About the time that I became a mom, my relationship with my own mother fractured. We limped along for another decade or so. I looked every year for a Mother’s Day card that read, “I understand you did the best you could.” Never found one. My mom died twenty years ago and, if I’m honest, my life has been simpler since then.
Having my own children transformed the holiday for me. Both of my boys have outdone themselves, reminding me in writing of what it means to be a mom. I have stacks of cards and letters from them and, every now and then, I find one tucked in a cookbook or filed away in a box of newspaper clippings. I add these "new" discoveries to a keepsake box. But this morning, I woke up remembering two examples that didn’t find their way into that box.
One Mother’s Day morning, maybe a dozen years ago, I followed our golden retriever into the kitchen to feed her and make myself a cup of coffee. My kitchen cabinets -- three walls’ worth, above the counter and below it -- were covered with yellow Post-it notes. On each one, printed carefully in black marker, was one reason that my youngest son loved me. I stood in the kitchen and cried. I left those notes up for weeks, until their adhesive failed, the printing faded. I did end up throwing them away. But now and then, when the sunlight catches a cupboard door, I can still see smudges that remind me of those little yellow notes. And I resolve never to clean the cabinet doors completely.
Both of our boys went back East to go to college, and the oldest stayed in Washington, D.C., and New York City for a while. I remember a couple of Mother’s Days when I got a phone call from him and the promise to answer, in full, any question I wanted to ask. (All those years of telephone interviews and stodgy sources came in useful!) But the gift I’m remembering today, arrived in a plain brown envelope. I don’t think it even came with a card. But it was a new copy of a book that had made me cry every time I’d read it to my boys, “Love You Forever.”
I used to wince whenever they chose it from their bookshelf and asked me to read it at bedtime. It began with a new mother, holding her infant son and singing him to sleep: “I love you forever, I’ll like you always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” Page after page, the boy grows up, the mother sings her song -- sometimes under her breath -- until he holds his elderly mom in his arms and sings, “As long as I’m living my mother you’ll be.” It’s sentimental, I know. I’m a sap, I know. But my adult son sent me that book, without a word. I know. I keep it now on my own bookshelf.
Later this morning, all five of us will get together for brunch: my amazing sons, their beautiful wives and darling daughters. And I will revel in watching these four bright, clever, devoted, young people, already surpassing me as a parent. And I will think of my own odd childhood, of my husband and I doing the best we could, and I will find a weird kind of solace in that Mother's Day card I never did find.