Saturday, May 7, 2011

No Card Needed

Dear Mom. I love you because your smile sparkles like the moonlight and because your hair is beautiful like the stars. Love Spencer
Hallmark might want to keep an eye on my son.
He is only 7, but how many grown men would come up with something this good? And, even if they did, few could match the purity carefully written in the neatest letters a first-grader can muster. It is hard not to tell everyone – I admit, I rushed to share with my Facebook friends right away – that it was my son, without any well-meant adult guidance, who wrote this.
But, it wasn’t the card that made me pause when it tumbled out of a dirty backpack along with the tattered remnants of the school day. As I read it I realized that this is the first Mother’s Day that my children truly understand who I am, who we are, where we have been and where we are going.
When my son was born, Mother’s Day became expensive and expected. The typical dinner or lunch at a restaurant filled with extended families, flowers and a gift. All too often, more money was spent on that day than I would have preferred and when I looked at the tables around us where frustrations were building and children, frankly, only wanted to be at home playing, I realized that I wasn’t really enjoying Mother’s Day. Why couldn’t I just get a nap and four hours of solitude?
Then my daughter arrived and the day’s importance multiplied. By then the glow of new parenthood had dulled. My husband still went above and beyond, but something had changed. We had always believed that what mattered most was our time together and, while gifts and cards were nice, they really didn’t define who we were as a mother, a father and a family.
When your children are young, birthdays and Mother’s Days are defined by someone else. Whatever is planned or bought for Happy “fill-in-the-blank”-days is a guided process. But as they grow those three little words – Happy Mother’s Day – begin to have meaning. They start to understand who you are, and at the same time you begin to understand who you are as a woman, a wife and a mother.
To be blunt, I have not enjoyed the second weekend in May for the last several years. Or birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Valentine’s or any other of those days that are inescapable. Mother’s Day has given me a particularly sour taste.
Exactly why I dislike it could be analyzed and dissected any number of ways. My motherhood is deferred to those with seniority and while others celebrate their yearly holiday from motherhood with pedicures, flowers, shopping trips and well-deserved naps, I am greeted with an uncomfortable anger. None of those things mattered when someone was here to offer them, and really they don’t matter to me now. It is simply that the person who made me a mother, and who celebrated me as one, isn’t here. And yet his absence has shown me how strong I can be, both as a woman and as a mother.
Those breathtakingly simple words in a handmade card Dali himself would find beautiful reminded me of something I have always known but that was somehow lost in the debris following my husband’s death.
Motherhood isn’t celebrated on one day – it is in every first word, skinned knee, late-night cough, uneaten dinner, unexpected hug, abstract crayon drawing and “love you, Mom!” Motherhood is not simple, and it is not easy. But it is beautiful, powerful and rewarding. And, as much as motherhood defines you, you define motherhood.
Sometimes it takes the unconditional love of a child who feels safe, loved and free to remind you that motherhood is celebrated every day. No card needed.

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