Here’s a story I wrote last year about being born on Mother’s Day…well, at least that’s what I thought.
My mother always told me I was born on Mother’s Day. At 6:26AM on May 10, 1986, she spent her holiday giving birth: that was what I was told. For twenty eight years, she woke me up at this time, singing happy birthday to tell our origin. The live wakings shifted to telephone calls while attending college, calls at 6:26AM to alert me that — to the minute — it was my birthday, that I was born on her day. Now that I live in California and she, back in Georgia, the messages come as texts at 6:26AM my time with the caveat that I was actually born three hours earlier on her time.
These wakings are a near thirty year reminder that she spent a chunk of her holiday in labor: I was the boy born on Mother’s Day.
That story isn’t true, though: I wasn’t born on Mother’s Day. I was shocked to learn this a month ago after an encounter with a mathematician while working on a television show about geniuses. The catalytic calculator was a man named Jerry, ironic as my late grandfather’s name is Jerry. Jerry is autistic, has written several books about his intellect and “disability,” and would make for great television, should he be as mathematically sound as claimed. I interviewed him by phone on a Friday.
“Forgive me for any errors,” he started. “I’ve had two beers.” We laughed and Jerry revealed his best talent: using an algorithm, he could pinpoint the day of the week you were born, in seconds, by birthdate alone. Intrigued, I gave him my digits: May 10, 1986, a Sunday. “Alright…you were born on a Friday!” he announced. Obviously, he was wrong. He attempted to correct himself, which excited me: “I got your birth date all wrong…you were actually born on a Saturday.” I disappointedly advised producers against Jerry, since his math was questionable.
The error nagged me, itching the mind: he got my day — and my mother’s day — wrong twice. To amuse the annoying curiosity, I researched calendars from the year 1986 and every one was wrong, marking May 10 as a Saturday. The crumbling realization set in: I wasn’t born on Mother’s Day. This narrative was a lifelong fiction. Yet, why would my mother lie to me about my date of birth? She is a funny woman — but not funny enough to play the prank of a literal lifetime.
My mother is a lot of things, though. There are a combination of her many looks — from stylish to bedraggled — which I see in myself, including our flat yet bulging nose. Her hair has always been an extreme, either long and naturally, enviably, wavy or shorn to a long flat top, dyed burgundy like a telenovela villainess. She is tall and lean, which is amusing because she has two inches on my father, a former Army lieutenant colonel. She has a toothy smile and speaks in quick bursts of English and Spanish, the result of her being born and raised in Puerto Rico then spending her teenage years in Jersey City. She is the best foil for my Queens born father, a very caucasian and conservative Irish man. They seem so normal now but, decades ago, their being together wasn’t acceptable: an upper middle class white guy courting a hispanic woman from the projects was a social ill.
We have always been close. I was the middle child of three boys and she the lone woman in the family. I felt my middleness and birthdate bonded us, that I was the most like her in the house.
I’ve always felt some sort of womanly tie. For example, when we lived in Fort Knox while my father was stationed in Korea, my mother and I — then, aged five — spent a lot of bonding time driving to and from speech therapy while my brothers were at daycare. She once drifted into the yellow side lane, activating the thin indentions that croaked when sped over. I thought the yellow paint caused the sound.
“Why does it make that noise?” I asked. “I didn’t know that is the sound the color yellow makes.”
“Why is that? Should it make another sound?” she asks.
I didn’t have an answer — but I did have an idea: “It would be better if they put down pink paint that made the sound of bells.”
My mother didn’t say anything. We kept driving, moving away from the yellow paint to the turn lane. That moment sticks out most vividly because it was a innocent, early expression of sexuality: I liked the color pink.
I played soccer as a kid, too. I was the goalie and my mom was my coach, a role typical of fathers. There wasn’t much action at the end zone so I typically picked flowers or danced to pass time. I grew an audience for my backfield theatrics, who would clap and laugh at me not doing my job. For the most part, I didn’t notice them but would hear parents saying things like “He’s a specialkid.” as we walked to respective minivans drinking Capri Suns.
After a game on my birthday, we went for pizza. I walked proudly in spandex shorts with my brothers and mother to the entrance when she snapped at me. “Stop doing that,” she pointed. “You shake your butt too much when you walk: don’t do that.”
I didn’t know that I shook my butt when I walked but, now that she pointed it out, I did. It went unsaid that my butt shaking implied an overt girlishness — and looking “Swishy,” which wasn’t something you wanted to be. I learned years later that my mother’s use of the word “Swishy” was her nice way of calling someone “gay”: she saw something “Swishy” in me and immediately tried to fix it.
It never occurred to me until my early twenties that I was “Swishy” because I was raised very Catholic — and being gay wasn’t in our catechism. Becoming a priest was, though. I heard that endlessly from my mother. “It would be great to have a priest in the family,” she’d poke. Priests would tell me that, too. I was a model altar boy, constantly helping out at church: everyone said I’d make a great priest.
I never entertained the priesthood because I didn’t think I was man enough. I’ve actually never considered myself fully male, instead a combination of manliness mixed with the delicacies of womanliness. I question my gender, trying to pin down who I am and I always arrive back to thoughts of my mother, of she and I as it relates to my prematurely manifested atypical sexuality and gender.
Was this why I was “born on Mother’s Day” even though I wasn’t? Was this a progressive motion on my mother’s behalf, that I was so girly and not-male to begin with that saying I was “born on Mother’s Day” would place me under her wing of protection?
Intentional or not, it worked: I was cared for and managed in a different way from other boys. When my father berated me in middle school for not having any friends who were boys, my mother defended me. When my older brother called me a faggot in a rage, my mother flew in to discipline him about calling me that. When I phoned into a radio show for a contest my mother knew the answer for and the host mistook me for a female caller, my mother corrected that I was her son. She’d take me with her to Sears so I could suggest fashionable dresses for her to wear to church. She’d let me play hairdresser, brushing her hair and administering a pedicure as she watched television. She constantly warned “Girls are trouble.” in elementary school, a caution against early sexual activity. When I came out to her at 23, her reaction was happy but blank. It was like a circle had closed: a life’s long hovering around a child of differing gender and sexual circumstance was over.
I do wonder if she wishes I was female. Was she told that I would be born not-male? Was I a gender mishap and subsequent burden? Was I the accidental victim of too much female influence due to an absent father, forced away from us by the nature of his work?
Maybe that’s why my personal narrative has been written so closely to Mother’s Day, as a revisionist means to make sense of oddity: a gay boy being born on Mother’s Day is poetic. It’s the perfect narrative for me.
When I confronted her on the error, she didn’t believe me. “That’s not true,” she said. “You were born on Mother’s Day. I remember being in the hospital!” I explained my interaction with Jerry and that I had double checked with various calendars: I was not born on Mother’s Day. “I know you were,” she repeated in confusion. Even if her math was off by one day — or that she truly believed she birthed me on Mother’s Day — I was still the boy who was born on Mother’s Day to her, her girly boy given to her on theother International Women’s Day.
Mother’s Day is her special day and she spent her entire life explaining our bond to this holiday. I — a non-mother, a non-woman, a non-man, a non-person-born-on-Mother’s-Day — have always been tied to the date, enjoying a profound connection with my mother as a result. This embedded in me a deep respect for women and my own gender fluidity, something I happily wonder about in awe of women. I may not have really been born on Mother’s Day but I will never not frame my life around the world of women.
For that, I thank my mother.