Commentary: Mother’s Day, West Virginia and white water

What do Mother’s Day, West Virginia, and white water rafting have in common?

Quite a bit actually.

Some years ago our family was heading to mountainous Tygart Lake in West Virginia. Our travel brochure suggested a visit to nearby Grafton, the town where Mother’s Day originated in the USA.

Minutes later we found ourselves studying a plaque that read, “At the request of Miss Anna Jarvis, the first Mother’s Day service was held in this church May 10, 1908 in honor of her mother. In 1914, President Wilson designated the second Sunday in May ‘Mother’s Day.’”

Miss Jarvis selected the white carnation as the symbol of a mother’s love noting that its flowers respond the way a mother forever holds and cherishes her child.

As irony would have it, Miss Jarvis neither married nor was she ever a mother. She initiated the event three years after her own beloved mother’s death but later sought to have the holiday rescinded after observing it had become too commercialized.

Indicating that mothers were not being honored in the personal and caring way she had intended, Miss Jarvis reportedly scolded those who merely bought Mom a greeting card versus writing a heartfelt letter or who took her a box of chocolates only to eat half of it themselves.

Patricia Thompson

A dedicated community organizer, she formed groups to help support and train mothers and also set about to heal rifts related to the Civil War.

So what’s the link to white water?

If you’ve been to “wild, wonderful West Virginia,” you probably know that it offers some of the finest white water in the East ranging from beginner to Class VI rapids ones like those of the Gauley River’s New River Gorge — best reserved for the experts.

Without a good guide or careful preparation, it’s possible to set out on a float trip only to find oneself clinging to the raft for dear life. Boulders, limbs, logs, unexpected perils, and the sheer rush of the water can rapidly change a tranquil trip to a heart-pounding quest for survival.

Isn’t that a lot like being a mother these days? You’re moving along in a comfortable way, and then there it is — that joy or shock that no one saw coming.

But despite the challenges, I suspect few would actually resign from the role.

Admittedly there are short-term exceptions like that day when your 6-year-old spilled red Kool-Aid on the new white sofa or when the 16-year-old — running late with ink still wet on the driver’s license — backed into the new car.

Indeed, for many women, motherhood offers life’s largest challenges yet greatest rewards.

At the moment of accepting the mantle of motherhood, a woman joins the River of Life with all other universal mothers who embarked on the same wild ride.

Never an easy job, consider the impact of technology, texting and social media alone. Ponder the pitfalls of growing up these days with life at warp speed and parent-nurturers who often work multiple jobs with long, unpredictable hours. What a feat for families (or single parents) to navigate it all!

Where are the river guides? Can you own mother or your childhood family experiences guide you in this new terrain?

And here we should note the many folks recalling their own mothers, grandmothers, or mother-figures who have passed on — role models gone but not forgotten.

So hats off to all the mothers and others who step forward to caringly, effectively, appropriately and respectfully nurture another person. Kudos also to those caregivers who “mother” a challenged or older person.

Cheers to women who “mother” their partner’s brood, and empathy to those who ache at the mention of “mother” because it brings up images of children lost, children “lost to them, “ or children never-conceived.

So if Anna Jarvis could offer advice on what to do to honor your mother, wife or any special nurturer, what would it be? Along with the usual, perhaps some of these:

• Write a heartfelt letter about her qualities as a mom.

• Discuss joyful times you’ve shared. Relax.

• Put together a collection of 10 favorite photos of cherished times together. Add a loving note.

• If she’s a mom with younger children, offer her some time to relax in her own at home or to go “out and about” while you (or a sitter) care for the kids.

• In the case of one’s own mother or mother-in-law, perhaps just sit and spend relaxed time over a beverage.

• Ask her what she wants to do or where she wants to go. (She may want to take a drive just with you, her adult child.)

• Ask how you could help her now or later — perhaps with a challenge (those light bulbs, the basement, that repair, that talk …)

• Ask questions about her life and write or video the answers. It is amazing how many people regret never asking their parents key questions until it is too late.

• Heal a rift or forgive a situation that happened long ago. In starting a fresh chapter, both parties will likely benefit. Expressing gratitude is a great step toward healing.

• No matter how many mother figures are in your life, make every effort to contact all of them in voice to honor and thank them today. (Even one minute can be marvelous, and promise a longer visit another day.)

Miss Jarvis had strong beliefs: Express love and gratitude, heal rifts, serve others.

I like her style. What about you?

Patricia Thompson of Dover is a wife, mom of an adult son and daughter, and a grandmom. She is an educator, writer, and certified life coach and is deeply grateful to all her nurturers.

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