Tag Archives: Mother’s Day

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The (In)curable Romantic

One might expect a blog with this title to appear around Valentine’s Day. The next major holiday, in any case, is Mother’s Day, and that’s not usually a “romantic” day—except for Oedipus, I suppose, poor fellow. Yet Mother’s Day could be romantic for the husband of the mother, that is to say the man married to the Mother of the House, for there is something quite admirable and even, I think, a bit romantic about being married to someone who has dedicated her life to being a mother.

Delaroche, Young Mother

I imagine my own wife that way—she is and will always be beautiful to me in no small part because of her unswerving dedication to our children and the family that she essentially supervises. And I would marry her all over again, if I could. And, you know, I think that’s at least a little romantic.

The word romantic nowadays would sometimes seem to have taken on a meaning quite different than what I have proposed here. In the news I recently stumbled upon an article about an actress named Anna Faris. I only mention her particular point of view because I think it is emblematic of a wider trend, not because I dislike Anna Faris—I actually have no idea who she is as I don’t watch television—but I did read that she is, perhaps ironically so, the star of a show called “Mom,” which seems apropos as we are leading up to Mother’s Day quite soon (May 13).

Anna Faris’ use of the word romantic struck me because it seemed to me off the mark, and at any rate certainly contrasts sharply with what I wrote above. In an interview of her by Erin Donnelly[1] from a March 28th publication, Ms. Faris is quoted as having said that she is seeking to “figure out what the purpose” is of marriage is.

“Is it safety for your children? Is it convention? Is it so other people respect your relationship more? For me, I’m just not quite sure where it fits.”

But she did not end her comments there, and this is the bit that truly jumped out at me:

“I am a romantic,” she added. “I believe in a partnership, I believe in companionship. I just don’t know if I believe in a ceremony of a wedding. You’d think that having successfully married parents would increase your odds. But how we’ve justified it is trying to make something work when we weren’t sort of picking up the clues. For me, it was sort of checking it off the list.”

It is most certainly not the case that I am offended by Ms. Faris’ remarks, which for all their lack of cohesion, nonetheless make it abundantly clear that she is highly ambivalent about the institution of marriage. Rather, I just found the bit about how she is “romantic” to be rather incongruous. Isn’t romance something meant to last? Isn’t the whole idea of a romantic movie about finding a special someone with whom you can build a lasting relationship—one that will last “forever”—someone you can ride off into the sunset with, have children with, struggle through hunger, cold, and disease with, and still love at the other end of the journey. But maybe I’ve missed something. Maybe the meaning of the word romantic was transformed along the way into temporary or ephemeral or exciting but not enduring. Or maybe it just needs a qualifying adjective like “curable” in front of it. If there is an incurable romantic, surely there could be a curable one.

Yet I’ll bet even in this modern, frenetically paced, and often all-too-dispensable age in which we live, the word still has its traditional meaning. I think that for the person who is “a romantic” the notion of finding that special person still abides. That amatory affliction would, to my mind, be the incurable type, and that is how even Mother’s Day can be romantic.

Happy Mother’s Day to my wife and to all mothers. May you suffer the affliction of love, as Ovid might put it. I hope it turns out to be an incurable case.

[1] https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/anna-faris-criticized-saying-doubts-purpose-marriage-102401869.html

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The Mother of All …

thinking-bikes-solidWell, Mother’s Day has come and gone. I had it in my mind last week, when I chose to write a blog entitled, “Dancing in Heaven.” In that blog the first dance for me was with Elaine Jakes, my mother, as admittedly I had been thinking about seeing her again—an idea perhaps quite foreign to some, i.e. that we shall ever see anyone again who has died or that, after our death we can “see” anything at all. But objections aside, I did think of seeing her again, as I said last week, and this occurred on my bicycle no less, and I did so leading up, fittingly, to Mother’s Day. But it also was leading up to the date of her passing from this life to the next, the anniversary of which will be this week. Because I thought also, on that bicycle ride, of something else.

Of course, that something else was Saddam Hussein. I thought of the strange imprint that Saddam Hussein has made upon American, possibly even global Anglo-speaking culture. For it was, as I recall, Saddam Hussein, who introduced the inceptive words of the phrase “the mother of all X, Y, or Z,” to popular diction.

