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2017 was my fourth mother’s day since acquiring the title. My husband has always been so thoughtful, giving me a generous gift to commemorate, such as a spa day or another pampering excursion. Several weeks ago, I told him that although I love those things, now that our oldest is old enough to participate, I want him to change gears and involve him in the process. Don’t spend much money– just help our boys do something sweet and thoughtful for me. I chatted it up a bit, too, in the following weeks, dropping comments like, “Mother’s Day is coming up! What are you going to get Mama for Mother’s Day?” Every year, I relish the stories I hear about messed-up breakfasts in bed and the pictures I see of Picasso-esque handmade cards and silly answered questions about “What I Love About Mom.” I love my little life– my great husband and my two sweet boys– and I couldn’t wait to enter this new phase of life… being the recipient of mother’s day.
Mother’s Day morning. I left my 14-hour night shift utterly exhausted and came home to… nothing. No breakfast waiting for me, no crayola-branded card, no vase full of backyard dandelions, no clean house, no cheesy trinket emblazoned with the words “Best Mom Ever!” Not even the words “Happy Mother’s Day!” from husband or son. Any ounce of energy I had remaining left my body. I felt like an old, deflated balloon– my face showed it, and I know my husband noticed. I tried not to make a big deal of it in the moment and went to bed. Six hours later, I got up to… nothing. No scrambling around had happened to try to salvage the disappointment of the morning. Still no meal or clean house or promise of something to come.
This time I sulked. I withdrew into myself and shut my family out, just willing the day to end. I couldn’t believe that my husband had missed all of the cues that I thought I had made so blatant. To be fair, he couldn’t have known how much I had been anticipating the day, because I hadn’t wanted to put pressure on him to make it “perfect”… but, nothing? Nothing?!? We both got defensive about our positions, and I went to bed early and resentful. My day ended with my 3-year-old saying, “Mama, go downstairs. I want Daddy to sleep with me because he’s the one who throws me up in the air and spins me around and misses me.” Ouch. I obviously didn’t earn that “Best Mom Ever” title today. I didn’t even send my mom a gift on time. Who am I to judge??
But, here’s the flip side. As you can imagine, I hated myself all day for the way I was reacting. I had spent the entire night before at the bedside of a woman who had just lost her first child halfway through her pregnancy; a woman who will always meet mother’s day with this shadow. I was with another mother who drove herself to the hospital in labor because there was no one available to be by her side during the delivery of her second child. I work with mothers every day who have struggled with loss, abuse, infertility, addiction, homelessness, every sadness imaginable. My life has been a bed of roses compared to theirs, yet I went home to my happy life and dissolved into pettiness.
To the women who meet Mother’s Day every year with the sadness of loss or infertility, I’m not writing to you right now. You deserve to be angry and sad and to wish the day away. I’m writing to the moms like me– the moms who have put unrealistic expectations on a calendar day and allowed those expectations to rob their joy. Evaluate, please. What is at the bottom of the disappointment? Is it merely an inflated idea of what the day should look like? Is it the pressure of social media to perpetuate the picture that your life is a beautiful as everyone else’s? Or is it something deeper? Is it the fact that you truly don’t feel appreciated at home, and you are looking to one holiday to somehow compensate for that? For any of these reasons and more, my plea to you is to communicate. Talk to your partner about what is important to you. Don’t assume that he’ll pick up on your clues– he won’t. My husband doesn’t get clues. He likes to be told clearly what I want and what he is to do. Now he knows about Mother’s Day, but in the worst way ever, and it will forever be in my mind that whatever thought goes into it in future years may be motivated by the desire to not see me fly off the handle again. That’s not the shadow I wanted to have. That’s not the point of the holiday.
Now, I want to be clear about something. I’m not writing this for revenge, or to throw my husband under the bus. He’s a wonderful husband and dad, and he was truly sorry about missing the day. Historically, we haven’t always celebrated holidays traditionally. Many times, we’ll mutually decide to skip it or just do something together. I even forgot about Valentine’s Day this year! Did he mess up? Sure, but that’s not the norm. Everyone does sometimes. My focus here is our response to the mess-ups and shattered expectations.
Mamas, life is not perfect, and the most perfect Hallmark card won’t make it so. Can you look through the imperfections to see the woven strands of an imperfectly beautiful life? Celebrate it. It’s nice to be thought of and appreciated, but we don’t give of ourselves every day to our families because we want to earn a clay handprint, do we? Kiss your husband, love on your kids, give thanks for the role that you have been entrusted with. Those baby arms around my neck and the sincere, “Mama… I love you”? Those are the gifts. That’s Mother’s Day.