When I first became a mother, nearly 15 years ago, I had Hallmark-worthy expectations for Mother’s Day. The visions that danced in my head seemed simple enough: I would be the center of attention — beginning when I was brought morning coffee in bed — while all the usual “Mom tasks” were suspended for a blissful 24 hours. I’m not entirely sure who I had imagined would be picking up the slack, but it was not going to be me; I would be too busy being showered with love and affection on “my day.” Experience now points to the fact that these expectations were entirely unrealistic. Truth be told, for most of us, the third Sunday in May turns out to be just another day in which children need to be fed, household tasks need to be accomplished, and catastrophes erupt. Which is why this year, the item perched at the top of my wish list is simple: All I want for Mother’s Day is to be alone.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my kids, and I really enjoy their company. My daughters leave indelible marks on my heart 365 days each year, and as they’ve grown, their sticky fingerprints and wet kisses have evolved into more complex and fulfilling interactions. Poised on the edge of adolescence, my daughters now seek advice on how to navigate daily conundrums running the gamut from fallouts with friends and challenges on the tennis court to deep questions about sex, drugs, alcohol and eating disorders. All of it can leave me feeling simultaneously adored and exhausted. So where is the balance?
Simply put, I have learned to make myself — and my needs — a priority, on Mother’s Day and otherwise. One year, my best friend and I spent the holiday getting pedicures followed by pints of porter at the local brewery; another year, I slept late and sent my kids to the playground with their dad. Other years, I took time out before the “big day,” being sure to schedule coffee with a friend, a workout at the gym or a spa day as a way to pamper myself. Making myself a priority — rather than waiting for someone else to do just that — has become part of my daily practice.
Regarding my earliest thoughts surrounding Mother’s Day, I now realize my expectations were largely overblown. For starters, no one in my house (save for me) knew how to make coffee — and the most able-bodied among them showed little interest in learning. In the ensuing handful of years, I have learned to care for myself. Despite trendy terms like “self-care,” showering myself with what I crave most is a concept entirely within my control — and my children have learned the value inherent in this practice. That said, it has been a slow and steady journey.
When my first Mother’s Day as a single mom rolled around, my kids really stepped up to the plate. My 11-year-old had carefully observed how many scoops of coffee beans I put in my grinder, and my 9-year-old knew I had a penchant for protein first thing in the morning. Working together, they prepared a tray for me with a steaming mug of coffee, one slice of toast smeared with peanut butter, a Greek yogurt and a banana. “Ta-da!” they declared as they pushed my bedroom door open (I think they had the wherewithal to wait until 7:30 a.m.) to wake me up. My daughters were beaming, the coffee tasted surprisingly good, and before I knew it they had pounced on my king-sized duvet to smother me with snuggles. I was in heaven… until they quickly lost interest, hopped out of my bed, and someone accidentally knocked the aforementioned cup of coffee onto the beige-colored bedroom carpet.
But I just smiled. “People are more important than things!” I reminded them, lest either of them walk away from our interaction feeling anything but positive. (That said, I still spent an hour on my hands and knees, scrubbing coffee from the carpet and blotting the mess with a giant stack of paper towels.)
This year, come Mother’s Day, I have no plans of escaping to a spa. Instead, I will carve out time and space for exactly what I need: Perhaps I’ll read a book in my zero-gravity chair or take a nap in the grass. I might endeavor to take a hike or set aside an hour for mindful movement. The day will definitely begin with coffee; it might end with a vodka tonic. But one thing is certain: I will leave the job of taking care of Mom to the expert (me).
And come Monday morning, everyone I encounter — most notably my children — will experience the residual effects of what happens when I make myself a priority. That’s a priceless gift for Mom everyone can enjoy.