What do you think of when you realize that Mother's Day is around the corner? Sloppy but well-intentioned breakfasts in bed, home-made cards festooned with sparkles and stickers, bear hugs and giggles? Visits to someone's home, apartment, nursing home or hospital bed? A quiet drive to the cemetery? Or maybe a card in the mail, a phone call, or a passing pang of guilt for cards unsent and phones left untouched?
Mother's Day has been kinda weird for me ever since my mother died back in 1992. And it's gotten progressively weirder since I lost babies of my own, then had two healthy children. I honestly don't know what to do with myself when that hallowed Sunday in May rolls around. Do I allow myself to be pampered and showered with extra attention, or do I wring my hands and grieve what might have been? Do I celebrate the contented mothers in my life or reach out to those for whom the day is pure torture? I don't know that there's a right answer to that question. So I did a bit of both.
1) Hot Coffee
After a good night's sleep (a rarity at Someday due to my son's penchant for nocturnal roaming), I enjoyed an uncharacteristically mellow morning with the kids while D did chores for his mother. We'd had a crazy day on Saturday with a combined birthday party for Jade and her cousin, so it was a relief to wake up and realize I had nothing to do. I set Dylan up with his breakfast in front of his favourite video, then invited Jade to watch her latest internet fascination - Teletubbies - seriously - on my laptop in bed with me. This meant I could drink my coffee and Baileys while it was still hot, people....still hot! If you have neither pets nor kids, you might not appreciate the enormity of this achievement. But trust me, it's big. I read my book - Cheryl Strayed's incredible memoir, Wild - cuddled with Jady and listened with one ear to Dylan whoop it up downstairs a la Team Umizoomi. It was peaceful. It was pleasant. It was perfect.
And then D got home, the kids went ballistic and my coffee cup was empty. Still, it was an hour and a half of bliss. Wayyyy better than breakfast in bed or a macaroni card.
2) Holy Crepes!
After he'd shattered the peace by having an impromptu wrestling match with Dylan on our bed, D reminded me that I'd offered to go to the farm and make breakfast for his mother. Crap. So I crawled out of bed, whipped up some crepe batter, grabbed a pint of berries from the fridge and herded the kids into the car.
We were so late that I'd missed seeing my sister-in-law and nieces, who'd left for a different family gathering - oops. My mother-in-law had already set the table and concocted a gorgeous fruit tray, so I wasted no time getting the crepes going. I have my mother's old crepe pan and it never fails me. Bro-in-law Paul cooked eggs and peameal bacon, the kids ran around, Grandma whipped some cream to replace the stuff I'd forgotten at home and D made the toast.
It was a raucous, crowded, splattery half-hour and I felt weirdly relaxed, even in the midst of all the breakfast chaos. I think I must have made thirty crepes; we slathered them with Nutella, whipped cream and fruit and ate until we couldn't eat any more. I think my mom would have been pleased to see me carrying on her tradition; my grandmothers would have been proud of how many I snarfed back.
3) Sharing the Burden
The day before Mother's Day, I got on the phone to my favourite flower shop in Waterloo and placed a last-minute order. I'd meant to do it the week before; I guess the party details erased this task from my mental list. When the clerk asked me what I wanted to put on the card, I opened my mouth to tell her, but no words came out. Instead, I choked on a sudden suffocating wave of tears. I finally managed to say, "My friend lost her daughter last month," before the wave drowned my voice again.
The clerk paused for a moment. "Well, what about something like, 'Thinking of you?' Or, 'With warm thoughts at this difficult time?'"
I swallowed the tears and shook my head, not that she could see it. "No," I croaked, as a mixture of anger and helplessness bloomed in my chest. "No, no, NO."
I heard the clerk let out a small sigh on the other end of the phone. I knew I was placing a last-minute order on an insanely busy day for her store. I knew I'd begged her to tack it on to the last delivery time, but mother of pearl, didn't she GET IT? Shouldn't she know that there's nothing you CAN say on Mother's Day in the space of a tiny florist's card to someone who has lost a child? I clenched my teeth to bite back the urge to yell this at her.
"Just write, 'With love from the Lowrys,'” I finally said. It was banal, but true. All I could send them was our love. And a lot of frigging chocolate.
I sent my love to relatives and coworkers who have lost mothers and mothers-in-law; neighbours whose mothers are hopelessly ill; friends who have lost sisters, aunts, children. Mother's Day is no picnic for a lot of moms, no matter how many macaroni cards or pedicure gift certificates they get. It's not much fun for many guys either. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do except offer to share the burden of pain and grief and disappointment, so they know they aren’t carrying it alone.
4) The Hike
Every year on Mother's Day, I slip away for a few hours and take a long walk on my own. I used to go to the beach, but this year I tackled the Kincardine Trails.
The kids and I often do short treks through what they call “The Muddy Woods,” near the Penetangore River, but until recently, I had no idea that the trails can lead you for hours through woods and field, over bridges and up steep ravines, behind subdivisions and arenas. It’s blissfully silent, perfect for days where you want to think of everything, or nothing.
When you hike by yourself, your mind is free to wander, and your attention sharpens. There’s no conversation to distract you from the little details: a plunging kingfisher, the way the river talks to itself, a carpet of trilliums, the tiny perfection of a robin’s eggshell, the smell of snow in the air. (Yes, it snowed on Mother’s Day - apparently Mother Nature had PMS.)
I expected to feel sad, and cry a little. I usually do, thinking of the people I’ve lost and the mother I’ve become. This time I didn’t. Instead, I felt wistful. Like, what would life be like if Rose had lived? Or my mother had recovered from her cancer? Or my friend’s daughter had been born healthy? Fantasies ran unchecked through my brain as I panted for breath and stomped my way over bridges and up steep, muddy hills.
When I got to a small gap in the trees where the river rushed by, I stooped and picked up a handful of stones. I threw one into the river for each person I was missing: Bun. Rose. Baba and Nana. My mother. My friend’s daughter. It was a simple act, just a few splashes and ripples that disappeared as quickly as they’d been created. Then I had to laugh a bit, because wasn’t that life? We make our mark, but eventually our presence fades and we become part of something bigger. The stones are still there, even if you can’t see them. Maybe knowing they’re there is enough for now.
5) This Girl is on Fire
D’s family doesn’t really celebrate occasions like my family does. Birthdays come and go with a card and a cake - unless it’s for a grandchild, in which case the party lasts for several days. But Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc. are sort of shrugged at. So I don’t get too upset if I don't get a card from D or the kids. I prefer to spend the day in quiet contemplation, truth be told. Having a loving husband who tells me I’m a good mom almost daily and being able to enjoy the company of two healthy kids is gift enough.
This year, D astounded me with a spa gift certificate to a place I'd been raving about to my sister recently. I was so sure he wouldn’t get me anything that I went out and bought something for myself: an outdoor fire pit thingy! Oops.
So now I get to pamper myself at a fancy spa, AND enjoy a cosy fire any time I want. I think the kids are old enough to discover the sticky joys of roasted marshmallows and spider dogs, the spark and crackle of a bonfire and the way it feels to fall asleep in your mother's lap outside under the stars. I think that's all I really wanted for Mother's Day anyway.