Mother’s Day 2024

Three under five.

Two under two. Mom wins.

It’s not the gift, because it’s never the gift.  It’s been a Pop-Tart served on a tray,  the corner suspiciously looking like it had been chewed off, but I pretended not to notice.  It’s breakfast in bed, served on a cookie sheet improvising as a tray, because trays make it fancier and you can never be too fancy on Mother’s Day.  And I loved every bite of it like it was eggs Benedict with a croissant on the side. It was my child’s version of my granola recipe in a book with other kindergartner’s recipes that was handed to me with excitement and pride and instructions to bake for six hours at 900 degrees.  The whispered arguments of who gets to carry the tray, with giggles and shushes are the alarm clock for so many moms on Mother’s Day and I’m not sure there is a better way to be awakened.   Of course I was awakened earlier with arguments in the kitchen and hold back my smiles that are bursting to get out as my three young kids would wake me to begin the Mother’s Day celebrations.  

I miss those early Mother’s Day’s that began with breakfast in bed and ended in me cooking dinner because there are no last minute reservations on Mother’s Day.  One Mother’s Day, I confessed in an essay, that more than anything I wanted to go to the movies to celebrate the day…by myself.  I didn’t care what was playing.  I wanted to sit in the dark for two hours and eat popcorn and Milk Duds and maybe doze off.  Several of my mom friends chimed in and agreed, but none of us would ever admit it to our families or chose the movies over a day of breaking up fights over who gets to sit next to mom while watching Full House reruns because it’s Mother’s Day and mom gets to do anything she wants, including watch what the kids suggest.

Moms are the first to say they are no longer hungry when they see one of their kids, who technically is still growing, eyeing the last piece of pizza.  They are willing to sacrifice their coat when one of their kids, who was reminded to bring a jacket, twice, didn’t, and is cold. They will shiver through the soccer game or the afternoon at the park, insisting they are fine because they have to be fine.  They are the ones who sit behind the tall man at the movies and are happy to go last when it comes to unwrapping Christmas gifts, always with the hope that someone remembered to purchase the gift you’re patiently waiting to unwrap.  They will happily change seats from the front to the back (provided they aren’t the driver)  when the back seat child says he or she might be sick, knowing it’s possible they just want a better view.  We cancel plans, delay starts and are the one sweeping in with the pan for the next round of throw up and the towel to clean up the one we missed.  I can’t say we do it without some eye rolls and mumblings to ourselves, but we do it and we do it again and again and again.  As young mothers, we smell like throw up because we often wear throw up, but that’s okay, because we’re the mom and that’s what moms do.  Our hearts are cavernous and our patience limited so things don’t always go as planned, but the side of love is always the side that wins. 

Moms will backbend themselves around to help another mom because we know first hand what exasperation and exhaustion look like, and when we see a mom down, we do whatever we have to get the fallen mom upright again.  This, we often do at the cost of our own sanity.  We are never off the clock, even when our kids aren’t with us.  Case in point, I once told a mom in an elevator who I had just traveled four floors with,  a bold face lie as a gesture of offering help.  I was in Captiva, Florida, with my husband and my two sons under the age of two, and was going to the nearby market to get something we had forgotten or possibly more wine.  Or maybe it was nothing and I just needed a moment of alone time.   The woman on the elevator had twins who looked about six months old, both boys.  I saw the exhaustion and frustration on her face and in the way her body was hunched over the stroller like a question mark.  I looked her straight in the eye and told her I also had twin boys and not to worry as it gets much easier.  In fact, so much easier that the day will come when having twins will be easier than just one because  they will always have a playmate.  She looked up at me with eyes that had possibly crying and told me thank you, from the bottom of her very tired heart.  When I got off the elevator, I turned around and she smiled an ear to ear smile at me and I had the feeling her day may have gotten a tiny bit better.  I do not have twins, but I do have two boys 18 months apart, which meant two cribs, two carseats (at a time when only babies were in car seats), a double stroller, and an undue amount of chaos and crying.  It felt like it was the right lie to tell within the sisterhood of motherhood.  I did not regret it when I walked out of the elevator,  nor do I regret it today.  It was a necessary lie and one that may have put a morsel of hope into that tired mom’s head that she had not yet considered — that it might get easier as the two babies had more months or even years under their belts or onesies as it was.  

Two of my three Pop-Tart preparing kids now have kids of their own and my third has one on the way. Their days of their kids balancing cobbled together breakfasts on makeshift trays with overly filled glasses of juice are coming, although I suspect their kids’ food choices may be better.  I’m seven years overdue in declaring this, and it’s happened organically over the years, but I’ve decided it’s time to give up one more thing as a mom and that’s the holiday of Mother’s Day.  By NO means does that mean the day no longer needs to acknowledged or celebrated in some way, large or small (kids, take note), but I’m moving my position down one chair in the matriarchal line-up to make room for the mothers in my own family whose kids are of the age of carrying breakfast trays to sleeping moms.  This has happened naturally with my kids who live in other states, but I feel like it has to be said in the same way my mom said it to me when I had my first child.  The connection will always be celebrated but it is the active mom who should be the one to relish in the glory of the day, eating a breakfast she may not have chosen and breaking up the fights of whose turn it is to sit next to her or who gets to paint her toenails on her special day.

