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I’m writing because Sunday is Mother’s Day, and at this late date, out here in the middle distance, I am still as confounded by the holiday as I was when you were growing up.
Yesterday someone asked me what I was doing for Mother’s Day, as if I might be sipping pink champagne and nibbling at bonbons in honor of the world’s toughest job. More likely, I will be planting a few annuals in the garden. Maybe tomatoes if it’s warm enough. I will be thinking of you with gratitude and waiting for you to call and wishing for a kinder, more just and less terrifying world for you to live in.
I will be missing your brother who left us nearly six years ago.
It’s OK if you don’t send me a gift or a card. I raised you with a healthy mistrust of the capitalist plot of Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day …), scorn for the spike in retail sales.
Sorry, my darlings, for being a Mother’s Day party-pooper.
I remember one year, when two of your friends had lost their mother in an accident, and you boys came home from school with some fabulous creations of macaroni and Elmer’s glue and gold spray paint and words of love, and all I could think of was the misery of the school week preceding Mother’s Day for those kids whose mother was gone.
I remember pitching a fit many years ago when your father didn’t lavish me with gifts or attention on the Mother’s Day preceding your birth, my precious daughter, our first child. I wasn’t even a mother yet, just seven months pregnant, but in my swollen, self-important state I wanted to be crowned queen of the world.
That reminds me of a mid-day television game show called “Queen For a Day” that I watched when I was a little girl. It was a product placement bonanza with a smarmy host and a maudlin premise. Four mothers were paraded out, one by one, to tell their sob stories, and the winner, measured by an audience applause meter, would be named Queen For a Day. The stories were heart-tugging: my crippled son needs a wheelchair and my husband’s out of a job; my husband has been overseas for 18 months while I’ve raised our four children alone. I watched, entranced by the crown and robe bestowed on someone’s mother, a regular mother seated on a stage throne, smiling at the camera with Pepsodent-white teeth, and more than anything at that moment, I wanted my mother to be Queen For a Day.
Suffer and sacrifice enough, Queen For a Day taught us, and your reward will be a day off of mothering and a year’s supply of free soap powder.
I don’t want to be queen on Mother’s Day; I gave up that wish long ago when the realities of mothering set in, and again when mothering you became less labor intensive on a daily basis, but far more complicated as years passed and you became adults in this unforgiving world. If I could have what I want on Mother’s Day it would be all of you together at my table, ready to dig in to a meal I’ve labored over for hours. But I know that is not possible. For the long haul, my Mother’s Day wish is for forgiveness of your student loan debt, full employment, and a national will aimed at ending, not provoking and sustaining violence. Long shots, I know, but attainable. I’m a mother; I have to believe that.
On my perfect Mother’s Day, I’ll spend the morning at church, praying for all the mothers around the world who can’t feed their children, slipping in prayers for my mother’s health and happiness, and for yours as you navigate the uncertain terrain of adulthood. On my perfect Mother’s Day, I’ll have three hours to read the Sunday New York Times and a big hunk of something sweet to eat. The warm afternoon sun will dry the garden beds after three days of rain and the soil will be warm enough to sink a bean into. On my perfect Mother’s Day I’ll dally, moving from front porch to back yard in a monotonous loop, stopping to answer a phone call, to pet the dog, to picture your three gorgeous faces.
On my perfect Mother’s Day, as improbable as it seems, I’ll get everything I wish for after all.
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.