Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mother's Day reflection, with thanks to Henrietta Szold

Cross-posted at Jewesses With Attitude

Frankly, I’m too burnt out by a day spent with my children to offer much in the way of my own reflections on Mother’s Day. So instead I will share the words of Henrietta Szold to fellow Zionist activist Jessie Sampter on August 23, 1917:

“Deep down in the bottom of my heart I have always held that I should have had children, many children. It is only in rearing children that minute service piled on minute service counts. In my life, details have confused the issue; they have not gone to make a harmonious and productive whole. In a mother’s life, ability to lose one’s identity in details is the great thing for the future of mankind.”

Now, the cynic in me, the exhausted mother in me, responds, “Well, of course someone without children would think that. The grass is always greener, etc.” Or, “Great, yet another celebration of women’s sacrifice of themselves for the ‘future of mankind.’” But there’s also something about these words that rings true to my experience.

Please understand that I am in no way arguing that motherhood is the only worthwhile contribution one can make to society. And I certainly disagree with Szold’s claim that the details of her life’s work didn’t add up to a “harmonious and productive whole.” But I do relate to her sense that in motherhood the mundane tasks and minute details are often more rewarding – relentless, yes, but rewarding – than in other aspects of everyday life.  So I’m taking some comfort in Szold’s words; when I feel mired in the frantic day-to-day struggle of balancing work/kids/marriage/myself, they remind me of the bigger picture.

At the same time, this quotation reminds me that there are many ways to be a mother. Though she never had children of her own, Szold was considered a mother to thousands because of her tireless work leading Youth Aliya, which saved eleven thousand children from the Nazis by bringing them to Palestine.

Happy Mother’s Day. May you catch a glimpse of that elusive “harmonious and productive whole.”

1 comment:

The Queen of Laundry said...

My grandmother, who had a PhD and was a working mother of six, used to say that for her, "every day is Mother's Day". And she wasn't cynical about it. She always viewed child rearing as a privilege rather than a chore or burden (and I really have NO IDEA how they did it back in the 1930s-40s in Palestine, with no refrigerators, washing machines or disposable diapers - speaking of mundane tasks and minute details).
Fortunately or not, neither my two sweet boys nor their father ever let me forget it's "mother's day" (or afternoon, or evening, or late night, etc.), but I do find adopting my grandma's perspective, at least from time to time, encouraging and helpful in assuming better my "mother role".
May we all have a happy Mother's Day... every day!
Thank you for an inspiring post.