Christian's Chronicles

July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.

Mother’s Day musings

I suppose I ought to write a few words about Mother’s Day.

So let me get the obligatory happy Mother’s Day out of the way, and get to the facts. In the United States, this holiday is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, whereas growing up in Hungary we celebrated a week earlier, on the first Sunday. In this, at least, Hungary had the jump on the competition. 🙂 According to Wikipedia, the modern celebration of Mother’s Day as we know it began in the early 20th century, founded by Anna Jarvis who, after successfully campaigning for official recognition as a holiday, was soon disappointed by its commercialization a few years thereafter.

So what remains of the original intent of this celebration?

I am not going to pretend to have some special knowledge concerning the ‘true meaning’ of Mother’s Day, nor its history (other than what I’ve read on Wikipedia). But I am going to go ahead and make a few observations.

As with any holiday, one should expect to find advertisers exploiting the theme, as well as greetings, corporate and personal, popping up wherever people communicate, including cyberspace. To me it seems that people on public social networks are inclined to share much more than a general holiday greeting, and instead share personal anecdotes and emotional content that in the past may have been of a more private nature. A typical illustrative hypothetical example is a publicly posted greeting, usually also putting on public display a photograph of the individual referenced, which nonetheless reads as a personal note, such as: “Happy Mother’s Day mom, and thank you for [insert personal anecdote and/or private/personal matters here]

Why have we decided to invite the rest of the world to read the personal greeting cards we send to specific individuals? Is this an example of exhibitionism or ‘over-sharing,’ and should we continue down this path, discourage it, or not even bother to discuss it?

It is undeniable that our notions of privacy are changing, substantially influenced by the technologies we use to communicate. Online social networks are relatively new phenomena, but ‘offline’ social networks have been around since before human beings emerged as a separate species. They are the connections that bind communities and allow groups to flourish. We are social animals; social networking is built into our DNA. With the aid of technology, the global reach of social networks has transcended geographic limitations. Yet social networking technologies rely on the same basic instincts that have allowed humans to integrate into cohesive groups at the dawn of civilization. We are hardwired to feed on the emotional sustenance of social interaction.

In the interest of brevity, I will not delve into the many superficial, and subversive ways in which social networking technologies operate to influence our culture. Rather, I’d like to return to our example of the ‘public personal greeting.’ By its nature, this type of communication seems to invite the public to share in a personal emotional experience. It is as though we become the stars of our own reality television show, inviting the public to relate to our personal emotional content packaged for easy digestion in the ephemeral updates of the ever changing world of online social networks. Perhaps the motivation is sincere; perhaps it is a mere cry for attention, or just a way to express belonging, by doing what everyone else is doing in one’s network. The latter is a major part of the business model of advertising-driven social technologies.

Not to be outdone, I am now going to engage in my very own act of Mother’s Day (over-?)sharing, with a personal anecdote. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether what follows fits into any part of the discussion above.

I was born in Hungary, the third child of a young couple and a mother who had her first baby at 19. At that time, in that culture, this was not so unusual as to land you on Teen Mom (a show I have referenced elsewhere). People generally were expected to marry at a younger age, and there was more cultural pressure on women to be homemakers than today. The ‘Iron Curtain’ was still a concrete reality of physical and ideological separation, with Hungary on its Eastern side. The two superpowers waged a Cold War, and communism was still alive, at least in principle. It was in this environment that I spent my early years growing up, comfortably oblivious to the political repression.

The tides of change were approaching, and my parents must have had some sense of this. However, they could not have known that the fall of communism would be peaceful, as it turned out to be, rather than the violent repression that crushed the prior attempt to realize freedom in 1956. In any event, my family and I left Hungary shortly before the iron curtain was dismantled and the Berlin wall fell. It may be appropriate to note that Hungary was the first of the Eastern Bloc countries to tear down the iron curtain. By that time, we had already left.

It took us two years of waiting in Austria to eventually have the opportunity to settle in the United States. It is my firm belief that the decision to emigrate was substantially motivated by my mother’s desire to provide better opportunities for her children than she was afforded. She worked very hard throughout her life, often selflessly sacrificing her own interests for the sake of her children. This type of bond, the kind that can only exist between a mother and her child, is what I’d like to think of as the original meaning of celebrating mother’s day. It is the knowledge that no matter what may happen, a mother will always look at her child with pride and unconditional love. I do not wish to paint too idealistic of a picture, since no one is perfect. But I can honestly say that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to know the kind of unconditional love all children should experience from their mothers, though sadly many do not.

Several years ago, I learned that my mother had been sick for a while. She was not the type to be too dramatic or talkative about illness; most frequently she relied on home remedies and ‘toughed it out’ as she had with many other challenges in life. However, this time it seemed different. She was low on energy, and seemed to have trouble breathing; sort of like a cough that won’t go away. I had had pneumonia not too long prior to this, and I actually ended up in the hospital, having to call an ambulance for the first time in my life because I simply could not breathe. Eventually, the medicine worked and I regained my health, but it was somewhat of a wake-up call. When I noticed my mom’s symptoms, and she finally ‘fessed up’ to having been sick for a while, I thought she also had contracted pneumonia.

She did not have medical insurance, so I took her to a local clinic and paid out of pocket for the visit. They confirmed my suspicion: pneumonia. But my mother knew immediately that the medicine they prescribed was not working, and soon enough she needed to see a doctor again. Eventually, she ended up in the hospital, waiting for a diagnosis of something far more sinister than even pneumonia.

It turned out to be lung cancer.

As soon as I was able to do so, I moved back home with my mother to help her deal with the disease, as well as the bureaucracy that relentlessly tried to deny her at every turn, seeking to cut costs by avoiding treating an uninsured whom they appeared to have written off as a lost cause from the beginning. My mother fought bravely, and had to endure not only intense pain but the humiliation and indignity of the way the system had treated her, as an uninsured cancer patient. In the end, despite her valiant efforts, she succumbed to this terrible disease.

This experience was absolutely devastating for me. The frustration of not being able to help, all the while having to watch the terrible pain and debilitating effects of the disease as it progressed, was bad enough. The incredible anger I felt as a consequence of dealing with a healthcare system that appeared to be much more concerned with their bottom line, without giving much thought to the suffering of my mother, was terrible. But having to watch the incredible physical pain she suffered from cancer and the attempts at treatment, as well as the psychological pain of the eventual realization of impending death, of not having had enough time to complete the things she had wanted to do in life, all the while being torn apart by contradictory impulses in me that on the one hand wished for her to live even if only a little longer, and on the other hand just wanted her suffering to end – for her to die and rest peacefully – was simply unbearable.

When I think of my mother and the way she passed away, I am overcome by sorrow. When I think of her love, which I sometimes took for granted, I realize how lucky I was to have had a chance to experience it. My mother was taken from me far too soon, and I miss her every day. There will always be questions, what ifs, could have beens. However, I am certain of one thing. My mother loved me unconditionally; she was proud of me no matter what, even if I felt I may not have deserved it. After all, I was her baby.


One comment on “Mother’s Day musings

  1. Holistic Wayfarer
    May 12, 2013

    We remain their baby into their last breath. So sorry for your great loss. I just finished a series on technology, the dark side of efficiency, but had not thought much about the facet of social media. A lot of your regrets and pain resonate with me for the shared immigrant experiences. All the best, and I hope the writing helps you process…

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This entry was posted on May 12, 2013 by in The Chronicles and tagged , , , , , , , , .