It’s Mothers’ Day in the UK this weekend: time to appreciate the woman who brought you into the world, or the one who brought you up. A time to stop and think about all that love, all that unconditional love that made you who you are.
I’m going to stop there. Mothers’ Day is one of those things, a bit like Christmas Day, that looks lovely and sounds sweet and offers joyful abundance. For some. And for those for whom it is a happy day, good on you, enjoy the warmth and love of your family – either being appreciated or appreciating. Fortunately, I will be appreciated as I’ve managed to be quite a reasonable mum for the last 25+ years (I hope and I like to think!).
But as a child it’s not the same. And I know for some of my friends out there that Sunday is not going to be a good day. Instead it will be a sharp pointy reminder of what is now gone, or what never was. Being a mother, along with generally just being a woman, has been a highly fraught role through history and literature.
So, today, instead of ranting about the rampant commercialism, that floods the high street and your local supermarket, in an attempt to avoid the hovering clouds of expectation and disappointment, let us have a little trawl through the past to see how Mothers stack up – are we more Mary or Medea??
Gaia – whom we better know as Mother Earth, was the first goddess of Greek mythology. She created herself out of chaos and then brought forth Uranus, the starry sky out of nothingness. No wonder we still consider Mother Earth as powerful woman.
Grendel’s Mother – the she-monster who wreaks havoc on Beowulf and his followers for killing her son. An epic bit of mother love. An epic poem too.
Lady Capulet – who wasn’t really very concerned about Juliet, just wanted her married off to Paris and threatened to disown her if Juliet went against her father. And we know how that all ended!
Mary – of course, the virgin mother, the one who gave us the Saviour. How can we get passed her for goodness and sacrifice?
Medea – who killed her children to punish Jason (of the Golden Fleece) to punish him because he had betrayed her.
Snow White and Cinderella’s step-mothers – evil, scheming, nasty old bags, doing their best to eliminate their rivals. Evil step-mothers are legion in fairy tales but we’ll content ourselves with these two.
Borte – wife of Genghis Khan – who had four sons, and several daughters. She was chosen by the young Genghis – Temujin, supposedly because of her strong legs and flat face. She was immensely powerful and influential and helped keep the great Khan’s empire running.
Catherine De Medici – it took her ten years and she was married to someone in love with another but she become the mother of three French kings, and had a large hand in the running of France in the 16th century
Eleanor of Aquitaine – another mother of kings, and a formidable woman in her own right. She was married to Louis VII of France, and therefore Queen of France but with only bearing daughters her marriage was annulled and she went off to marry Henry II of England and had eight children, five sons, two of whom went onto be kings – Richard the Lion Heart and the more infamous John of Magna Carta ilk.
Ammu – from The God of Small Things, who loves her children more than anything, except perhaps Velutha, who she cannot love at all. Ammu runs away from a violent marriage back to a disapproving home, where her children run ‘wild’ but feel safe and strong in her love. Until she is taken from them and then they are lost too.
Sophie – Sophie’s Choice has perhaps the worst experience for any mother in the world. Choose between your children. Oh, how can you choose, how can you possibly do such a thing? The fact that Sophie partly brought the hideous scene on her own shoulders does not excuse the vile callousness of the young German soldier. Choose. You cannot. No wonder she committed suicide, what else can you do as a mother after such a terrible-terrible thing?
There are so many ways to be a mother, to have a mother. The truth is we are all ‘of woman born’ whether ‘untimely ripped from our mother’s womb’ or not and perhaps even if we cannot celebrate the day, we can pause and be grateful for the mother we had, because without her we wouldn’t be here, or more importantly, the people we are today. (Images from Private Collection)
Tags: Ammu, Borte, Catherine de Medici, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lady Capulet, Mary, Medea, mother love, mothers, mothers day, revered and reviled, Sophie, Sophie's Choice, Step-mothers, The God of Small Things