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My mother’s worst Mother’s Day

My mom drove 250 miles to watch me speak at Denver’s first “Listen to Your Mother.” It was a decision she made on the day I was born. She was going to watch me do stuff like walk and talk, and she does.

Yesterday, she drove home after a mostly-lovely, frantically busy week. One afternoon, the subject turned to plans for this weekend. She asked what we were going to do. I mentioned it was Mother’s Day on Sunday. Oh, yes. I have no idea what we will do, but it will probably include fake sleeping-in while kids bring some kind of breakfast and some kind of coffee to me.

I was seated on the couch, holding Ollie. She stood in the middle of the living room and said, “I remember my worst Mother’s Day.” I don’t know what sparked the memory.

She told me about it. High expectations crumbled into a bad day by any standard. I was a month away from turning four and my sister was 10 months. I don’t remember anything about that Mother’s Day, but I think of photos I’ve seen at myself at that age. I had short curly hair and white sandals. I remember drinking Gatorade straight out of the glass bottle from the garage refrigerator and eating raw hot dog. I was a typical preschool-aged oaf.

On that awful Mother’s Day, she described having to wash every dish in the kitchen, dirtied by someone. Toys were everywhere, left by someone with curly hair and white sandals and a penchant for raw hot dogs. How was that different from any other day in the life of my mom when she was young, with young children? It probably wasn’t. Unmet expectations. High hopes. My dad was sick, in bed.

She was sick, too, but she got up determined to redeem the day only to hear my dad announce he was going back to bed, leaving her with a mess she faced on Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings. It was a Mother’s Day reflecting a mother’s day. It was her first as the mama of two and I suspect she felt it very, very much. Was it too crazy to expect a little honor?

Did I have any idea? No way. Maybe she cried a little or slammed a cupboard door, but I’m projecting because that’s something I might have done. Forces conspire to formulate a vision of how Mother’s Day is supposed to look. You are to be the Queen of the Queen bed. Your butter-soft shabby chic coverlet is pulled up around your legs as your golden children and godlike husband shower you with macaroni jewelry and diamonds. Then they serve you bright red strawberries with clouds of whipped cream on stacks of pancakes. A rose arcs out of a crystal vase. You are appreciated because on the second Sunday in May, you were pardoned from wiping people and things, stroking dishes clean, bending at the waist to clear floors of all signs you are a mom.

Funny, odd, and sad: The best way to give mom a happy day is to take away her job for 24 hours.

Today, Beatrix’s first words to me were “Happy Mother’s Day Eve!” Unsolicited, unexpected, sweet and from her heart. Nobody told her to say it because I was holding court with a pillow behind my back. I was half-dressed, getting ready to run to the store before 7am because we ran out of milk. Mom fail, but mom win. The ambush simple wish of a sincere little daughter trumps all the gauzy Mother’s Day dreams ad agencies promise.

(photo a year later)

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