I grew up with five siblings. Three older brothers and two sisters, one older and one younger. Mother’s Days were big, boisterous affairs, with kids either chipping in together to get Mom something expensive and fabulous, or competing with each other to see who come up with the most impressive and tear-inducing offering.
Mom was adamant about Mother’s Day. It was The One you didn’t miss. Ever. You could forget the Christmas gift altogether (in the massive three-family gift exchange, who would know?) with nary a raised eyebrow, and even her birthday was excusable with a reasonable explanation (“I was out of the country saving refugee orphans” or “My 20-year-old cat, Appletini, died. An hour ago”). But Mother’s Day was sacred, and you blew it off at your own peril.
Kids learn what they live.
My son, Jake, grew up as an only child. He had to carry the Mom-appreciation ball single-handedly, without sibling help or contribution, every year. When he was young, if he didn’t come home from school proudly bearing a red cut-out heart declaring “I love my Mom,” or years later, was out of town and didn’t call to tell me how darn lucky he was to have me as his mother, I’d be devastated and he knew it. It was a lot of pressure on a kid to make Mom feel loved and appropriately the center of his young world. But I’d remind him that it was only one day a year, so he could just suck it up and tell me what I wanted to hear. (I also figured it would be good training for his future marriage one day on the importance of special occasions to women. You’re welcome, DIL.)
Fortunately, his Mother’s Day obligations were fairly easy to fulfill. In most cases, a card or, after he moved out, a phone call would do, and neither of us are really phone-talkers. I’ve never been a lover of long, drawn-out phone chats as a way to while away an evening, much preferring the get-on-state-your-business-get-off approach to telecommunication. Jake feels exactly the same way.
Over the past several years, his entire Mother’s Day obligation has often been handled with a two-minute “Hi Mom.” “Hi Jake!” “I just called to say Happy Mother’s Day.” “Thanks, sweetie! How are you?” “I’m doing good. How are you?” “Dad and I are great. He’s fishing this weekend, and I’m writing. We miss you.” “I miss you guys too. Happy Mother’s Day. See you soon.” “Thanks for calling. Love you!” “Love you too, Mom.” Boom. Happy Mom.
But there have been actual gifts and memorable moments over the years.
The earliest gift of his choice was a pink plastic, beaded bracelet that he spent his entire allowance on to win at the Chuck E. Cheese’s kids’ casino chip toss game. “I know you like jewelry, Mom,” he declared as he proudly put it on my wrist. I wore that bracelet every day for two years. (He checked every morning.) I still have it today.
In his third-grade Mother’s Day pageant, the children made paper placemats for their mothers that recorded her favorite color, song, activity, and expression. Each child stood up on the stage to read their gifts to the entire maternal congregation, with sweet little “My mom’s favorite color is blue and she calls me her ‘pookey bear.'” “My mother’s favorite activity is making cookies for me and her favorite expression is ‘Love you to the moon and back.'” Jake stood up and grinned, “My mom’s favorite color is pink, she likes to drink red wine, and her favorite expression is ‘Get over it.'” That’s my boy.
The next few years brought various artwork pieces and handmade trinkets from school, and often, carefully chosen shiny jewelry baubles that he was sure I’d like. I wore a lot of drugstore jewelry those days, and I loved it all.
In his late teenage years, Jake’s grandmother passed away. He adored her and got a tattoo on his forearm honoring her. I jokingly remarked one day that I found it interesting that the first woman’s name he had inked onto his body wasn’t mine, and what was up with that?? He replied, dryly, “Well, you’re not dead.” Okay, tough to compete with that one.
But the next year, on Mother’s Day, I got up and checked my email, and there was a message from Jake that said “Happy Mother’s Day!” with an attached photo. I opened it to find a large picture of his upper bicep, emblazoned with a small red rose and banner that read “Mom.” Made me positively teary-eyed. You’ve got to love a kid that permanently defaces his body for you.
The following year, Jake did the “real” move-out (not the kind where you know they’re coming back the minute they’re hungry, cold, or broke), and he joined the military. As I was struggling to adjust to his only-an-hour-away-but-still-gone absence, he got orders to deploy to Iraq for a year. I was proud and heartbroken at the same time.
That Mother’s Day, I was feeling blue and missing my boy, big time. As I was leaving work, I saw a National Guard soldier, in uniform and about Jake’s age, on the sidewalk. I told him that my son was in Iraq and I was missing him on this Mother’s Day. Then I asked him if I could give him a hug for Jake. He looked a bit startled, then smiled and replied, “Of course, ma’am.” He leaned over and we shared a long, wonderful hug. I cried all the way home.
Still one of the best presents I’ve ever received.
Today, Jake is an amazing young man with a family of his own (my two grandbabies!) and a beautiful wife that, from this day forward, will undoubtedly pick out his Mother’s Day cards, make sure he signs and mails them, and then remind him to call his mom on Mother’s Day.
I can live with that.