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Lessons learned from Mother's Day Past

The Author, center, with her mother and grandmother.  Circa 1970. Property of Jessica Gordon Ryan

The Author, center, with her mother and grandmother.  Circa 1970.
Property of Jessica Gordon Ryan

Mother's Day is one of those Hallmark holidays that evokes every emotion under the sun. We feel badly for those childless women who yearn for their own. Our hearts break for those whose mothers are no longer alive. Those of us with children eagerly await a day of kisses, love, kindness and relaxation. Mother's Day is perhaps more anticipated than Christmas, New Year's and our Birthdays all rolled into one. A day of our own. Imagine that! How wonderful is that? Images of flowers and homemade cards and breakfast in bed, and a sunny, Sunday afternoon where we may be able to take a brief respite and lie down in sun with a favorite book, or close our eyes and relax. When we were children we wanted toys. When we were teenagers we wanted clothes. When we were young adults we wanted boyfriends who would eventually become husbands and grant us our wish to have children. We were given toys, clothes, boyfriends, husbands and children. Then we became mothers. When we became mothers we wanted 2 simple things: peace and quiet. 

This year marked my 16th Mother's Day. It was 17 years ago, on Mother's Day, that we announced to the world that we would soon become a family. That Mother's Day I read every book about pregnancy and parenting under the sun. A year later I learned the truth about Mother's Day. It really is no different than any other day of the year. 

Babies and young children don't understand. They'll proudly hand you their beautiful pictures and cards, but they will be children. They will be needy of your energy and your time. They will be hungry and tired. They will need to be fed and changed and napped. There will be tears and sometimes there will tantrums. For children are children and we can't expect them not to be. Children don't know Mother's Day from any other day.

Some husbands step up to the plate and others do not. Some get it. Some don't.

I grew up with a mother who didn't believe in Mother's Day. She would tell me every day is Mother's Day. I didn't get it - until I had my own children, of course. 

My mother never wanted anything for Mother's Day. We never went out. Instead, she made brunch as she did every other Sunday. We had bagels and lox and eggs and my father would enjoy his pickled herrings. (Gross!) I always wanted to do something for my mother. I always made a card. I'm sure she has them all still. And I always bought flowers - usually daisies. I went to Sunday school every weekend and the bus would let me off on 96th street and Madison Avenue. There was a flower shop right where the bus let me off. On Mother's Day my father would give me a few dollars so that I could get some nice flowers for my mother. I'd bounce into the apartment so excited to be able to give my mother a gift. It wasn't a lavish gift, but a simple one. I never understood why my mother didn't want anything more than a card and some flowers. I didn't understand it until I had my own children.

I'm not the type of person to want or expect an expensive piece of jewelry for Mother's Day.  I never have and never will. I understand why husbands want to lavish their wives with gifts in appreciation for all they do. I find that sweet and charming. Again, I don't believe lavish gifts are necessary. Early on in my parenting career my ex-husband and I were in Lord & Taylor's. Money was often tight in those days. He wanted to get me something special and apologized for not being able to. As we neared the costume jewelry a three-strand, wire-based, pearl choker was on the counter. It had my name all over it - I could hear it calling out to me! I tried it on and it was perfect. He got it for me. $30 and that was probably the best Mother's Day gift I ever got. Those of you who know me well have seen me wear it countless times. I don't know what I would do if something happened to it!

As a single mother Mother's Day takes on a new meaning. There is no one to help ease your load. There is no one telling the children to be good, or giving them money to buy a bouquet of flowers or encouraging them to make a card. When the children are cranky or misbehave there's no one else to be the disciplinarian - reminding them to be mindful. Mother's Day can be challenging for the single parent. I stopped expecting to have the perfect Mother's Day. 

I'd say I am pretty fortunate.  My children are now 16, 14 and 9 - and old enough to understand the concept of the day. I still insist on a homemade holiday. I still insist they save their own money to use on themselves. The 16 and 14 year olds have moved way beyond crayons and construction paper.

Last year they had a field day in the kitchen and forbade me to enter. They made all sorts of wonderful things from facial scrubs, to baked goods to breakfast that came with a specially designed menu. That was indeed the best Mother's Day ever. My older two are also very cognisant of all that I do for them and they understand the importance of the day - They make every effort to help out and tidy up and not to fight. My youngest one is doing better :)

On Saturday my older two asked me to drive them to the grocery store so that they could get some stuff for Mother's Day. I put $100 into my daughter's debit card - I still insist that they save their own money. The older two went into the store while I waited for them in the parking lot. They came out with arms full and told me to pop the trunk and not look back. That night they all got busy in the kitchen. 

On Sunday morning I was the first to wake. I made my coffee and settled in on the couch. My daughter came out and felt badly she wasn't up to make my coffee for me. As we were sitting together watching an episode of The Gilmore Girls on Netflix she said to me "It's OK if you want to go to the gym this morning. I know how much you like that." Perhaps that was the day's great gift. Perhaps not. We ended up having a lovely afternoon, having gone out to brunch then back home to wash all the outdoor furniture and clean off the screened-in porch. They boys ended up not cleaning the furniture but having hose wars instead. Yes, it created a lot more work for me - wet clothes, towels to be laundered... Muddy footprints to be mopped up in the kitchen, but they are still children and children must be allowed to be children. Yes, on Mother's Day I washed and vacuumed and laundered. I pulled poison ivy and took out the trash. But I had a lovely day and was showered with lovely gifts made by my children. It was as close to perfect as I could possibly get. I no longer have expectations. I am no longer disappointed.

I already have the greatest gifts a mother could want. 

I have only one regret. It was not until yesterday that I realized there are very few photos of the children with me (none particularly good.) I am always behind the camera. Always. I don't particularly love being in front of it - in fact I'm uncomfortable there, but I've been thinking lately how important it is to have pictures of myself with the children. The children need to have pictures of me with them... God forbid anything ever happened to me. And so for them I will do something about this. Soon. 

The Children. When they were little (and cute!) Property of Jessica Gordon Ryan

The Children. When they were little (and cute!) Property of Jessica Gordon Ryan

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