Looking at my own children, it’s possible for me to imagine that my mom could love me with the same intensity that I love my own. She loves me because I was her gift and assignment, as my children are to me. I fully understand how the same cry that can draw milk from a mother’s breast is the very voice that will send you slamming your head against a wall in the wee hours of the night, recalling what unbroken sleep must have felt like at some point in your life and wondering why you didn’t make better use of the luxury when the opportunity was available. Then again, your own child, whether by birth, adoption or fate, has a funny way of exhausting and sustaining you all at the same time. But there are things you learn, things you forget and relearn, with surprises along the way.
I never thought I would be a single parent. I didn’t enter into marriage, co-produce four children and think I would spend a Mother’s Day without the partner that helped make me a mother in the first place. I get edgy, and then, cynical, on days like Mother’s Day. I want a handmade card. I want flowers. I want breakfast in bed. I want what all mothers want on Mother’s Day: to be adored and then left alone by those who made us mothers in the first place. Slipping on the banana peel of wrongful hopes and unrealistic expectations, I should know by past experiences that I’ll land on my butt, figuratively speaking.
So when my four children wake up on Mother’s Day, nestle into my bed with their warm cuddly bodies, intuitively knotting themselves together and say “Happy Mudder’s Day, what’s for breakfast?”, I want to cry and scream at the same time.
I say in my calmest, most mommiest of voices, “It’s Mother’s Day, I’m staying in bed for a while longer, you’ll need to fix your own breakfast this morning.”
“But I don’t want cereal, I want bacon!” says the smallest of noble birth and character.
“Mommy’s not doing bacon this morning.“ I say, referring to myself in third person because I’m too much of coward to disappoint my child in first.
“We don’t care, we want bacon!” replies the second in command. Skin crawling at the sensation of being eaten to death by a newly discovered genus of piranhic guppies, it is moment’s like these that I realize children sharpen their teeth on their parents. I pull my covers over my head, moaning longingly, dramatically pursuing my disappointed state.
It isn’t like I don’t get to sleep in every other Saturday when my kids are with their dad, but I sleep in and wake to a quiet house, and not to the sound of joyful children scuttling about the kitchen while I am propped on fluffed pillows in bed, awaiting my Mother’s Day breakfast. Tinkering my little silver bell, I wouldn’t have to wait long before the arrival of a sumptuous breakfast with a single, fragrant rose on a tray. In my mind, my kids should be bringing me fresh orange juice squeezed by a juicer I neither own nor have any intention of purchasing in the future, poured into a crystal goblet that has long since been packed in a box, never being used after the first year of marriage. My monogrammed linen napkin would be neatly tucked under the side of my china plate. The plate, like the crystal, has been packed away, and the napkin is folded on a pile awaiting the pressing of a hot iron in the laundry room. And did I mention the fresh berries? They mustn’t forget the berries! You see, it’s not just a meal being delivered on a tray with a rose, but my unspoken and unrealistic expectations. And I can’t blame Martha Stewart for this one.
Thoughts and feelings cascade through me as I attempt to process this disappointment. I remember the beautiful handmade beaded bracelet that must have taken my little girl a day to make and the clay flower proudly made by a little boy in school. My kids were so excited to give me their gifts, they couldn’t even wait until Mother’s Day for me to have them! I felt guilty for not thinking these gifts enough, but what erupts out of my mouth sounded something like “Atomic Mommy at the Nuclear Holocaust”.
“Dammit!” I say in my not so nice mommiest of voices, “I just want one single morning to sleep in and not have a dog, cat or kid want me to do something for them. Is that too much to ask? You there, you, yes YOU, you know how to sauté shrimp and make a pound cake, you’re in charge of breakfast. I don’t care what it is, as long as I’m not involved in making it this morning…if it’s good enough for dinner, it’s good enough for breakfast!”
Now, I realize this is not the June Cleaver approach. I realize DSS might have points of contention with my language and my apparent lack of knowledge and/or observance of USDA nutritional guidelines. You see, I am not thinking or feeling, only responding. I am stepping on that ol’ banana peel of unmet expectations and it’s taking me to the ground.
Like a gaggle of geese at the sound of gunfire, the children fly off my bed and into the safety of the kitchen to navigate through the task at hand on their own. Met with the excitement of “We can have anything we want!” to the open abyss of “We can have anything we want?”, they attempted to run the coordinates and formulate a plan on their own and do the best they can with a mom gone AWOL.
Pans banged, cupboard doors opened and cupboard doors shut. The electric mixer whirred and stopped, whirred and stopped. I repeated to myself “I’m not getting up, I’m not getting up. There’s four of them, they’ve done this a million times with me in the kitchen beside them, they can manage this on their own.” I tend to rate messes that my children make on a scale of diminishing returns. Was the mess worth the time it bought me not to over-manage the task at hand? In my horizontal position, I was singing yes on all points, regardless of how far the flour flew.
A good hour passed. Still, nobody brought me a tray, plate or even so much as a paper towel with a crumb of food on it to honor my irreplaceable and invaluable maternal contributions. While a sweet aroma overcame our small house and my tantrum subsided, no disaster to speak of had occurred. Realizing that the party favors at my personal pity party sucked, I poutingly worked my way to the kitchen. Apparently, I was the only ass getting a tail pinned on their backside that morning.
I was sorry for my words, especially on a day like today. I needed to say I was sorry and asked to be forgiven, especially by my children. So I did. A quiet peace had returned to the home and to the sweetest place I know, my kitchen. I was so thankful and, still am, that home is where I can be loved best of all. In a way that let me know the past was the past, my daughter offered me the product of their combined labor and unsupervised toil.
“Here,” she said, “it’s better than bacon.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Sampling a bite of banana cupcake with cream cheese frosting and forgiveness, one bite was better than anything I could have imagined.