m-day project (re)explained

stanley bear

Stanley hanging out at the Spindrift in Monterey, California.

I originally posted this in April of 2007. I have updated it a bit, with some further explanation.

Well, I will try and explain it anyway. This is about the fifth time I have tried to compose this post. Where to begin?

My Mom died almost thirteen years ago (June 1999). The last thing I ever sent her was a Mother’s Day card. The last thing she sent me was a postcard with my sister’s address and a request to send my sister money for an air conditioner.

One of the things that happens in the grief process is that you get to ‘celebrate’ (I use that term loosely as not much celebrating usually goes on in the first year) each of the holidays without the person. I still remember secretly sitting around on Thanksgiving thinking my Mom would call. I knew it was a crazy thought, but grief does things to your mind.

I thought I was doing better, and then Mother’s Day 2000 rolled around. It hit really hard that my Mom was gone, even though the more rational part of myself knew that had she been live, we probably would not have been together to celebrate. Here I should note that my Mother was an alcoholic with bipolar disorder. To say that our relationship was complex,  would be an understatement. The anger part of my grief was coming at me at waves, so watching other mom/daughter relationships was very very hard. I would either get very angry or be brought to tears. It occurred even when I noticed complete strangers that I just happened upon in my day-to-day life. Fun times.

Nine years ago I decided that I needed to redirect these feelings. I needed to find a way to celebrate the moms in my life in an effort to lessen the pain and burden I was feeling. I had a few friends who had had children and I also had a teacher who was also a nun who was like a grandmother figure. And so I went and bought and sent Mother’s Day cards to them. I think I sent five. But I felt like I was doing something good and I felt better as a result.

The next year I continued this effort, but made my own postcards from photos I had taken. The list grew from five to thirty.

The following year I lost my teacher/nun friend. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it and so skipped a year.

In 2006 it seemed like more people I knew than not were becoming Moms, and so I decided it was time to bring back the project.  Further inspiration came from the editor of Mommy Wars, Leslie Morgan Steiner. In her afterword she says that positive role models for American mothers in the 21st century are as hard to find as “swim diapers at Target in August”. She also asks when was the last time you told another woman she was a good mother. I ended up sending out cards to over 50 women around the globe.

This year I will reach 100 cards (last year I only sent 91). I was also very conflicted this year, as I am trying to come to terms with motherhood. I wasn’t sure what I would write about, and I had no idea what I would use for the photos. Instead, I remembered that my Mom’s last gift to me was a stuffed bear named Stanley. He sleeps on my pillow most of the time. I also happened to have a great shot of him taken at a hotel in Monterey, California, which was also one of my mother’s favorite places.

In this year’s card, I wrote about how Stanley reminds me that treasures often turn up in unexpected places, and that we are never prepared for lasts. I also think this may be the first year that most of the postcards arrive in time for Mother’s Day.

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