Making Mother’s Day Work

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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.

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The Problem(s) With Mother’s Day

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motherhood ideal

How Motherhood is Supposed To Look

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How motherhood ACTUALLY looks today. Photo by Sangudo, via Flickr

The problems with Mothers Day are legion.

1. It’s not fair to the dads. Mother’s day is way, way, way bigger a deal than Father’s Day, and that’s just not okay.

2. Everybody wants to give mom gifts for one day, make these adorable crafts that you’re expected to keep for all time, and it often seems to me that we’d rather substitute sentiment for actual, you know, LOVE. Like, recognizing that what Mom really needs is help ALL THE TIME, not some craft that just adds to the mess and only honors you one day a year anyway!

3. While we’re on that subject, let’s talk about lightsabers, books, individual LEGO pieces, Captain America Shields, bookbags, knot rosaries, school crafts, school papers, Wii remotes, DVDs no one has watched, scrapbooks, candy wrappers, pencils, erasers, crayons, play doh, soccer balls, bouncy balls, basketballs, crappy party-favor pinball mazes (do you get the idea?) left lying wherever you lost interest in them, cluttering up the world. And yet if i throw anything away, woe to me!

3a. While we’re on that subject, let’s talk about “Put away your clothes,” and how that translates to “I’m going to read a book/build a marble run/stuff them in a wad under the closet rod/ignore you completely” the first FIVE TIMES I SAY IT.

4. Nor does it matter how many times we teach, discuss, or give consequences. Nor does it matter how many attempts at organizational systems we put together.

5. And then there’s the outcry and protest whenever I assign jobs: “I did that last week!” and “no fair, he never has to!…”

6. And then there’s the inevitable annual inner conflict between “I am a mother” and “I HAVE a mother.” How do you balance being the recipient of all this attention with giving it appropriately to the one who gave you life? And then of course, your husband has a mother, too. It’s like you have to choose who gets your attention, and then even if the other one (or more, depending on if you have broken families) doesn’t feel hurt, you inevitably are aware that you’re prioritizing one over another. When I start griping about the way a holiday is celebrated, one of my sisters always gives me grief about it (“is there any holiday you DO like?” she’s asked me), but this is why: I don’t see how we can possibly honor our mothers as we’re supposed to on this day and at the same time accept that honor ourselves. It’s like the system is stacked against us.

7. Yes, I know. This is what parenthood is: assuming heroic, even foolhardy, responsibility for other human beings. To burn away their innate selfishness and teach them to be Good People is not just a job. It’s not even just a vocation. It’s something that is way, way bigger than any of us. And when I think about how much time I spend worrying about whether someone’s going to call DFS because I let my kid climb a tree or because he fell down and skinned his knee and is screaming as if he’s had his leg torn off by a shark…well, I get kind of pissy. And when the kids fall to demanding, whining, and being lazy/disobedient despite the fact that they really aren’t being asked to do all that much, and they’re given way more privileges than I ever got growing up? Then I have a Mommy Meltdown. And we start making new lists to hang on the pantry door.

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Yeah, Happy Mothers Day to you, too.

Love, Kate

Linking to 7 Quick Takes, because I’m sure they’re all talking about motherhood today, too. Although probably with less angst.

Acknowledging The Whole Picture of Motherhood

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In case you missed the memo, yesterday was a big day.

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother’s Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mothers Day is one of those holidays that bears the weight of impossible cultural expectations. I’ve had some doozies of Mothers Days in the past few years. There were three in a row, in the infertility years, when I tried to pretend the day didn’t even exist. But the mother of all Bad Mothers Days was the one I spent in the PICU with Julianna. She wasn’t in any danger by that time, so all my emotional energy went into feeling sorry for myself. After all, I’d asked for only one thing for Mothers Day: brunch at one of those wonderful buffets. Instead,  I was sitting under fluorescent lights being bored out of my skull and trying to keep a baby entertained while his sister slept…or didn’t.Since then, I’ve kept my expectations for Mothers Day pretty low. The whole thing is a crock, anyway. You should appreciate your mother all the time; this is just one more way to separate people from their money. As a stay-at-home mom, the best Mothers Day gift I can imagine is for someone to take them off my hands for a whole day so I can just relax! And, um, that’s not quite the point. Ahem.

