For seventeen years, Mother’s Day has been a day for someone else. A day for people with mothers, a day for mothers. And then there it was, mine for the taking, complete with brunch and flowers and cards and Matt and my beautiful little girl. And I felt… sad.
Growing up, Mother’s Day was more or less just a Sunday with dessert. It was usually one of the first days that it was warm enough to grill, so we would invite my grandmothers over for a barbecue. They would get cards and big baskets of hanging flowers and my mom would get something nice from her mother (perfume, a pretty nightgown, a nice sweater) and something strange or passive aggressive from my dad’s (sponges, a book on how to be a good mother, salt and pepper shakers). I enjoyed the day because I was oblivious to the tension between my mom and her mother-in-law, because I loved my grandmothers in a totally unencumbered way, and because there was dessert.
Fast forward to Mother’s Day, 1991. I was 12 and Andy was coming home from college to have dinner with us, making me giddy with excitement about the chance to see him. He walked in the door with a huge bouquet of flowers, which he handed to my mom and then burst into tears. This naturally scared the crap out of me, because I’d never seen Andy cry, not even when he was stung by a swarm of bees in our back yard.
That was the Mother’s Day that I learned that my mom had breast cancer. I took it like a champ because they made it seem like some people get colds, some people get ear infections, and other people get cancer. Suspicious of Andy’s tears, I pressed them on whether mom would be better by my Bat Mitzvah, and I was assured that of course she would.
And then Mother’s Day, 1994. The first Mother’s Day after my mom died. I had just lost my mom, I was 15, I weighed approximately 93 pounds sopping wet, and so I did the most logical, teenage thing I could do: I hated. I hated Hallmark, candy, and barbecues, I hated my friends with mothers, and I hated mothers. Except that I was only 15, so I cried myself to sleep that night and spent the next morning cutting my classes, smoking cigarettes on the black top, and feeling sullen and sad.
I mostly grew out of the hate, attending the breast cancer walk in Philadelphia and later in Pittsburgh, even though getting up to volunteer for a walk at 7:30am as a college student was a sort of masochistic torture. When I got married I abdicated responsibility for Mother’s Day, even as I reminded Matt that hey, you have to call your mom. Once, in law school, I sent “The Secret Life of Bees,” a book that’s essentially about the mothers that aren’t related to us, to a few of the women who mothered me through those hate years. And when Matt’s brother got married, my sister-in-law took over Mother’s Day duties, sending an email a few days before with, “I was thinking flowers for Char” or “how about an Amazon gift card this year?” and I felt so grateful for Amanda’s ability to just walk over, look at my pain and say, “I’ll pick that up for you honey, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it.” I handed it over willingly, every time.
And then there was last year, the mother of all Mother’s Days, when I didn’t have a mother, I had just had a miscarriage, and I wasn’t yet pregnant. I don’t need to dwell on it much more than this: it was awful, hate turned into resentment.
I don’t know what I expected this year. I half-expected to “take back the day,” to feel like this day that has held so much emotion for me over the years would once again be simple, or even feel like any other day. But Hallmark is pervasive, and so are my emotions. So I didn’t get to have a personal mommy-ist triumph, nor did it feel like just another day in the life of our 64-day-old daughter.
Instead, I just missed my mother. A lot. I missed her more than I missed her the day that Mollie was born. I missed her more than when Martha was here, pinch-hitting on the mother AND mother-in-law roles. I missed her more than I do when I’m sitting quietly in Mollie’s room with Julie, more than I do in those moments when Mollie looks at me with her intense stare, more than when I’m reading her “Where the Wild Things Are” or when we walk around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. I didn’t want the barbecue or the hanging pots of flowers, and I certainly didn’t want the awkward family drama, but I wanted the chance to have a conversation with my mother, to see her on a Sunday, maybe share some dessert.
I spent so many years hating the day, resenting what everyone else got to celebrate, that over time the day turned into both more and less than it was meant to be.
Mollie is asleep on me as I’m writing this, sucking on her pacifier every few seconds to comfort herself. She literally has everything she needs within inches and she is calm, comforted. I hope that I am there on her first Mother’s Day, to tell her how amazing it is to see her all grown up and mothering. I hope that after her years of hating and resentment over whatever or whomever she needs to hate and resent, that I can be there for her, that we can have a conversation and some dessert.
I am learning that it is the little things that add up to a Mother’s Day, the small moments and Sundays that make up part of a year, part of the role. Yet I don’t want to miss a single one, and the saddest thing of all is that if I had to hazard a guess, my mother would have said the very same thing.
So for now, this will have to do: wherever you are, Happy Mother’s Day. You are with me in the quiet moments and in the loud ones, and so you never really miss a thing. I will eat dessert for both of us.