Mother’s Day in Bolivia commemorates a day of desperate violence. With the threat of winter just a month away, and their men absent battling on the front lines, the womenfolk heard of approaching enemies. These mothers rose up to defend their land and became heroines. Every May 27th we remember their valor as we honor the mothers in our lives.
Every mother has violence in her. Birth, while natural and good, comes about by pain and a deep tearing away, expelling, of the child. We call it labor (not vacation) for a reason. That same violence that can push a child out, can protect and provide for him, even in extreme circumstances. A mother will spend herself on her children.
This year’s Bolivian Mother’s Day tested my limits and I felt myself crack. Obligations from the school, the orphanage, and the church presented themselves before me and I assumed the curved position of one who carries too heavy a load on their back. I said, “Yes,” too much. The trouble came when I didn’t know who I wanted to let down.
- If I had said no to the school program that would have meant my children would have had to answer questions from their teachers and fellow students about why their mama couldn’t participate. Their classes were counting on them to play in the skits, sing the songs, and dance the dances. So do I let my children down?
- If I had said no to the school program that would have reflected on my husband, the founder, the administrator, the boss man at the school. Questions and gossip would have arisen in my absence, and the absence of my children. So do I let my husband down?
- If I had said no to the event that the volunteers at the orphanage had organized to show the children that they are not forgotten at this difficult time of the year, then they might feel abandoned, once again. So do I let down the orphans?
- If I had said no to the church people who were depending on me to give a nice speech for the women and to say a nice prayer over them, then some dear mother might wonder if it is all worth it. Someone might go away from the church saddened by the lack of effort on behalf of the pastor’s wife. So do I let the church members down?
- If I had backed away from the church duties, that would also be another time that people would have more gossip fodder about our family or my husband. So do I let my husband down in this area too?
The frustration began to fester Friday afternoon. I had to hunt down a place to rent a costume. A bunch of fuss for $1.50 rental and a 5 minute, poorly done, dance routine. But I got the dress.
Saturday morning we arrived to the school late, but we were earlier than most of the teachers and the other students who organized the event. I divvied the children out to their respective sections and took a seat in the sun to try to warm up. The fall chill cut to the bone in our outdoor, tin roof covered, no walls, gym / stage. I was in no mood to deal with the weather on top of everything else.
More than 20 performances filled the program bulletin. I rolled my eyes I as saw we had to stay to the very last number. I clenched my teeth and waited for the usual 30 minutes behind schedule for them to start.
I took the pictures. I smiled when appropriate. I patted my kids on the back after each performance. I almost made it through.
Then the lunch came. The organizer had left early. People were lining up at the different booths where volunteers and staff prepared the meals. We had pre-ordered certain dishes and the kids wanted those dishes. I sent the bigger kids to wait in their lines as I stood with the little ones. Some time between reaching the front of our line, and one of my other kids telling my the food ran out in their line, I lost it. I raised my voice.
The fury of trying, unsuccessfully, to please everyone boiled over. Before I knew what was happening we stormed out of there and loaded into the truck. The hundreds of little annoyances piled up and I couldn’t keep it together.
“We are never going to one of these things again,” was heard repeatedly. Washingtons were crying and blaming each other. We were beat. We pulled up at a restaurant close to our house and ordered for the kids. I had lost my appetite. My husband sent me home.
I found my comfy yellow chair and balled. When I cry I get sick. I was supposed to go to the orphanage event right after the school event. I didn’t do it; I couldn’t. I was supposed to go to church the next day. I didn’t do it; I couldn’t.
So instead of making everyone happy at all 3 events, I attended 1/2 of an event, and was miserable the whole time.
I can’t promise that I will not over-commit ever again.
I can’t see how I would have handled the precursor to the collision of events any differently.
I still can’t choose who I would have let down. In the end, I let everyone down, especially myself. I cracked. I melted down.
At the beginning of this story I spoke of the violence in women. The valiant war waging of the women of Cochabamba so many decades ago comes to our minds the time of Mother’s Day. The ominous allusion points to my own version of violence.
My greatest fear is: that I will be a disappointment. Even by saying that “out loud” I feel I have disappointed some people. I hate that! I want you to see a strong woman who can handle the choices she has brought upon herself. I want you to know that it is possible to live a good life by looking at mine.
Then reality hits me in the face and I try to hit back. Sometimes the war wager in me knocks the circumstances back in triumphant victory. Other times, not so much. I swing. I miss. I spin, tumbling out of control, crashing to the ground in public defeat.
Part of me is proud to recognize the bloody sacrifice of that brave group of Bolivian women who defended their homes and families. Part of me is very sad that those terrible events mark the day we honor the mothers. Dark shadows hover over that day, diminishing the importance of nurture, love, and kindness that characterize mothers as much, if not more than, strength, protection, and violent capabilities.