In the Spring of 2003, I was working as the minister’s assistant at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas. One particular morning that Spring, in the Reverend Daniel Kanter’s office, I was alternating between sipping my coffee and offering up my opinion, both pleasures I never enjoyed while Mormon. Seven years had passed since I’d left the LDS Church, and I was beginning to believe that nightmare might be over. Then Rev. Kanter posed a seemingly innocent request. Would I mind making a bulk order of carnations for the church youth to distribute on Mother’s Day?
My heart started pounding and I began scratching my wrist, smack dab on that patch where a remnant of eczema lingered. Seemed my nightmare had only begun.
While Mormon my hands were covered with eczema, brought on by dozens of Mother’s Day “tributes,” and a plethora of cheap carnations. Year after year, the same stale routine. First, a youth speaker who went on about how special Mom was because she enjoyed cooking for and cleaning up after everyone. Next, a member of the Relief Society who went on about how special it was to enjoy cooking for and cleaning up after everyone. Finally, the featured speaker, a priesthood authority who went on about the real honoree: the Patriarchy. Once his diatribe over working women/store-bought cookies/female pantsuits was complete, and every woman in the congregation was sufficiently demoralized, she was then obliged to stand and receive a complimentary carnation from the priesthood—even if she was single/childless/worked outside the home/bought Oreos—and when the priesthood gave her that carnation, she had better act like she enjoyed it.
Needless to say, my carnation routinely landed in the garbage after church.
In anticipation of the “that wasn’t my experience” replies, I do recognize practices vary, even in the one and only true church. On Mother’s Day, 2008, I attended my friend’s ward in Walnut Creek, California. A more progressive congregation, Relief Society was held in the cultural hall, where the Elders Quorum served us brunch ahead of our lesson! A yummy potpourri of Costco appetizers that had to have set the ward budget back a pretty penny. Having lunch served to me by the priesthood was a surreal experience. Like I’d driven into my local gas station and been met by a team of clean-cut, uniformed attendants who cheerfully pumped my gas, checked my oil, and washed my windows. But then, in 2008, the Mormons in California were more concerned about gay marriage than they were working women, and the ensuing discussion of Proposition 8 that morning had me scratching my wrist on the way out.
Back to Spring 2003 in Rev. Kanter’s office. My blood pressure was spiking and my palms sweating. I was about to knock over my coffee cup when he went on to explain. As a fund raiser for their upcoming trip to Boston, the youth would be making corsages to sell to the congregation. Red corsages for those whose mothers were still living. White for those whose weren’t. I fell silent for several long seconds, my heartbeat returning to normal, my eczema calming. Another surreal experience. Mother’s Day didn’t have to be about the role of women. It could simply be a day to honor the women who bore and(or) raised us.
I went to hear Rev. Kanter speak that Sunday, wearing my white carnation for the entirety of that Mother’s Day. Sure, my Mormon nightmare was far from over. But I could sense the dawn approaching.
In the Summer of 2003 we moved to San Francisco. Since then–with the exception of that 2008 Relief Society brunch–there’s been no church for me on Mother’s Day. And this year it’s just the company of my husband/pandemic buddy. I imagine there will be some reminiscing about my own mom, also my mother-in-law, who passed in October. Hopefully calls from my children. Flowers would be nice, too. But no carnations, please.