This year, by the time the weekend rolled around, I was in not in a great frame of mind. Witness my Facebook status:

These are the days that make me want to engage in some serious theatrical drama. In an attempt to get naps coordinated, I force Michael to stay awake for an extra half hour till I get lunch on and the others are half done. Then I put him down, get them finished with lunch, and upstairs they go. Julianna goes in and wakes Michael up.

1 1/2 hours later, I despair of getting him back down by nursing, so I put him in his room and pray he’ll go down before he wakes Julianna up. After ten minutes of him crying, NICHOLAS wakes up wailing in the other room. I comfort him, tell him it’s not time to get up yet, and go back downstairs.

Ten minutes after THAT, Michael wakes Julianna up. I carry her into my room to finish her nap. Michael settles down at last. Three minutes after THAT, the @#$%^&*( neighbor turns on some jack hammer-sounding piece of lawn equipment…which won’t work. So he starts it again. And again. And again. And every time, Michael screams AGAIN.

Three minutes after THAT, Dish Network pounds (I don’t mean “knocks,” I mean “pounds”) on the door. “I’M NOT INTERESTED,” I say, and slam the door in their faces.

And Michael is crying again.

Michael did not sleep for FOUR AND A HALF HOURS on Friday afternoon. I spent the whole evening composing a long, foul blog rant in my head.

But Christian has been on a multi-year campaign to redeem my faith in Mothers Day. Last year, he took us all to a brunch buffet–quite an investment with our then-three children. It was wonderful. This year, he came home with a crabapple tree for me (I adore crabapple trees, and he hates them), and we bought a new outdoor table and chairs, which he and my parents put together at great inconvenience and time expenditure so we could eat our dinner outside yesterday. (Babe, you rock!)

It’s human nature to hug the extremes, I suppose. We get into a negative funk and look for things to get P.O.’d about, and then someone hears us and goes to the opposite pole: “Just enjoy it! It goes so fast!” I defy you to enjoy a baby who’s mad and refusing all forms of comfort for four solid hours. Please. Be real.

The reality, and it’s an uncomfortable one, is this: “Motherhood is the only time you can experience Heaven and Hell at the same time.” You can’t deny either part; to do so devalues the whole. In contemplating this humble post, less than a blip on the radar of the blogosphere, much less the sum total of human history, I traveled from borderline murderous rampage to blissful transcendence to grace-filled tolerance and back to pulling my hair out. (Fussing baby + preschooler who is physically incapable of closing his mouth while awake + clumsy daughter knocking over the marble run for the tenth time in half an hour = Mommy Meltdown.)

I think I would be less jaded about holidays like Mothers Day more if those trying to separate us from our money were a little less rosy about the whole thing and acknowledge how darned tough it often is. We all need affirmation. That’s why the card Christian gave me last night was so perfect:

The inside reads: “And that was all just since yesterday!” Did I mention my husband rocks?

Great Expectations

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The problem with special, “all about me” days—birthdays, Mother’s Day—is that you build up your expectations for them so high that no day can support the weight of the tower constructed on its slim shoulders. After all, a day is pretty much the same, no matter what you call it: the sun rises, the sun sets, it rains, it doesn’t rain, you shower, you eat, you take care of kids…

I’ve had some less-than stellar Mother’s Day weekends—like the weekend we planned a trip toKansas Cityto celebrate. We ate a so-so meal at a really expensive restaurant (well, the meal was good, but the much-vaunted chocolate dessert buffet was distinctly less than exceptional). That trip, my choice of activity was the art museum. But we had two boys—Alex and my nephew—and instead we went to the zoo. (I really don’t like zoos.)

