Mother’s Day: Not all cards and flowers

By ELIZABETH QUINN,

Mother’s Day is this weekend—you’re welcome fellow, forgetful procrastinators. When I was a kid, Mother’s Day meant signing my name to a card my dad had picked out and being just as surprised about what gift we gave my mom as she was when she opened it over breakfast in bed.

I do think we ‘helped’ cook breakfast—or at least tasked with picking a flower from the yard to adorn the tray that would carry the food my dad had prepared. This was just smart on my dad’s part because she deserved more than burnt toast or eggs with shells in them; and that’s all my sisters and I would have been able to offer. But man—we carried that tray of food into her room with enough pride and ownership to make you think we had been slaving over homemade biscuits from scratch since sunrise.

We gave her our fair share of coupons for chores and back rubs, but I don’t recall her ever actually cashing in on them. I know her favorite gifts were the ones we made at school or anything where we had written something that was actually more personal than signing a Hallmark card. I feel like this is probably universal among mothers. No offense to the adults giving us gifts, but you probably won’t beat anything with a child’s handprint on it.

While my husband isn’t clueless—his gift-giving track record isn’t spotless either. One Mother’s Day, he gave me a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Cakelet Pan. For those unfamiliar—it’s a baking pan that produces eight small cakes in the shape of the forms that you pour batter into. I don’t bake, I don’t have any attachment to Snow White, and I don’t think anything that makes food counts as gift—unless it’s a personal chef. I barely kept my ‘Thrilled Mama’ face intact in front of the children. Later, I questioned him to find out if the kids picked it out or if he did. It was him, sans children, wandering around Williams Sonoma until he thought, ‘A baking pan that makes Disney characters! That’s exactly what will bring Elizabeth joy!’ It’s like he didn’t even know me at all.

Do not give a mother a gift that simply creates more work in her life—and very few things are as much work as baking with children. A close runner-up would be my friend whose husband gave her Space Saver Vacuum Storage Bags. You’ve probably seen the commercials where a woman (it’s always a woman—because no woman would gift these to a man) fills a giant plastic bag with winter sweaters, then attaches a vacuum hose attachment to it to suck all the air out for space-saving, moth-free clothing storage. Nothing says ‘Thank you for all you do for our family,’ more than As Seen on TV products for house organization.

Mom never complained about her Mother’s Days or any ill-thought out gifts—but I don’t remember them being anything spectacular. Sorry, Mom—if I knew then what I know now, I would have just sent you to play golf. As a mother now myself, I don’t want anything spectacular either, but I do have a few suggestions to offer when my husband asks what I want to do for the day.

 

For starters, I don’t think it was any mother’s idea to have the day fall on Sunday, not one who goes to church at least. Any day that requires getting your family dressed and out the door at a certain time does not lend itself to ‘celebrating’ the mother of the family. There’s no sleeping in when church starts at 9:15. Secondly, it doesn’t matter how hard a loving spouse tries to handle getting everyone ready so she can dress in leisure—moms are the finders in the family and somebody won’t be able to find something they need. My husband can handle some girl hair styles, but I’ll end up redoing it anyway—and that’s on me, but still.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I want to go to church with my family on Mother’s Day and spend time with them and with my own mom at lunch afterwards. But what I really want for Mother’s Day is to not be a mother for a little while. If you want to thank an employee for their dedicated work—you don’t reward them with more work, you give them a day off. Or a raise, but a raise for my unpaid job isn’t what I’m looking for... I want a vacation day. That’s why Mother’s Day in my house is actually ‘Mother’s Day Weekend.’

After a couple years of dropping hints, I finally told my husband that what I wanted for Mother’s Day was for him to take our children away. I don’t care where—just away, and let me enjoy a day in my house alone. Time alone in my empty house is my love language. If you want to shower me with love, forget the flowers and gifts—just leave me alone for a day.