In this image cleared by the US military, Saddam Hussein appears in a courtroom at Camp Victory, a former Saddam palace on the outskirts of Baghdad, Thursday, July 1, 2004. (AP Photo/Karen Ballard/Pool)I recall it was during the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein called the immanent engagement with the American-led coalition forces, “The Mother of All Battles.” That was, I think the original “MOAB.” Before that, I don’t think “the mother of all anything” was common in English,[1] unless it was a literal reference to someone who in fact did mother everyone, e.g. the mother of all the children in the house, the “mother” of all the sick in the hospital, the “mother of” (or really “to”) all the animals in the shelter. Or perhaps, piously speaking, one might think of Mother Teresa,

Mother Theresa

who was the mother of all the poor of Calcutta. But we came to know the phrase, “The Mother of…,” meaning the “largest of” or “greatest of,” from a less than winsome individual, Saddam Hussein.


But normally when we say “the mother of all” we refer to the earth, who nurtures us with her bounty. Or, recently, we saw that the “Mother of All Bombs” was dropped in Afghanistan. Clearly that was a big and powerful bomb. moabBut strange it was, at least for me, to see it written as MOAB, as that reminds me of a tribe of Israel that is not infrequently talked about in the Old Testament. One recalls that they descended from Lot’s son, Moab, the child of an incestuous relationship Lot had, ironically as she would become also a mother, with his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:37). His descendants settled just to the east of the River Jordan. The book of Numbers tells us that the Moabites finally settled in a valley known as Arnon (21:26ff.). From the point of view of the people of Israel and Judah, this region was a barren land, characterized by desolate plains and not infrequently overrun by Amorites, though of course there were mountains there, too. Mount Nebo, located in modern-day Jordan, was the most prominent of these, for the book of Deuteronomy tells us that Moses died there (34:1-4); and Mt. Pisgah, too, the vantage point from which Moses had that important view of the Promised Land that he would never enter, is a ridge of that very Mt. Nebo.map-of-moab

But this is Moab, not the “Mother of All Battles” or “Bombs” for that matter. Moab and the Moabites have a link to motherhood, as Ruth, a young woman from an apparently pagan religious tradition—a far cry from the monotheism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam—hailed from Moab; she was the daughter-in-law of the nominally bitter Naomi. Though Naomi was aggrieved about the death of her two sons, Ruth, who had been married to one of them, nonetheless followed her out of Moab with the famous words “For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). She is the same Ruth, a Moabitess, who is one of three women named by Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus at the opening of his gospel (1:5). So, perhaps Ruth, could be seen as “The Mother of All Grandmothers” (or at least “Forebears”). And that is an irony, of course, for grandmothers should be grander than mothers.

But lately there has been a greater irony, if you can imagine, for the “Mother of all babies” showed up in California weighing 13 and a half pounds. Now I am one of those folks who is oblivious to baby sizes. When someone tells me the dimensions of their child as if the child were a room being sized for a carpet or as if the child were a sailboat that is for sale, I never find myself trying to imagine the size of the baby. They might as well have said, “He’s a big boy,” or “rather small” (depending on the child’s size), or an “ample lass” or, mutatis mutandis, a “paltry one.” For this is more meaningful to me, when it comes to an infant, than inches or pounds. Yet that said, even I know that thirteen and a half pounds is simply huge. It would, according to Saddam Hussein’s rhetoric, have to qualify as the “Mother of All Babies”—there’s that MOAB again. And that is, of course, a great irony.

But I’ve recently read, too, in that same Washington Post article cited above (n. 1), that many folks find it thoroughly sexist (even “grotesque”) to call anything the “mother of all,” as it could be offensive, especially because the expression, as we have already established, often refers to size. And no one would like to suggest that anyone’s mother is overweight (though it has been known to happen in postpartum circumstances). But better not to talk about it, of course.

