When my third child was in kindergarten, I started getting Mother’s Day greetings from moms of my son’s school friends. This was new and a little strange. It never happened when my daughters, now in college, were that age. The following year, one of those school-friend moms upped the ante by sending each of us other women a gift, a neon-green wine glass koozie, which startled me.
Obeying what seemed to have become custom, I began initiating Mother’s Day greetings to my other female friends, but I still wondered about it. Why was this a normal thing to do? These women are not my mother. It felt like sending a Valentine to somebody else’s boyfriend. Whatever plaudits these women were entitled to should come from their own children, perhaps helped along by their father, not me.
My kids’ friendships shifted and the mothers of their new friends don’t text me bouquet emojis. But I have been converted. Mom-to-mom salutations may be the most important ones to send, beyond a woman’s greeting to her own mother. This is truer than ever after a long Covid year when mothers have borne extraordinary stresses.
What changed my mind about this was not the wine glass sleeve but religious art at a nondescript museum. In Italy a few years ago, I visited some unremarkable galleries in small towns. These had no distinguished paintings, just many variations on the usual themes. Crucifixion and saints, many Blessed Virgins with Jesus. Here was Mary holding the infant Christ, Mary nursing a lanky toddler with radiant brow, Mary watching the bloodied Savior bear the cross or standing at the foot of it or holding the full weight of her lifeless son in her lap. Those last ones struck me hardest. For many mothers—most? all?—this may be the strongest affect of the vocation, bearing in your own body the sufferings of your children. That grief like a sword to Mary’s heart may cut through yours too. And also your neighbor’s.