Making Mother’s Day Work

Mother's DayChristian (whispering to Julianna): Julianna, say “Happy Mothers Day, Mom!”

Julianna (out loud): What?

Christian (whispering): Say “Happy Mothers Day!”

Julianna (to me): Mom I am so beeyewteeful!

Christian: Julianna. Happy. Mothers. Day.

Julianna: Happy beeyewteeful birthday girl!

Christian (trading a wry look with me): Hey. We keep it real in this house.

A year ago I aired out all my grievances about Mother’s Day. My opinion hasn’t really changed, but I’ve had a couple of insight moments. First was the realization that I’m uncomfortable with all big to-dos aimed in my direction. It ends up feeling like pressure: pressure to make sure I’m appropriately grateful, pressure to make other people happy by making sure my reaction is what they want it to be. And I just don’t do well with that kind of pressure. I screw it up every single time.

The second was that a day “all about me” is inherently less satisfying than a day in which time is taken to offer a gift of self to others in some out-of-the-ordinary way. For a couple of years, Christian spent his birthday stocking a food pantry, and it changed the entire tenor of the celebration for him. I loved the vibe coming off him those days, when he came home.

Motherhood is already a perpetual emptying of self. (As witness: I had to get up in the middle of the night on Mother’s Day to go wake up my 12-year-old to make sure he didn’t have a concussion. Long story. Off topic. He’s fine. Nuff said.) Emptying myself out in the service of my kids is too familiar to qualify. But sitting around pretending to scrapbook while my husband stresses himself out to be both Mom and Dad for a day—cooking, cleaning, caring for the kids—is only going to underscore that whole business about needing to be grateful enough for what’s being done for me.

I was too darned busy this year to spend much time angst-ing in advance about Mother’s Day. Or planning for it, for that matter. Friday night I went, Hey, bike ride. Hey, invite Mom over. And that’s what we did.

Christian did the grilling, set the table, and did most of the cleaning (I really hate cleaning). But I made broccoli soup and chocolate pie and got the peaches ready for grilling and flavored the yogurt. I also folded two loads of laundry and put away dishes. And I had a nice day, because it was pretty ordinary. We took a bike ride as a family, but otherwise it was NOT ALL ABOUT ME.

We didn’t make a huge production of my mom, either. We just all relaxed together, shared a table, enjoyed each other, and let that be enough.

I sometimes catch flak about my jaded, negative view of virtually every holiday that comes around. But my objection is that they are all built up to be a BIG DEAL, and we are made to feel such pressure to live up to ideals that can’t be realized. You have to do grand (expensive) romantic gestures on Valentine’s Day and Heaven help you if you do not make sure Mother’s Day is the pinnacle of human existence.

Basically, it too often feels as if holidays have been exploited by those in pursuit of a buck, when the truth is, we celebrate best when we keep it simple and focused on relationship, not decorations, not gifts. That may not be true for everyone, but it certainly is true for me.

We kept Mother’s Day deliberately low-key this year. I stayed entirely offline except for a single post (which I scheduled through Hootsuite so as to avoid the swirling vortex of Time Suck that is Facebook), and I gave myself permission not to have a transcendent, forced-mushy day.

And it was a very nice day.