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Ancient, weird mysteries of motherhood

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Daedalus Howell/Index-Tribune

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After giving birth to the world’s population, one might think mothers would rate more than a single day to celebrate their contribution to humanity. But, being the planet of spoiled children we are, we allot just the one day. And it’s a Sunday at that.

In the U.S. alone, there are more than 85 million mothers – nearly a third of our nation’s population. In the “mom and apple pie” formulation by which our country traditionally defines its character, mothers are easily 50 percent. And yet, moms get little more than a kiss on the cheek, and maybe brunch.

Q: Why is “brunch with Mom” a traditional way to celebrate Mother’s Day?

A: For us wayward sons coming off Saturday night, breakfast would be too damn early.

The enormity of humanity’s selfishness as regards its moms is rivaled only by our mothers’ own selflessness. From the local (“I carried you in my body for nine months, kid!”) to the global (our yen for pollution has sent Mother Earth into early menopause, hence all the hot flashes), we’re just terrible to our mothers. We never call, we never write, we take, take, take. It’s like we’ve been using Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” as a user manual – emphasis on “user.”

Moms are superheroes. I know this because five years ago my wife became a mother and acquired several superpowers – among them: the ability to locate unseen playthings, heal wounds with kisses and function without sleeping for weeks at a time. I also suspect she has X-ray vision and can read minds, since she regards most of my antics by shaking her head and saying “That doesn’t surprise me.”

My wife has also developed a psychic link with our son such that she remains in some kind of emotional geosynchronous orbit. It’s like a spiritual umbilical cord that can’t be cut. Despite the fact that she says her body feels like her own again, she can’t shake the sensation that part of her is always in danger of skinning a knee whilst playing T-ball. And she doesn’t play T-ball. But she can feel it.

Between failures in Hollywood, I had a gig writing a column for the L.A. Downtown News under the pseudonym “Sophie Dover.” Why, in their infinite wisdom, the paper hired a dude to pretend to be a woman and write what amounted to female confessional fiction, is beyond me. Suffice it to say, I was under-qualified by at least a chromosome but I was probably cheaper than a real woman and, hey, I needed the work. One of my early assignments was to pen a Mother’s Day-themed story predicated on a mother-daughter dialogue about men. The result was an exercise in mental menstruation from which I’m still trying to recover.

Looking at the piece 12 years hence, I see it’s a mishmash of stylistic tics and trite observations that betrays little understanding of women, motherhood and possibly English. But in the course of writing it, I did come to the realization that the mysteries of motherhood are ancient and weird and the best I could do in the face of them is to simply be a better son.

These days, I’d readily cut 90 percent of the story and, given its lack of everything including length (they paid by the word so concision was emphasized), the editing would leave me with something akin to a haiku:

This Mother’s Day piece

Was written by a man, not

By someone’s daughter

My own mother has the psychological constitution of guano, which is to say she’s bat—t crazy. I’m not in the mood to write a weeper – otherwise I’d tell the tale – but suffice it to say, I think raising my brother and me contributed some. That notwithstanding, I know that even 40 years hence, part of her still frets the skinning of a knee, wherever we are, which is always too far. For moms, their children can never be near enough. No matter what. Not even on that certain Sunday.

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Daedalus Howell is a real mutha at DHowell.com.