Thursday, May 7, 2020

More Than Mother’s Day

I never liked Mother’s Day. 

I was always eager to please my mother. Still am really and I took the Mother’s Day crafts at school very seriously. Early May was hot in the late 80s in my memory. I’d bring a spindly marigold home on the bus, careful to protect its one yellow/orange blossom. I’d hide the flower on our quarter-mile walk from the bus stop to our house. All this with Mom at my side. At home, I put the little flower, such a happy surprise, in a corner of the porch. Not convinced of its ability to remain concealed until Sunday, I retrieved a dishtowel from the kitchen for a bit of extra cover. 

And then I heard, “Joey if you’re trying to hide a plant until Sunday you’re going to kill it.”

So I gave it to her right then. On Friday. And by Sunday I’d have nothing. 

The memory is so vivid, it feels like it must have happened annually. I’m not so sure it did. One year, I definitely thought I was going to get up early and make her breakfast in bed, but I could never get up earlier than her. I’d pick lilacs and make bouquets, but there was nothing that could repay the debt of her mothering. She was good. Is good. And my attempts to give her something special were inadequate. 

Fast forward a couple of decades and I had an infant daughter on Mother’s Day. Released from the responsibility of making my own mother feel special, everyone around me tried to give me the perfect day. 

“We’ll do whatever you want,” my husband announced. 

We went to church where the sermon made me cry. I was given a spindly marigold of my own. Tim and I left the baby with my parents and played tennis in the heat. At the end of the day, hot and sore and tired, Tim took a picture of my daughter in her “I love mommy” bib and me in my as yet undiscovered brokenness. And I said it was the best Mother’s Day ever. 

Mom holds screaming baby that’s wearing an ‘I love mommy’ bib.

A couple of days later I was hospitalized for postpartum psychosis. 

After that, Mother’s Day was the anniversary of a mental health crisis. We tried to do things, but in my mind, it was one year since that terrible thing happened. Then two and five and seven and now, fifteen. 

When my daughter was in kindergarten, her class spent the entire spring rehearsing a program to be presented in honor of mothers. The kids made crowns for their moms and performed about six songs. 

“Memorize these songs. You want to make this a special surprise for mommy, don’t you?”

My daughter had trouble memorizing the songs. And she couldn’t bring them home because the performance was a surprise. That spring was a miserable, emotional wreck. 

Just before Mother’s Day, I sat in the grade school cafe-gym-atorium wearing a paper crown and watched tears brim in my little girl’s eyes as she tried so hard to sing the special songs. It hit me like a grand piano dropped from the heavens. The stress of figuring out these lyrics and choreography made her life a misery. My daughter had been hiding a little plant under a blanket for months. 

The expectation that one day can somehow pay back the sacrifices of motherhood foredooms the whole thing to failure. Motherhood is already complete. The pain, worry, and toil are balanced by great joy and satisfaction. Poop and tantrums and homework offset by hugs and adventures and laughter. Flowers and chocolate and even the most extravagant brunch can only mark a moment. Accolades heaped in one day will never make parenthood a fulfilling enterprise on their own. 

I had to let go of the expectations. 

We’ve scaled our Mother’s Day celebrations back year by year. A walk around the garden center. A day when I cook as much as I want and someone else does the dishes. This year, I’m thinking we’ll get wild and go through the Arby’s drive-through. We’ve got coupons and all the time I put into mothering is its own reward. As for that other anniversary, I'm working on not remembering it at all.