Here in the States, where we are about to celebrate Mother’s Day, we have a folksy saying that involves motherhood and apple pie.
When describing things quintessentially American, motherhood and apple pie are about as sacred as it gets, besides our flag.
The saying has been toyed with over the years, its meaning morphing to the point where when we think of motherhood, apple pie is the likely next thought.
Motherhood has long been a sacred institution. And Mother’s Day is a wonderful way to give many special women a day of appreciation.
But easy on the apple pie, please.
It’s tempting to think of the Norman Rockwell picture. Mom, in an apron, fresh-baked pie coming out of the oven. Smiling beatifically despite the chaos that comes from small children and big expectations about everything from home-cooked meals to unlimited patience and wisdom bestowed.
We like to put our vision of a Mother (capital M intentional) into some pretty tight boxes sometimes.
I know some wonderful mothers who don’t fit that mold.
First, there is the older mother and grandmother who—despite being in her 70s—looks like she could swim the English channel, learn French in a day, break into an Argentine tango at any moment. She dresses ever so sharply, wears bright red lipstick and hangs with a creative gaggle of gals who are redefining aging. They write, paint and compose with aplomb. They entertain grandchildren at a moment’s notice. They swear like truck drivers. They break a mold that used to involve aprons, sugar cookies and white hair.
Their children love them. Their grandchildren adore them. Their husbands try to keep up.
Next is the forty-something mother I know. There is no apple pie in her future unless it can be cooked in a microwave, which is about the only kitchen appliance of which she can claim mastery. She does not cook, clean or keep house very well. She holds down a job and the promotions keep coming. Her children play sports, pull grades and seem solidly grounded. She breaks a mold that used to involve guilt, dependence and fine lines around the eyes.
I see the way her husband looks at her. They are rock solid—and her confidence is supporting a thriving family.
Last comes the young mother I have in my heart this holiday. Her baby just days old, she struggles to find pockets of sleep, heal her own body after a tough childbirth and ignore the “helpful” advice those around her seem to have to offer in spades. She debates nursing versus formula, crying it out versus sleep training. She already tries to reconcile the tidal wave of love for her baby, for her new role as a mother, with the constraints on her freedom and the changes in her self-identity.
She cries when no one is around and wonders how such great love can be mixed with such tough choices.
She is breaking a mold that used to involve a Madonna and child stereotype, replete with slavish devotion to a role that allowed no room for self.
These women are good mothers. Great mothers.
None of them fit the apple pie mold.
While we are applauding the Betty Crockers and June Cleavers of the world, all of whom have wonderful things to offer, let us also remember those who will probably never be known for their pristine apple pies and lemming-like adherence to what society says a mother should be.
This Mother’s Day, I applaud the trailblazers. The ones who know that a strong self-identity is one of the best things you can offer your children.
Your strength becomes theirs.
Your dreams realized show them the moon and stars.
And showing our kids they are an important piece of the complex puzzle called woman, wife, mother, daughter, executive, artist—choose your own labels—means apple pie takes a backseat.
When you are serving the full-course meal, apple pie pales in comparison.