Mother of the Year

 A couple years ago, my kids were intent on giving me the best Mother’s Day ever. We had plans to visit the San Francisco Zoo, a trip all of us were looking forward to. But before that could happen, they had secret plans to serve me breakfast in bed.

So naturally my job was to lie in bed and pretend I was asleep. (Also, I had to be sure to set up the coffee pot the night before so that I could be served coffee with my breakfast.)

My eyes may have been closed, but I could distinctly hear them going through the cabinets. I could also hear them lightly bickering in the small kitchen as they worked around each other. Soon their voices rose up the stairwell, catapulting off the walls and into my ears, followed by the distinct sound of them walloping each other to a pulp while my caffeine headache set in and my stomach complained.  It was now an hour past my breakfast time. I could feel the tension mounting inside as they continued to beat each other up instead of pampering me. I couldn’t help but think about all I did for them throughout the year…and they couldn’t even get me a lousy breakfast in bed as a gesture of appreciation. Forgetting my required task of laying in bed and relaxing, I sprang up and called them to my room. And when they were standing in front of me, I laid into them – telling them how disappointed I was, about how I sacrificed everything for them and their rottenness made me regret it, and how going to the zoo no longer interested me because all I wanted for Mother’s Day was to sit in bed and be left alone.

“Thanks a lot, Taz,” my daughter muttered darkly, shoving him right in front of me. And if they thought I was mad before, they hadn’t seen anything yet. I became a screaming banshee, my eyes practically rolling back in my head as I lost all sense of control, my words becoming one long and shrill sound that no longer had any meaning at all. And the kids shut their mouths, realizing it was better to just let me howl instead of making it worse with any excuses or blame-shifting. When I was done, I banished them from my room so that I could wallow in my misery.

And while it started out with resentment that they couldn’t even stop fighting on Mother’s Day, I was left with a sense of disgust at myself for even expecting that this day was supposed to be all about me.

One of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, came up with a poem titled “The Lanyard”, where he describes the great deeds his mother did for him and his meager way of repaying her. Here’s an excerpt:

She nursed me in many a sick room, lifted spoons of medicine to my lips, laid cold face-cloths on my forehead, and then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim, and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said, and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied, which I made with a little help from a counselor.

What can a kid actually give their mother as a Mother’s Day present in exchange for years of hard work and countless giving? An ornament with glue and glitter that holds their school photo? A lopsided clay ashtray for a non-smoker? A coffee cup that says World’s Best Mom? Was my mom moved by the countless crappy gifts I gave her each Mother’s Day, thinking to herself that it was all worth it because I had served her burnt toast and spilled OJ in bed? Not likely. But my 8 year old self didn’t know any better as my mom raved about the present I had worked on in class, and how breakfast never tasted so good. See, it wasn’t about her, it was about me – her child. Even on Mother’s Day, she was still a mom.

And me in this moment? Not exactly Mom of the Year.

The kids sheepishly entered my room 10 minutes after my outburst. Breakfast was placed on my lap, along with a present they both had made. It was wrapped in homemade wrapping paper full of apologies for fighting and ruining Mother’s Day. And I apologized back to them for acting like an ogre and a tyrant when we all deserved a good day together. We decided to have a do-over for the day. We laughed over all the pictures and writing on the wrapping paper, shared breakfast, and then got dressed and left for the zoo where we had a fabulous time.

It would be nice to get a day off on Mother’s Day, to be a day when everything goes right and children are perfectly behaved. But is that really what motherhood looks like? No. It’s full of miracles and runny noses, laughter and frustration, praise and disappointment, triumphs and mistakes. And there are plenty of lessons learned along the way. My lesson was that I’m not really being a guiding force when I’m in less control than the kids, and no one wants to serve breakfast in bed to a banshee. Yet, my kids still did. And I saved that wrapping paper as a reminder that Mother’s Day is less about perfection, and more about celebrating a bond that helps us move on from bad mornings and still have a really great day.

I hope everyone has a Happy Mother’s Day, even the perfectly imperfect moms like me!


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