I’ve also had the most wretched Mother’s Day ever. Specifically, two years ago, the Mother’s Day that I spent sitting in the PICU with Julianna. (I felt pretty sorry for myself that one. Wallowed in it, in fact.)

But this year was different. Mother’s Day fell in a really crazy weekend: a wedding, a wedding meeting, a baseball game, a barbecue for a critique partner—and that was just Saturday’s commitments. That doesn’t include the work party we hosted on Friday night, or the bedroom rearrangement we were undergoing, or the broken lawn mower that had to be fixed so we could finish the lawn! And because Christian knew that I’ve been tired and stressed lately, he wanted to make sure I had a chance to relax. Bless his loving heart.

But it doesn’t matter how much someone tries to make a day nice for you—it’s you who decide how you’re going to accept their efforts: with grace, or with petulance. And I’m sorry to say that many years I’ve adopted the latter course instead of the former. Well, this year, I was determined to behave differently.

And so, even as Christian went about trying to give me a day off, I went looking for ways to help lighten his load. And you know what? It was a beautiful day. A day without simmering resentments, a day free of bickering between spouses, and with very little yelling at kids.

A day I would love to imitate every day.

For three cuties on a bunkbed

and moving the boys in together at last
and for their enthusiasm over the idea of being roommates

For a Mother’s day brunch enjoyed outside
and homemade pizza (everyone should have helpers this cute!)

For almost two uninterrupted hours, spent on the delicious pleasure of working on a novel

and the fact that the words finally began to flow on the novel again, after months spent procrastinating while I do other paying projects

For a husband who fixes lawn mowers and makes mattress supports for bunk beds, and involves his sons in the process

For a day spent loving each other instead of working side by side—even though we were working side by side, in many cases, I’ve never fully appreciated the difference before

For beautiful weather
and a concert with my firstborn to end the day

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 Shared with Multitude Mondays at A Holy Experience

7 Things I Learned From My Mother

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Saturday is housecleaning day, not because there’s some magical formula about it, but because it’s the only day there’s enough help to get it done.

___2___

It really is better to date only Catholic boys. (Presuming you’re a Catholic girl, of course.)

___3___

Food is one of the biggest expenses for a family of six, but that doesn’t mean you should just accept it. Mom taught me to garden, can, buy a whole animal and freeze it (if only I had room!), and perhaps most importantly, to shop at Aldi first.

___4___

The best cure for a thief-in-training is to march her back into the store and make her apologize to the cashier and hand the candy back. (Humiliation is a good teacher.)

___5___

There’s nothing like a deadline for motivation. (Mom presented me with an ultimatum shortly before I left for college. She pointed to the stacks of papers lying around my room and said, “You will have those stacks cleaned up and out of this room before you leave for college!” I had it done in a week. And I couldn’t believe how far back some of those papers—homework, mostly—were dated.)

___6___

Sometimes, you’ve got to kick your kid out of the nest. I was the one who was terrified of change. (Was? Is!) I didn’t want to learn to drive, didn’t want to get a job, didn’t want to go to college. Mom’s proverbial boot on my bottom was the only thing that made me take the plunge.

___7___

When a child is going through a crisis of faith, the best reaction is not a self-indulgent cry of “what did I do wrong?” but to listen and wait for divine guidance. I remember sitting on the stoop one afternoon in college, fretting about the existence of God (a crisis brought about by dating an atheist; see #2), and Mom not freaking out, but answering that if you go back to whatever brought the universe into being—the Big Bang, whatever—if you trace it all the way back to the beginning, eventually you have to ask, “What caused that to happen?” And the answer to that question is God. Beyond that, she said, everything can be believed one way or another, but the very fact that something caused it to happen was the proof of God. It was a mind-opening moment, and a lesson that I still have to revisit sometimes.

And so I take this inadequate forum to say: thanks, Mom. I love you.

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And now it’s your turn. What have you learned from your mother?

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Shared with Jen’s 7 Quick Takes Friday.