The Greek Goddess Demeter shut the world down when Hades abducted her daughter Persephone. This is the reason for the seasons, the reason for why the plants are only harvested once a year. Hades took Persephone to hell and Demeter who was her mother and the goddess of agriculture killed every plant and as a result people and animals died of starvation. She loved her daughter so much that she was prepared to kill every last living thing on this planet to get her back.
Zeus didn’t want everyone and everything in the world to die so he sent Hermes down to get Persephone, but while she was down there she was tricked. Hades fooled her into marriage by letting her eat the seeds of a pomegranate. I’m not sure how, but this somehow meant, to the Greeks, that she was now married to Hades. So Hermes was able to bring her back, but since she was married to Hades now she had to return every year for half the year, and when she does Demeter kills the plants and makes the world a colder place because she misses her daughter.
That’s why we have the seasons, and that’s a great place to start when we’re speaking of mothers and motherhood.
Okay, now I have another story.
Janie Simpson was sixteen years old of Irish and Spanish decent and in 1972 she had unprotected sex under the bleachers of a high school football game and found out she was pregnant two months later… with me. She had two more sons over a four year period and at twenty years old she found herself a single mom who worked at least two jobs at a time, sometimes three, all throughout her three sons’ childhood.
I don’t really remember most of when I was little because we were always moving around and so many different people watched us. I think we lived with just about every family member we had. I’m sure there were good times. I remember once that we went to a farmers’ market and bought a big box of blackberries then mom went to the store to shop for other things and left my brother Keith and I in the car. That’s how they did stuff back then. I’m sure she cracked the windows. Anyway, she figured that we would just eat our blackberries and look out the window or something until she got back. She was gone about forty-five minutes. So, let me rephrase, she left a six year old boy and his four year old little brother in a car with a big box of blackberries for forty five minutes. When she got back the place looked like a massacre. We had blackberries smushed into every orifice and all over the car and the windows. Okay, that wasn’t the best memory because she got really really mad at us. There was another time where she had a job at a pizza place and my brothers and I would have to wait sometimes while she worked but we got free pizza and rootbeer and sometimes played video games, and for the most part that was a very pleasant memory. But the reality is that my brothers and I never really saw her, and she never really saw us. It makes sense that she is a little emotionally detached. She never finished high school and never went back for a GED and so she has to work three shit jobs just to live. I sometimes wonder if she blames us for that.
Sometimes she finds herself between jobs and without a place to live and during those times I’ve let her stay with me. She gets back on her feet and then before I know it she leaves. She goes and lives back down in the Bay Area. The last time I asked her why she didn’t want to stay and get to know her grandchildren. After much talk she bluntly told me she wasn’t really the grandma type.
That’s sad right? You guys all think that’s sad. It is, but here’s something sadder. Last month my brother found out he had a brain tumor and I decided mom should know so I tried to call her. I realized I had four phone numbers for her since she sometimes can’t pay her cellphone bills and jumps to another carrier. The numbers I had were thus: mom, mother, mom mom, and mom’s new number.
I called all four and only one of them had customized voicemails, the other three had the automated lady’s voice telling me to leave a message for the number I called. So I left three voicemails like this, “Hey, um, if this is Janie Bankston, uh, your son has a brain tumor and is going to be operated on today…. Thought you should know. Thanks, Bye.”
So, I’m not trying to downplay how much pain and effort it takes for a woman to squeeze a living being the sized of a large melon out of their body through their genitals, but I’m convinced that doesn’t make you a mother. I’ll even go on to say it makes you just about as much of a mother as falling overboard on a boat makes you a marine biologist.
Anyway, while my mom wouldn’t destroy the world for me… I don’t know, she might raze garden, you know, the things in everyone’s yard here in North East Portland, SE, too I guess. My point is that motherhood doesn’t come natural to everyone, and since every last one of us has a mother I thought we should ask some questions about motherhood, to figure out just what we’re celebrating.
Does motherhood have to do with gender? If a person is born a man and identifies as a woman isn’t she still a mother? If a person is born a woman and identifies as a man can’t he be a good father? How does that work? One of my closest friends today, Damon Faust, is a single parent and has to be both mother and father to his two girls. They are his life. Last week, he came here, to the post, when we had part of the Oregon Symphony playing. He was dressed in a tutu with berets in his hair. This is a battled hardened combat veteran of the Iraq War, strolling out in public in a tutu and berets because he’s girls wanted him to. That is motherhood right there.
Do you have to be related to be a mother? Ten years ago my wife Kell became an instant mom to two preteens at 32 years of age. That is an unparalleled feat that took more courage and bravery than going to war. My older kids are now semi-well balanced, as well balanced as they can be with me as a father. But Kell took it on and when she did there was a visible change in her. That’s motherhood. Now we have Jackie. She’s our six-year-old bouncing off the walls in her and Kell is an amazing mother that I have no doubt would destroy the world to keep Jackie safe.
Does a mother stop being a mother when she loses her child? Eleven years ago during the war I lost one of my good friends in a violent ambush. His mother had no other children. I knew this because I was his squad leader and it was my job to know everything about the lives of all the guys in my squad.
After coming back from the war I would call her on the holidays and on Eric’s birthday. It was incredibly hard for me because even though it wasn’t my fault I blamed myself for his death. Sometimes the phone calls would only last a couple words. Eventually we found that she was a mother with no son and I was a son in need of a mother. Today, when we are out and people ask, I tell her she is my mom. She’s here tonight. Karen would you stand up. Ha! You thought being my mom would be easy? I never said that. It involved public embarrassment. Thank you, Karen. I love you.
So now we’ve defined a mother as someone who could be either gender or neither gender who may or may not be related to their children, oh, and someone who would destroy every living thing on the planet for the sake of their child. So what are we celebrating when we celebrate Mother’s Day? I don’t know, we’ll see tonight, right?