“So women can rise and fly”

Mothers’ Day arrives with a lot of assumptions for and about women: that we all are or will be or wish we were mothers; that those who are mothers are so intentionally and happily; that we love our children unconditionally and always; that we want to be celebrated on this, one of the biggest consumer events of the year.

There are quotes aplenty about mothers to be found online. According to the few hundred I scanned through, mothers are tender, caring and sweet; they demonstrate the “purest love,” “hold the family together,” are a child’s “forever friend,” a “walking miracle,” a “glorious life force,” “the most beautiful word on the lips of mankind.” Even Mahatma Gandhi had some saccharine comments about mothers:

“It may be possible to gild pure gold, but who can make his mother more beautiful?”

Everyone has a mother

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for mothers. If I didn’t have one, I wouldn’t be here. And, I am one, and hope my kids think fondly of me, not just this Sunday but frequently throughout the year.

But, it’s hard not to feel both cynical and inadequate after reading these quotes and looking at the advertising that encourages us to spend, spend, spend to prove how much we love our mothers.

Americans will spend $25 billion on gifts and cards for their mothers this year, with cards and flowers topping the list of purchases, followed by “special outings.” (Canadians spent just under $500 million on gifts and cards in 2017, the most recent numbers I could find.)

That’s a lot of money, but does it really have anything to do with how we feel about our mothers or how we make our mothers feel about themselves?

It’s not all sweetness and light

I don’t know about other mothers, but the quotes I read about motherhood did not describe the complexity of what being a mother has felt like to me. I certainly don’t think of myself as a walking miracle or as a glorious life force.

While I like to think there were moments when my kids were young that I was tender, caring and sweet, I know there were plenty when I was anything but. I was often frustrated as a mother; frustrated with myself and frustrated with my kids. Being held up to an impossible standard only made me feel more inadequate. Likely other mothers felt as I did, but we all seemed to feel that talking about the disappointments of motherhood would only prove what bad mothers we were.

Important as tenderness and sweetness are, I hope I also showed courage, strength, determination and independence to both my son and my daughter: characteristics that did not make much of an appearance in the quotes about mothers that I found in my online search.

Period. End of Sentence.

Whether or not we become mothers, menstruation is an inevitable part of being female. Girls and women in North America are presented with an overwhelming array of what are so delicately referred to as “feminine hygiene products,” or, as the sign in the drugstore I went into the other day said, “feminine paper.” Such is not the case in much of the developing world.

“When a girl gets her period in the United States, she may miss a class. When a girl gets her period in a developing country, she may never go to school again.”

So opens the website for The Pad Project, which supports access to proper menstrual supplies for girls and women in rural India, who do not otherwise have access to clean, sanitary pads.

This is a really extraordinary story, detailed in an Academy Award winning documentary called “Period. End of Sentence.” In it, we hear boys, girls, men and women talk, often in hushed and embarrassed tones, about menstruation.

One boy said he had heard of it and thought it was “some kind of illness . . . something that mostly happens to girls.” A father said that menstruation was “the biggest taboo” in his country.

Girls describe their attempts to find old cloth that they can use as pads, and then we see them furtively burying used cloths in fields when no one is looking. They explain that there is nowhere for them to change or wash their cloths and that they cannot go to temple or to school when they have their period.

Employment and education

In 2016, Arunachalan Muraganantham, after watching his wife struggle to make affordable pads for herself, created a machine that makes inexpensive, biodegradable pads from locally sourced materials.

Now, women and girls in Kathikhra, a small village on the outskirts of New Delhi, run the business, making a steady income while producing and distributing pads to women in their region and holding educational sessions with girls and women to remove some of the stigma associated with menstruation.

The Pad Project, started by a group of girls in a private school in California, fundraises to buy more machines so the magic created in one community can be extended to more:

“Raise enough money for one machine, a year’s worth of supplies (after which the machinery and its profit will become a self-sufficient microeconomy for the women in the area) and a team of local women who can educate other women how to use the machine and also how to destigmatize periods.”

Whether or not the girls we meet in “Period. End of Sentence.” will become mothers remains to be seen. In the meantime, they are an illustration of strength, courage and independence and are changing the lives of girls and women in their communities.

Let’s celebrate them and support this project on Mothers’ Day this year.

2 thoughts on ““So women can rise and fly”

  1. Your post made me think of when I first read Fay Weldon’s Down among the Women, at 18. I’d be a mother within five years, but before that was shocked at how her characters felt about their children.

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