An Homage to Mothers

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and like many women of my generation, I’ll be missing my own mom on this invented holiday. My mom, Geri Axford, passed away in 2009 and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. She left me with a wealth of memories, a valued practical streak that offsets the idealism I inherited from my dad, and a treasure trove of “Momisms.” (One of my favorites: “Anything’s good if it’s deep-fat fried.”).

I was startled to learn that as the tradition of Mother’s Day turns 100 years old, the founder–Anna Jarvis–was vehemently against the commercialism of the day. Originally, Mothers’ Day (then plural) was intended to inspire mothers who were mourning the loss of their soldier sons to fight for peace. According to an article in National Geographic Daily News by Brian Handwerk, Anna’s own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was her inspiration: Mrs. Jarvis rallied other mothers to work for sanitary conditions and later cared for wounded soldiers from the Civil War. In 1914, Mother’s Day (now singular) was hijacked by U.S. President Herbert Hoover and, in spite of Ms. Jarvis’ protestations, some of which got her thrown in jail, the holiday prevailed as an opportunity to up the profits of restaurants, flower shops and boutiques. According to Mr. Handwerk, Mother’s Day spending this year may top $19.9 billion.

A lot has changed since I became a mother back in 1979. When I entered the work world in earnest in 1981 as a hospital communications specialist, women were just starting to make inroads in the business world. We underplayed our roles as wives and mothers, hoping that we could fly under the radar so that the badge of motherhood wouldn’t handicap us. Even if it meant working that “second shift,” handling all our housework and domestic affairs between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., we didn’t want to be stereotyped. Our suits of armor–the ubiquitous navy blue suit and the ridiculous maroon bow tie–were a reflection of our desperate desire to fit into a man’s world. There was no maternity pay, no family leave law, no flex-time, no telecommuting. We hid our commitments to soccer games and school plays from our bosses lest they impede our climb up the career ladder. Now, of course, the rules have changed–thank God. Moms can be moms, fully integrated as workers committed to families and their jobs and careers.

Geri AxfordSo here’s to mothers, all of them–those who stay home and work the relentless cycle of childcare and homemaking, those who work outside the home in order to make a living and provide for their families and those who set an example in the workplace that we could, indeed, do both. I thank my own mother who, although sometimes befuddled by my relentless ambition, supported me all the way. And I thank my children, Kitty and William, who made me a mother, subject to all the joys, heartaches and satisfaction that role brings. I celebrate my sister and sisters-in-law who shared in those early years, providing maternity clothes, hand-me-downs for the kids and the trade secrets of motherhood that kept me sane. I’m grateful to have been on the receiving end of the many women in business who inspired me along the way, and thrilled that there are now so many more choices for our daughters.

Happy Mother’s day, Mom.


[Masthead photo:]