Several years ago I decided that Mother’s Day would be much more pleasant if it were not about me. I know many mothers struggle with the elevation of the ideal mother once yearly, measuring themselves and always coming up short, not having had birth children, having difficult family issues that bring a sense of loss, or any number of imperfect situations that cry, “this day is for everyone else, but you will stand with your nose pressed against the glass.” A good response to my own life was to decide that everyone has a mother, and it’s a very good day to just be glad to have her and glad to be alive. I’ve not had a bad Mother’s Day since.
But there was that one time …
I made a nice Sunday dinner, as was my habit, and we all sat around it and ate peacefully. My children were young and helped as they best could, and my husband, well … he didn’t … but that was the usual and didn’t seem out of the ordinary. Then, as everyone was feeling comfortable, he pushed back from the table, puffed out his chest, and announced, “NOW. To give your mother a break, you girls will wash all the dishes. Get busy.”
In those years I spent a lot of time preventing situations like this, but I was completely blindsided. The girls were only 8 and 9, and though they had chores, they didn’t regularly do dishes for a family of 7, and certainly not for a big Sunday dinner. I protested in my “keep the peace” way but this time to no avail. Weeping and wailing ensued, raised voices and angry, arms-folded, feet-set pronouncements were driven.
I cannot describe how much I wanted that day to end, or even better, to never have occurred. What a horrible idea Mother’s Day was.
The next year I prepared by letting everyone know far in advance that I didn’t want anything special for Mother’s Day, and that I wanted to simply celebrate my mother and all the good she had provided for me. It was delightful to let go of my inner yearning for a bouquet of paper flowers or little notes, all orchestrated by someone big enough to help little people make a day special for someone. I was just grateful for my mom, and in ceasing to worry about what might happen for me, I began to notice what happened for other women.
I saw the women sitting with trembling lips on the back row in church, no children, no paper flower bouquets. I saw the older women talking wistfully together about young children with sticky kisses – children who lived far away grownup lives and didn’t have time to call anymore. I saw young women, some married, some not, whose arms ached for babies they weren’t sure would come. And I began to understand the exultant joy and crushing despair of being a woman-soul – and how hearts are wrapped around other little souls and how life seems rather arbitrary about granting this boon.
With eyes wide open to how this attempt at honor (Mother’s Day) had completely backfired for so many, I wondered what to do about it. I just don’t know. But I know what I’ve learned.
- Expectations, especially the ones where someone must read our minds, are very destructive.
- Some efforts are worse than nothing, and gifts given under duress definitely qualify.
- Living an imperfect life makes it possible to see the pain in others’ lives.
- The best things in life are not about us, but about giving to others.
- Few of us would trade sadnesses with each other.
This morning the kids decided that they were going to clean the kitchen without being asked. It was okay with me that I’d spent an hour while they were still asleep cleaning it up with the twins – they were so thrilled to do the little things remaining and it was endearing to see their joy.Tonight my son-in-law cooked up a plan to honor both my daughter and me. He presented her with gifts that swept her off her feet, and with her agreement, even on their tight student budget, offered me the dinner of my choice. I chose barbecue, as it is a tradition rich with happy family times. He made a delicious dinner and we played games together and laughed and were happy. When we came home, the other kids presented my happy face jar to me with the sweetest love notes from each folded inside.
I am so grateful that they are learning to be kind even without someone else to help and guide them, at least in regards to me, which works out well, because it’s really not about me. That’s probably my greatest lesson: that children are natural givers, but they need help to create value for others. Teaching a child to be generous is a great investment, and it turns out best when we give right along with them.
The worst Mother’s Day ever paved the way for the best Mother’s Days ever.