What drives Mother’s Day spending upwards of $25 billion? Why will so many Americans reflexively reach for wallets and open purses to shower all kinds of mothers with chocolate-covered gratitude and floral love? What’s really going on here?
Some people have tragic memories of their mother, and there are many more who have fond memories of mom. Maybe it says something about who I am, but when I think about Mother’s Day, the memories aren’t exactly happy or sad — they’re simply what made me who I am.
My mother was a teacher, and the memory I constantly come back to is from when I had a project due in early grade school. The assignment was one of those diorama-and-description jobs, or maybe a construction paper booklet. The goal was to explain a moment from American history or some scientific principle. I’m not sure. That part is murky.
But what is clear as clean glass is that I left that assignment until the very last minute. It was due on a Monday and I hadn’t started by late Friday. When I confessed my crime of lateness to her, and asked if she might consider writing a note to my teacher to move the due date a few days to the right — she pointedly refused, canceled all other weekend activities, and made me work every waking minute of the weekend until it was done.
It was a sweatshop; grade school style. Scissors-and-glue until my fingers and nose couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t recall how I did gradewise (probably not very well), but I remember, to this day, the real lesson my Mom stapled onto my soul: deadlines matter. They’re promises in calendar form, and we keep our promises, if we can ever help it.
The second scenes are more medical than academic. They’re the two days my wife gave birth to our two daughters. These two tiny people invaded everything and destroyed nearly all previously held priorities with the tiniest of weapons: their squeaks, cries, and a relentless onslaught of diaper-filling substances beyond the bounds of the human imagination. Of course, they turned life upside down.
However, what was less obvious then, and what is completely obvious now — was that they’d force me to be a better person, if not through my willpower, then to meet the high expectations they set for their father. They constructed a new standard for me. A father’s code of conduct.
And there’s just one person responsible for granting me this new standard: my wife, the mother to my children. I can’t say I always live up to it, or ever will, but I do try, and try hard. And in the doing, this mother’s gift subtly pulls me toward the better and away from the worse.
The third story reflects the bond I’ve witnessed from a mother to her son, even across time. Last year, about this time, I wrote a series of articles about Pvt. George “Eber” Duclo, a boy from Manitou Springs who joined the Marines and was killed in combat during World War I in 1918. He was athletic, friendly, thoughtful, and worked at a local grocery store to help his parents make ends meet. He was John and Emma’s only son.
President Woodrow Wilson’s administration had recently declared the first national Mother’s Day in 1914, and so it must’ve seemed surreal to Emma that May 11, 1919, to have lost her boy. One can only imagine her seeing all those flowers and feeling devastated.
But, that year, Eber’s loss sparked the community to create an American Legion post in Manitou Springs and then to build a memorial to him that still stands today in Manitou’s Memorial Park.
We know Emma never forgot her only son. In the city directories of the day, after Eber’s statue was raised in the park, the Duclos listed their address from 1931 to 1933 at not one, but two locations: the place where they actually lived, and at Memorial Park, where their boy’s memory lived on.
Three mothers, three lessons. Always keep your promises. Struggle to be better than you think you are. And never forget the people who matter.
That’s what I’ll be thinking about this Mother’s Day. Sure, it’s not flowers, it’s not candy — no amount of either could ever compensate for the part mothers have played in manufacturing my soul. And I couldn’t possibly be more grateful.
Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, PhD, is a nonresident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and co-edited, with author Max Brooks, Winning Westeros: How Game of Thrones Explains Modern Military Conflict, from Potomac Books.