One of the facts they don’t tell you in What to Expect When You’re Expecting is what to expect from Mother’s Day. And what I’ve realized is that each Mother’s Day – no matter how rushed, or how seemingly unremarkable – marks a growth milestone. For you, as a mom.
There are the sleep deprived early Mother’s Days, when it’s just you and the tiny one and the promise of so much and the fear of the unknown. These first Mother’s Days are the scariest, the most tension wrought. What if I'm doing it wrong already? What if she isn’t rolling over, crawling, walking or talking exactly right? What if, while I’m enjoying the traditional-expected breakfast in bed she is climbing out of her crib?
The fears of the earliest Mother’s Days give way to those of the preschool Mother’s Days when you are presented with handmade gifts of construction-paper flowers, cut-out hands, glued-on tissue paper vases – all wrapped and delivered by sticky hands and accompanied by a wide-open smile. Much like the gifts delivered, those preschool years are the cutest and yet, in some ways, the most prescribed. The wonderful teachers – all female in my kids’ cases – made sure the mothers were not forgotten and were lovingly celebrated on our special day. I wonder if we ever thanked them enough. I knew I didn’t at the time. I didn’t realize all they were doing to help me mark my growth as a mom. By helping my kids create Mother’s Day gifts, they gave me that pat on the back I needed during the most fearful days of parenting, where success is measured by weight and height at regular doctor’s visits and books dictate every milestone. Holding the gift of a painted flower pot meant you were doing an OK job. You were mom.
By elementary school, doctor’s visits for most kids are an annual occurrence and our measurement as a mom comes home as report cards only a few times a year. And at some point, usually by 5th grade, if not finally at the start of middle school, the teachers and the room moms stop creating the Mother’s Day gifts. Around this point, too, you’ve become the mother you will be. I say that, because it’s true. Your parenting skills are formed. You have made it through the most brutal of the mommy wars, you’ve watched and learned during drop-off and pick-up, and if you’re a working mom, you’ve now heard it all. You’ve emerged on the other side. That’s why it’s ok that Mother’s Day mementos and memories become the job of your husband (or your mom if she lives nearby). I remember those late elementary and middle school Mother’s Days as a forced parade of store-bought cards, but of laughter, still, and smiles.
My favorite Mother’s Days are now, with a house full of teenagers. These Mother’s Days we’ve asked each child – all four of them – to create something meaningful, by hand, harkening back of course to the preschool years in a way, but now it’s up to them. Last Mother’s Day, they all wrote me a poem. As a writer, these were my favorite gifts ever. My middle son delivered his in the form of a rap song; my oldest and youngest sons wrote wonderful poems, and read them to me while tears sprang to my eyes. My daughter wrote words from the heart that I still have framed on my dresser.
I’ve been asked by many moms of younger kids if Mother’s Day is still as meaningful now, with big kids. I always tell them it’s more so. We are, each of us, becoming more of ourselves through our journey together. That my children are now so physically independent yet still emotionally connected is my biggest blessing. They have a choice to be present now when before they could just bring presents. The best part of being a mom of teenagers is to be able to say, without a doubt, this is the best time to be a mom. This is when it matters. And if I’ve learned anything through these years, as I’ve grown up as a mom, is that it just keeps getting better.
There is nothing cuter than the hug of a toddler and there is nothing more affirming than the hug of a teen.