This plan has worked well, except for the slight hiccup that occurred the year he took the kids to climb trees. I received a frantic phone call requesting that I bring a ladder to meet him—now. Our oldest climbed so high up a magnolia tree that the fearlessness that took her there headed back down without her and he couldn’t get to her. Other than that—it’s been amazing and better than anything money could buy or wrapping paper could contain.

Asking to not be a mother for a little while as my gift for Mother’s Day is one example of how conflicted I feel about that day. Because nobody does guilt like a mom does guilt, I feel a little selfish and guilty saying I want to take a break from the job that the day is honoring me for—but I get over it pretty quickly once the house is quiet and my coffee is still warm when I finish it. It’s not how everyone chooses to be celebrated, which is fine—but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

But Mother’s Day is still rife with conflicting emotions for me. While I enjoy having my role as a mother acknowledged and appreciated, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to think about the women whose own hearts are heavy with the weight of their unrealized dreams of being a mother. Mothers who’ve lost children, at any age and any stage, must feel that loss even more sharply that day. I get to sit next to my mom at church and give her a hug and a card and a gift, while many of my friends will have empty places in the pew and at lunch that day. What could be more conflicting than being a motherless mother on Mother’s Day?

It can get awkward seeing all the hoopla made over the role I chose that, yes, brings me great joy, but that also wears me the heck out and that I’m kind of crummy at sometimes. Motherhood must be one of the only jobs in the world where you can be killing it, then bombing it, thrilled by it, and utterly destroyed by it all in one day without getting fired, or knowing if you’ve succeeded, and never, ever actually retiring.

 

I have friends who are amazing women who have chosen not to have children. What day honors them? While I know they enjoy celebrating their own mothers that day, it’s got to get annoying listening to motherhood lauded as the gold standard in womanhood every year. These friends of mine don’t begrudge the mothers in their lives this day, they’ve got too much confidence in their choices for that—thankfully, since they need that much confidence to endure the constant messages our culture shouts at them that they aren’t complete without children. But geez, it must get old.

I love my children, and my mother, and my day off from being a mother, and my homemade gifts and uncashed chore coupons. I enjoy my Mother’s Days, but I can’t ignore that it’s not all flowers and breakfast in bed for everybody. This Saturday, when my house is quiet and my mom-radar is turned off, I’ll be grateful for all the things that make it a special day for me and I’ll read the prayer I wrote last year when I was thinking about all the warring emotions this day brings up and remember those for whom Mother’s Day is just hard.

 

A Prayer for Those for Whom

Mother’s Day Hurts

Dear Lord of comfort and healing,

Today we pray...

For those far away from their mothers or children today by physical distance or emotional strain—may they feel your nearness.

For those separated from their mothers or children by their mistakes and missteps, by a broken system or broken promises—may they give and receive grace as you have shown us.

For those who long to be mothers but instead are treading the turbulent waters of infertility, or who know the ache and the anger and the emptiness of miscarriage—may they draw from your strength.

For the mothers who are anxious over their children’s health and safety and future, those who are overworked and overburdened and overwhelmed and just done—may they find security and rest in you.

For those who parent alone, who wear all the hats in their homes, either by circumstance or by design—may they feel seen and supported by your love and your people.

For the birth mothers weighed down by the choices, or the lack of choices before them for the children they will give life to, but will not spend their lives with—may they find peace in you.

For the adoptive mothers whose names are still languishing on lists, whose hearts are open but whose futures are tied to so much red tape and uncertainty—may they find the endurance they need in you.

For the mothers for whom today is but a more acute reminder of all that they lost in the death of their child—may they find solace in your promise to walk with us through that which we did not get to go around.

For those mourning their own mother’s death every day, but especially today when they will not hear her voice tell them that they filled her time on earth with joy, that she is proud of who they’ve become, or that they are good parents themselves—may they see their mother’s pride in the eyes of their children or the family they’ve chosen, and find a lost mother’s love in you, who will never leave us.

Amen

 

 Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.

 

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