A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about Mother’s Day?

Sometimes Mother’s Day reality isn’t quite the same as Mother’s Day expectations, but that’s often what makes it so special.
Sometimes Mother’s Day reality isn’t quite the same as Mother’s Day expectations, but that’s often what makes it so special. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mom sits up in bed and examines the items arranged on the tray, a special breakfast the kids prepared all by themselves. She tentatively takes a bite of yogurt with granola and blueberries and immediately gags. “Sour cream,” she croaks to her astonished family.

You want the truth about Mother’s Day? I think you can handle it.

Every year Mother’s Day shines a spotlight on moms. It is the moment to say thank you to the lucky woman who has wiped your tears and also your bottom, who drives you crazy and also to endless activities, and who provides the most tender comfort and also the most persistent irritation. Moms are an onion in the garden of life. Strong and interesting with lots of layers . . .

Why wouldn’t our day be complicated?

On the positive side, our day usually includes cute cards and sweet presents. Nothing is better than gifts from the early days: misshapen painted clay pots, modern looking splashes of color bordering stick-figure family portraits, laminated poems, sweet notes.

But just like motherhood, Mother’s Day is also universally understood to have its disenchantments.

Consider my experience at the preschool Mother’s Day lunch, when all of the classes honored their moms with a sweet meal and entertainment. Rows of colorful tables lined the main space in the fellowship hall. Our whimsical place settings included a kid-created “dirty dessert” of chocolate pudding, crushed Oreos and a gummy worm. A handmade flower sprouted out of the dessert cup.

The performance portion of the lunch included songs from each class, and my son’s group had the added creative touch of a completely original component. While the teacher played a tune on the piano, each child shared why he loved his mom. “Because she reads to me at night,” “Because she makes me yummy food,” “Because she hugs me when I’m scared,” and on down the line they sang.

And then it was my son’s turn. “I love my mom, “ he warbled, “Because she does what I say.”

I sat stunned in my folding chair, surrounded by rows and rows of mothers from all of the classes. A strained smile remained plastered across my face as the crowd turned to look at me, laughing, while the song continued on.

Does what I say? What did that even mean? I knew it was silly to feel the sting of tears, but honestly. Images flooded my brain: playing dress up, bandaging injuries, loving on our dog Clyde, dancing to music, reading stories, swimming in the pool, racing to a sick bedside in the night. Labor and delivery. None of that made the cut? Wow. I love my mom because . . . she’s my minion?

After the performance my four year old proudly bounded up to me, oblivious to my burning face and my hurt feelings. He asked if he could eat my gummy worm. Politely. As I passed it to him I defensively made a mental note that he did not tell me to give him the worm. Had I not wanted to share, or didn’t want him having sweets, or was the vindictive type, I could have refused his request. Right? And look at that, carrying his bag after I told him to, throwing away his trash after I told him to, holding my hand as we crossed the street. Like I told him. Hmph.

That night I shared my luncheon experience with my husband. While we were talking my son came into the room and his dad asked, “Hey, buddy . . . what did you mean when you said your part of the Mother’s Day song about mom? She does what you say?”

“Like when I tell her I need something she always helps me,” he said, his eyes darting between us, a concerned crease in his brow. He bounded over to my lap and I gave him a hard squeeze.

So, that was like, over a decade ago. And I am over it! Really. It makes me laugh now, and seems like a fitting Mother’s Day gift. Just like a yogurt breakfast made lovingly with sour cream, the intentions were good even if the final product was a little hard to choke down.

Isn’t that the stuff of life, for parents and kids alike? There may be expectations that it will all be pretty and perfect and tied neatly with a bow . . . yet so often being a family isn’t any of those things.

But even with all of the mistakes and embarrassments and hurt feelings, the privilege of raising another human being is the best gift of all. And the truth is, when it comes to having a meaningful impact in the life of your kids, every day is Mother’s Day.

Want to get a better handle on the mother of all holidays? Look simply marvelous on your day with moms’ best style advice from The Charlotte Observer, say amen to Tina Fey’s perfect prayer of the mother, and see how the hapless Heck family approaches Mother’s Day from The Middle.