Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tough Mothers

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Here it is, Mother's Day. We like to think of motherhood as a warm and nurturing thing, which, of course, it is. But motherhood is also hard. In the best of times, it requires a lot of fortitude. In the worst of times, it requires extraordinary toughness and true grit. So I'd like to take this occasion to remember some of history's (and legend's) toughest mothers:

Grendel's' Mother: I always thought this lady got sort of a bum rap in most retellings of the story of Beowulf. Sure, she was a monster who lived at the bottom of a lake. And yes, she slaughtered a lot of Danes and, OK, she tried to devour the hero. But hey, Beowulf killed her baby boy by ripping his arm off. What mother wouldn't be a little ticked off by that?

Boudica (also known as Boudicca or Boadicea): It wasn't easy being a mother in Roman-occupied Britain.

Boudica's husband Prasutagus, who ruled the Iceni tribe in what is now known as East Anglia, got along OK with the Romans. They regarded him as an ally, even lent him money. When he died, his will specified that the kingdom would be ruled jointly by his daughters and by the Roman Emperor.

However, the reigning Roman governor ignored the will, annexed the province, and suddenly declared all Prautagus' loans due and payable -- by the Iceni people. When Boudica protested, the governor had her flogged and her daughters raped in front of her.

This would prove to be a mistake.

Boudica rallied the Iceni in rebellion, burnt three Roman cities to the ground (including Londinium, now known as London), and slaughtered every single one of their inhabitants, some of whom were nailed to crosses in fine Roman fashion. There are people, the saying goes, whom it will just not do to mess with, and mothers are at the top of that list.

Boudica was eventually defeated and killed (some say she took her own life), but the whole campaign was so costly that the Emperor Nero reportedly considered abandoning Britain altogether. To this day, the people of Great Britain revere her as a symbol of sheer British cussedness in the face of tyranny, so much so that a big bronze statue of Boudica in her war chariot (with her daughters, of course) stands near the Houses of Parliament.

Sacajawea: When Lewis and Clark set out on their voyage of exploration into the Louisiana Territory, they hired as a guide and interpreter a French Trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, largely because Charbonneau's Native American child bride Sacajawea spoke the language of the Shoshone tribe.

Prior to setting out, however, Sacajawea gave birth to her first child, Jean-Baptiste, who then accompanied them on the expedition. Along the way, Sacajawea proved to be an invaluable member of the party. She helped them to find food, negotiated with the native tribes (discovering that the chief of one tribe was actually her long-lost brother), and guided them through passes she knew in the Rocky Mountains.

And she did it all, presumably, while hauling little Jean-Baptiste around with her, thus making Sacajawea an inspiration to working mothers everywhere.

Marge Simpson: OK, she's not only fictional, but also animated. But when it comes to long-suffering moms, they don't suffer much longer or harder than the blue-haired spouse of Homer Simpson.

Her husband is an epically moronic drunk. One child is on the fast career track to becoming the Antichrist, another's some kind of freakishly intelligent mutation, and I don't know what to think about Maggie. She looks cute, but that kid is planning something, and I don't think we're going to like it. The wierdest thing, though, is that the kids don't age.

And yet, through it all, Marge maintains her sunny disposition, her steadfast love for her husband and progeny, and above all, her coiffure, which has to be one of the engineering marvels of the modern world.

Maybe your mom never had to go through what these tough mothers did. But she probably went through a lot to make you happy. So be extra nice to her today.

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