My cousin’s daughter, six months into her pregnancy, asked me several years ago if I knew how long the umbilical cord was.  I didn’t know, but really, I did, but didn’t want to tell her.  The umbilical cord is as long as it needs to be, and although the physical cord is birthed with the baby, the emotional cord connects you and your child forever and ever.  I feel the tug of that cord  still and it has extended its length to include my grandchildren. The lump in my throat that catches when I see my children comforting their children is that same umbilical cord giving me a tug to remind me of its attachment.  It makes me want to cry and immerse myself in the memories of being awakened with warm whispers of “are you awake?”  inches from my ear.   I want to press those memories to my chest and relive every moment, knowing that the baton has been passed; also knowing it will be another mom who will comfort a child in the middle of the night and clean up the throw up, first off the floor, then off herself.  And that same mom will call her mom the next morning and share with her how hard her night was and how tired she is and my cavernous heart will melt and I’ll suddenly have a craving for Pop-Tarts.

Happy Mother’s Day, to anyone who mothers and to the moms we have or had.  The  umbilical cord continues to tug, even when it’s not Mother’s Day.

Story Telling

I knew I should give them space by the meditative way they were standing; six people, shoulder to shoulder,  on the beach, at the water’s edge, flanked by a dog doing the same. I was close enough, but not too close, to see they weren’t talking, but instead, had their focus on the sea in front of them.  As I got closer, still with respect for their space I kept reminding myself, I could see there weren’t six people, but seven.  A woman, or maybe a teenager? with a yellow raincoat sat on the ground in front of the group.  I was drawn to them — their stillness, their reverence, their focus on something I couldn’t see and the connection they had with each other,  with arms interlaced and hands held. 

 I continued my beach walk, trying to notice other things, but turned around every few minutes to see if they had moved.  They hadn’t.  Twenty minutes passed and they still stood, side by side, facing the sea.  As I got further away, and began to lose sight of them, my focus changed. I noticed that almost everyone I passed had a dog and almost all of those dogs had a couple with them — not a single person, but a couple.   I did a visual 360 on the sparsely populated beach to confirm that yes, it appeared I was the only one that did not have a dog or a partner.  And right then and there, I said to myself, not even in a whisper as there wasn’t anyone around to hear me, “table for one, right here, right now, on the beach.”  I smiled at my observation.  Last night at the restaurant, I asked for a table for one, something I’ve become accustomed to in my solo travels and was mindful to not add the just to the one.   Had I been walking with someone this morning, I doubt I would have found the intrigue with the six people standing at the water’s edge,  shoulder to shoulder, with the yellow rain-coated woman in front of them.   I’m more tuned in when I’m by myself — more curious, more observant and ready to fill in a story that I know absolutely nothing about.

Their stillness reminded me of the man and his dog that I’ve seen just about every evening, standing side by side, while they wait for the sun to drop.  Were these seven people waiting for something or were they just not ready to leave.  I had my own version of the story.    I thought about the person who remains in the pew long after the funeral or is still standing graveside after the ceremony is long over.  They can’t leave because of the finality of leaving. You only get one first goodbye.  The next time, it will be a recollection of memories and a goodbye afterwards, but not the first goodbye.  That only happens once.

My hunches were  confirmed when on my walk back, I passed the group again, and saw the man that was on the end squat down and hand a box to the woman in the yellow raincoat.  She stood to receive the box then held it to her chest and her head dropped.  I was still a respectful distance away, but didn’t feel like I was supposed to be watching, so turned my back and observed  a small flock of sanderlings running back and forth on the beach instead.  When I turned around, the box was back in the man’s hand and the woman with the yellow raincoat was drawing something in the sand with a long stick.  When she was done, she set the stick down and the man returned the box to her.

Of course I’m only speculating on what had benign the box.  It could have been a lunch box with a half eaten sandwich inside and the yellow raincoat girl was hungry and so happy to see it that she held it to her chest.  But I don’t think so.  It was not what her body language was telling me, nor what I saw in the sand after they left, single file, the girl in the yellow raincoat last.  When they were out of sight, I walked over to see what had been drawn and saw a heart and below it the letter “A” carved into the wet sand.  The letter before the “A” had been taken away by the tide and all that was visible was a vertical line, maybe the outside leg of an “M.”  I began to speculate but redirected my thoughts and contemplated the heart instead.  It told the story the letters didn’t.

Maybe it is me being nosey or maybe it’s the storyteller in me trying to find fodder, (I’ll go with the later as it doesn’t sound as creepy), but I’m drawn to groups of people sharing —secrets or moments, with arms entwined and hands held.  I want to move in closer.  I want to hear the words, but know that gestures can sometimes be louder and more articulate than words.

As I watched the seven of them and the dog walk away, I thought of how blessed the person was who they were there to honor and celebrate (as per my made up story).  I was touched by the reverence and presence I witnessed, whether that box contained someone’s lunch or the ashes of a loved one.  I started thinking about my own family, (yes, I went there),  and whether on mountain top with a vista, or at the edge of the sea with the roll of the waves underfoot, (both would be nice, kids…), I hoped they would show the same honor, love and affection I had just witnessed.  Then I shook my head and said to myself, not even in a whisper as I was the only one in ear shot, “Of course they would!”  And my mind began to paint the picture.  Arm in arm, while my family quietly observed the magnificent shows of nature I had become so fond of in my life, the stories would start to unfold; memories shared, each told with an individual slant and exaggeration by the teller.  Then someone would say what everyone was thinking, but no one had yet said, and that would be what a curious snoop I had become in my advanced years.  Because I’m the one writing the story, someone else would add, “Maybe not snoop,  but a story teller, always in search of a story and making one up when one didn’t exist.”  And with that, the real celebration would begin, the sun would start to dip below the mountaintop and the clear sign of a heart carved with a stick would show up in the sand.

The end.   And also, the beginning.