For the first twenty-nine years of my life I spent the second Sunday in May each year celebrating my mother and the mother of whomever I was dating or married to by remembering at the last minute to hit the Hallmark store and pick up a card. After securing a heartfelt sentiment written by a stranger I would then advance myself to a family celebration at "someones house" to devour brunch or dinner. I now realize that once you become a mother, the importance of that sacred holiday is not to be taken lightly. Mother's Day is second only to a woman's birthday in terms of having the luxury of thinking of no one but herself, if for no more than a few brief hours . If you are lucky and have trained your husband and children well, you might look forward to this day more than any other payday you have ever experienced.
If you are like me, on the other hand, you will spend your first seven Mother's Days deeply frustrated and disappointed at the inability of your loved ones to read your mind. My husband, Ken, just last week -- six days prior to Mother's Day -- was seeking my enthusiasm and support in his effort to spend my special day golfing with his buddies, while leaving me alone at home with our two small children. After he dislodged the ice pick I thrust into his head via his left eye socket, he said, "So, I guess what your saying is that perhaps another day would be best?" My silence and refusal to clean up the blood stains were enough to clarify my opinion that this coming Sunday was created for Mothers, NOT Mother Fuckers!
My very first Mother's Day I was six months pregnant and day dreaming about how much fun motherhood was going to be. A grand scene in my delusions included sharing my love for piano, singing, and music with my perfect family of four. I decided I needed to quickly learn a more mobile instrument to accompany the next Von Trap Family Singers, The Von Valiums. Pure delight and love oozed from my pores when Ken bestowed upon me the gift of a ukulele in tandem with a "You Can Learn the Uke" book and CD. I remember sitting on the couch with my feet up for the rest of the day furiously learning my new instrument while Ken spent a few hours at the gym, then picked up his favorite dinner for us to share and headed over to his mother's house with a card and a gift for her. I cried tears of joy about how the life I always wanted to live was coming to fruition.
My second Mother's Day I remember suffering from post-partum depression, exhausted, teary eyed, and wearing the same extra forty pounds and maternity clothes I had worn nine months earlier when I gave birth to 4lb. Valerie. Life was miserable, sleep was a foreign word, and post-traumatic stress disorder was too light and breezy a concept to relate with. I am sure my husband tried hard, but my memory is that Ken spent the day at gym working out, then picked up his favorite lunch to share before heading over to his mother's house with a card and a gift for her. I cried tears of desperate darkness believing I simply wasn't good enough to pull this motherhood thing off.
My third Mother's Day was spent puking and sprawled out on the bathroom floor which had been my new home since conceiving Helmut six months earlier. Between dry-heaving and simultaneously mothering my eighteen-month old, I don't remember much of that day. The main part that sticks out is how Ken went to the gym to work out, then picked up his favorite lunch to share before heading over to his mother's house with a card and a gift for her. I cried invisible tears because I was too dehydrated to produce them.
My fourth Mother's Day is very clear. Now that my perfect family of four consisting of one daughter and one son was achieved, I was now ready to start playing family. My crisply starched dream of waking up to breakfast in bed, followed by being taken by my husband and children to Sunday Mass, then picnicking in the park on a blanket for the sunny afternoon was the cruelest joke I ever played on myself. Reality went like this:
- Ken believed eating in bed was unsanitary, so he summoned me to the table for runny eggs and burnt toast which I ate while balancing both squirming kids on my lap while he devoured his meal in peace.
- Halfway through Mass, three and a half year old Valerie thought it would be the best time to throw a temper-tantrum, take off her dress, and run away from her parents who were trying to quiet a screaming baby.
- Any plan I may have had for a picnic in the park was vetoed by the cold rainy weather and Ken's plans to go to the gym to work-out then bring home his favorite meal followed by a trip to his mom's house with a card and a gift.
- I cried tears of defeat and surrender as I furiously flipped through my address book to call Glenda the Good Witch who had been my therapist since first discovering my post-partum depression three years earlier.
"I want everyone out of this house for the day!" I exclaimed the day before my fifth Mother's Day, "I want to be LEFT ALONE in my house for the first time in six years! Please be gone all day." I figured all my attempts to celebrate motherhood had ended in disaster so this year I would simply spend the day doing what I wanted to do without interference or interruption from others. Ken did just as I asked and left me alone in stillness and silence.
It took at least ninety minutes for me to stop furiously cleaning my untidy home which had not been perfectly clean all at once in five years. In cleaning out the refrigerator I discovered an unopened bottle of champagne leftover from Easter mimosas weeks earlier. Still in my pajamas I helped myself to a glass and made a toast to mothers everywhere. I spent the rest of the morning watching the Edith Piaf movie, La Vie en rose, which was so wonderfully dark and depressing that by movie's end I had polished off the entire bottle of Veuve Clicquot and was soaked in my own tears. Between the sadness of Edith's tragic life, which included being abandoned by her own mother, and my own constant battle to remain tethered to my own sanity, I found that my sobbing quickly evolved into a primordial scream like none I had ever experienced before. Releasing years of frustration, confusion, desperation, regret, angst, and emotional pain, I truly felt like an involuntary exorcism was taking place from the depths of my soul through my cataclysmic screams and sobs. Only through sheer physical exhaustion was I finally silenced.
It had only been three hours since my family dutifully followed my command and abandoned me, but it felt like a lifetime. Aching for the "almost too tight" hugs from my kids, and the always forgiving and passionate kisses from my husband, I immediately called Ken and extended my command to bring everyone home at once. Ten minutes later I was given the best Mother's Day gift ever consisting of sticky maple syrup scented kisses from my babies, and the luxury of Ken recycling the empty champagne bottle without a word to me, patting me on the head, and then gently putting me in our bed with the kids where I passed out for a three-hour nap with them. Ken promptly went to the gym for a work-out, picked up his (and now my) favorite dinner, and brought me home a card and gift of impatients in a hanging basket. I like to think his choice of flowers wasn't by accident.
Like all other important lessons I have learned in my life, finally understanding the true importance of what Mother's Day means to my family instead of what the rest of the world thinks it should be, may have been the least complicated but certainly the hardest to learn. So on this second Sunday in May, I sit here at 10am from my bed alternating sips of coffee and mimosa while indulging in my favorite soul-food -- writing. As Ken clears my breakfast tray away, my kids joyfully color pictures to take to both their grandmothers later today while I enjoy the only silence and stillness I ever will crave again, sleeping.
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