War, Death and Mamas


This commentary is part of a Mama’s Day series by Strong Families, published in partnership with RH Reality Check in our Mother’s Day 2011 series.  Follow Strong Families on Facebook and Twitter.  See all articles in this series here.

I just walked by the USA Today front-page headline about Osama bin Laden’s death: Huge Boost for America. This is probably the last big media event my son Zach will miss. He is almost six years old, reading cereal boxes, street signs and simple books. With luck and off-switch on the NPR, he’s missed it entirely. Like most six-year-olds, little bits of information about the world leave him asking, “Why? And why not??” This was one conversation I didn’t want to have: “why are people celebrating the fact that this man is dead?”

Six year olds love right and wrong, and clear winners and losers.  We live in Oakland, and when Zach got wind of Johannes Mehserle’s verdict in the trial for the killing of Oscar Grant, that led to a whole string of questions: “Why was he afraid of Oscar Grant? Why would he pull the trigger? Do you think it was an accident?  Why would he lie?”

I heard President Obama’s press conference, and all through his confident words and measured celebration, I was thinking about Barack Obama the dad.  While politically the President hasn’t been all I had hoped (to say it mildly) I have never lost my connection with Obama the candidate, the senator, the regular guy who is the first president I know of who is a hands-on dad.

You probably know like I do that he eats dinner with family most nights, and makes it to all of his kids school conferences: parenting stats that put him well ahead of our family and most people that I know.  And I believe he is engaged with his daughters as growing individuals who are learning at a young age how to navigate their strange and complex world.

I wish I could have been at the table to hear how he answered his daughters’ “Why?”

As Mother’s Day approaches, I always like to pull out my battered copy of the original proclamation that started the holiday.  It was written in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, US feminist and reformer, as a call to women everywhere to stand up for peace as the nation tried to recover from the Civil War.  These lines that always stick with me:

Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

Today I am really feeling the rub between celebrating motherhood, and the media buzz anticipating the photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse tomorrow.  Despite the fact that I can download Howe’s proclamation on my iPhone, this moment leaves me feeling like things are more the same now than they are different. 

This Mother’s Day, Strong Families and our close partners are celebrating Mama’s Day, giving recognition to the moms around us who often go unnoticed: queer moms, immigrant moms and young moms, to name just a few.   It is no surprise that these mothers also disproportionately contribute their sons and daughters to the US military, and therefore lose them at a higher rate as well. 

There would be no greater tribute to moms everywhere, and to our own dignity, to stop celebrating and truly rebuild a world where we no longer send our husbands, wives, sons and daughters to unlearn all we have taught them, to kill and be killed, and then to wave flags in celebration.

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  • reproductivefreedomfighter

    I’d never read the proclamation for Mother’s Day before.  It’s lovely and timeless.  I’ve been concerned, like you, about the celebration regarding bin Laden’s death.  People demanding pictures?  For those who want to see pictures, I feel like the pictures aren’t going to be enough anyway.  Conspiracy theorists will believe he’s alive no matter what, so why rise to the bait by releasing the pictures?  I’m not sad the man is dead, but I have no need to celebrate anyone’s death. 

  • arekushieru

    Those who want to see his death certificates are the birthers, most likely.