So I shall close by moving in a politically correct direction, if only incidentally: I shall cease and desist, at least in this blog, from speaking about the mother of anything, except to say that I am deeply grateful for all the mothers in my life, my own, and those who, like Sheila Rosenthal or my own grandmother, Blanche Evans Jakes, played the role of mother when I was but a lad; or my wife, whose kindness has principally fostered the growth of a sizeable family—but not the mother of all families, lest I thereby suggest maximal size. To all the mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day belatedly, and may you have babies rather smaller than 13.5 lbs., and each find a kind person like Ruth to make your life richer.

[1] Further on this see a recent article by Travis M. Andrews in the Morning Mix section of The Washington Post, entitled, “Phrase, ‘Mother of All Bombs’ Decried as ‘Sexist,’ ‘Grotesque’,” 14 April 2017 (www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/04/14/mother-of-all-bombs-jargon-decried-as-sexist-grotesque-it-exists-because-of-saddam-hussein/).


Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Stuff You Don’t Want to Do …


Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and while it might have been fitting to have this blog appear before Mother’s Day, I am writing it a few days after that special event because, of course, I was thinking of my mother, Elaine Jakes, on Mother’s Day quite a bit and I thought about the many wacky and wonderful times we had together, events and situations that could never have come to pass without her personality, her numerous eccentricities converging to produce various situations frankly unbelievable, but events that indeed did happen. Many of these are presented in some detail in the Curious Autobiography of Elaine Jakes, available on Amazon with the click of a button Θ. book buy iconThe book has enjoyed some excellent reviews, such as that of the Midwest Book Review which calls it “a riveting and entertaining read from beginning to end.”  I thus recommend it to you, especially around this time of year when we find ourselves thinking of our mothers, whether they are alive or not. Elaine passed away on May 23, 2011, nearly five years ago now.

And thus I have entitled this blog “Stuff You Don’t Want to Do …,” and I don’t add the rest of the title because, if you had a good mother, you likely know the rest, “… But You Do Anyway.” You do it because your mother told you to. Now she may have insisted; or she may have cajoled; or she may have used a healthy dose of guilt. She may have used a combination of any two or all three of these. But you wound up doing it, even though you flat out did not want to. And later, as she so confidently predicted at the time she was doling out her instructions, you were glad you did.

I offer two brief personal examples. First, Elaine taught me not to quit. I had a job I did not particularly like; I was working for Gerenser’s Exotic Ice Cream Shop, and though I liked some aspects of the job—I could dip with the best of them, and dip away I did—there was one overseer (whose name escapes me) who particularly irritated me. He seemed not to care about the customers, and in any case he was smug. Even when I was a child, smugness never worked well with me. I did not like other children who were smug; I did not like teachers or coaches who were smug—though I am fortunate to say that I had very few of these—and I particularly did not like supervisors in the workplace who were smug. And I still don’t. That aside, this particular person’s snobbery and conceit rubbed me so much the wrong way that I wanted to quit. But Elaine talked me out of it; she told me that these things, too, will pass, and that I should by this job learn patience that I might store up for future use when I have bigger problems someday. And she added, of course, that someday I would know that she was right. And, naturally enough, I do.

That someday has come many times over the course of my life. One particular time came some years later in graduate school when I was thinking about walking away from a fellowship and tuition remission package merely because I felt that I had been incorrectly marked on one of my qualifying exams. But there was my mother, again, saying, “Don’t be an IDIOT!” idiot posterI knew she would say as much before I told her, so I was not surprised to hear the actual words when I heard her actual voice. And I did, an earful, and I took it to heart. She was, after all, my mother. I had to listen to her. And, she would be proved, after all, to be right, time and time again.

I don’t want to belabor this point. Rather, I just want to give mothers their due, even if it comes the week after Mother’s Day. I hope any of you mothers who read this did indeed had a Happy Mother’s Day. More importantly, I hope you know that you are always right and feel validated, to some small degree by this blog, which attests as much. Yet I know that, if you are anything like Elaine Jakes, you did not need to read this to know it, for you knew it already. For the rest of us, let this blog serve as a small reminder that our mothers are usually entirely right; that we should listen to them; and that we should not quit doing so, nor, barring unusual circumstances, should we likely ever quit at all. Yes, we should very often do what we don’t want to do; and we should know before we talk to her what she will say. Thanks, Mom, for that lesson and so much more.

Mothers sign
“The Guilt.” Photo taken by Alex Stewart