in 1905, following her mother’s death, Anna Jarvis began petitioning for a national holiday in celebration of mothers everywhere. Her ambitions were inspired by rising negligence of adult Americans toward their mothers and a desire to honor her mother and her contributions to society. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state in the United States.

Plot twist: While Jarvis assiduously championed for the holiday, she soon began resenting the heavy commercialization of the holiday. According to Hallmark, 133 million cards are exchanged on Mother’s Day. The 133 million does not account for the novel-length posts that would give Tolstoy a run for his money littering the surface of social media. In 103 years, it has evolved from radical feminist activism that once coincided with women’s suffrage and labor movements into one big party of capricious commercialism.


Mother’s Day reminds me of Nanay dropping the “I’m-flying-to-Michigan-for-three-months” bomb on me when I was in grade-three is vivid in my mind. Like all the proverbial “I’m leaving you” situations I have accumulated in my 17 years of living, the truth of her departure did not sink in until the day I was staring at her jacket-clad back in the airport, watching her shrink into a brown-shaped dot several feet away.

Nanay was also MIA when I graduated from grade school and high school because she was in New York finishing her five-year doctoral studies in environmental engineering. Her beaming smile was a mass of high-resolution pixels telling me how proud she was of my accomplishments and she was counting the days left until she returned.

She missed a lot of moments, like my shriek of joy when I first got published in our school paper, several awards won for writing competitions, junior prom, and birthday celebrations. She missed those crucial moments of a teenager when I needed someone to paint my face with cosmetics, praying to a Higher Being to not look like a psychopath disguised as a clown.

But in honor of the holiday, allow me to look past the angst and talk about the phenomenal woman who gave birth to me (and my two other siblings) through Caesarian Delivery—When asked about her height, she would tell you she is five feet and six inches tall. When you complain about the evils of chemistry and the sciences, she would say it is her favorite subject in high school. She is a chemical engineer with an affinity for public debates with security guards, mall cashiers, taxi drivers, and the occasional unfortunate soul who talks too loudly. Every time I point out a resident “chinito” I find attractive, she would scoff and say “No man on earth deserves my daughter.” And although I will refute this once she buys me another dress I will never wear a second time, her taste in clothes is fit for even Duchess Kate Middleton’s closet.

Anna Jarvis’ mother must have been like Nanay, too. It takes a lot of sacrifice to miss those picture-perfect Hallmark moments, along with the angst-filled adolescence of your teenage daughter, for the realization of one’s goals and ambitions. What I learned from my mother is that you just have to make it worth it in the end.

There is a saying by John Greenleaf Whittier that goes: “Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” It might have been better if I received my diplomas with Nanay by my side. It might have been more special if Nanay helped me pick my prom dress and be the one to put her cherry-red lipstick on my face.

However, I would not trade all those stolen moments for any “It might have been”s.

Today, we look back on those moments with our mothers—and we post them online with captions that do Hallmark card writers proud. But it was not feminism or activism that gave birth to this holiday, but the special connection we have with the women who love us regardless of our shortcomings. Love, not commercialism, makes this holiday alive.

Happy Mother’s Day!


>(Maria Karlene Shawn Isla Cabaraban is currently taking up Bachelor of Arts in Sociology-Anthropology at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. She spends her non-studying hours writing or reading or both in coffee shops. She spends her studying hours hoping it will make her a lawyer someday.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 11, 2014.


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