I hate Mother's Day. That’s not true, I don’t hate Mother’s Day.
But I did. And it’s not because I don’t have a mother. Okay, I admit, that’s a big part of it. Mother’s day is a big brunch holiday. And nine times out of ten, the family looks miserable. And it pisses me off.
There are the reunited siblings who can’t stand each other; silently tolerating one another for the duration of this brunch for mom’s sake. There’s dad, cranky because there’s no goddamn steak on the brunch menu. Then, there’s Mom. She’s young and relishing her new title of Mother. Or she’s middle-aged, and relieved that they chose a decent restaurant with good Bloody Marys. Or she’s old, and grateful that she and her husband are still alive to enjoy Mother’s Day. I want to sit next the old mothers and put my head on their shoulder.
I have an overwhelming urge to go up to every one of these tables, every one of them, and say: Do you know you lucky you are, you idiotic ingrate, that you get to spend time with your mother?
But then I remind myself: Not everyone has the mother I had. She died of a brain aneurysm when she was fifty. I was nineteen. I never got the chance to ask her all the life questions, questions I could never have anticipated at nineteen. Questions that come up when you’re first engaged; when you’re going through a heartbreaking divorce; when you’re told you’ll never be a mother yourself. And no matter how old I get, the hurt never lessens, when one of those Mother questions comes up (do they ever stop coming up?) Or when I see a Mother at the head of the brunch table on her special day.
Not every moment of those nineteen years was perfect. We fought. She embarrassed me (as most 12-15 year olds are embarrassed by everything about their parents). But I swear, she was one of those people who truly made life magical. My father was overly protective of his only daughter, the youngest. To the point where his auto-response to everything I asked permission to do was “No.” He meant well. He didn’t want to see me fail, or get hurt, or whatever. That sort of constant “No” could have resulted in a pretty broken spirit, an “I-can’t-do-anything” mindset in a very insecure woman. But my mother was there at the opposite pole to balance things out. If I said to her “I want to fly to the moon.” She’s say, “Okay, how are you going to get there? What’s your plan?” Nothing I wanted to do was immediately impossible, or no. She’d ask “How?” first. And if it was impossible, she knew I’d see it for myself if I thought it through a little longer.
She always wanted a daughter, and she and my father agreed on three children. Firstborn: boy. Secondborn: boy. Thirdborn: boy. But he died. I don’t recall if he was stillborn, or died shortly after birth. So they tried again: girl. Me. Needless to say, I was destined to be spoiled by my mother. She was the oldest child of Norwegian immigrants who barely spoke English (with twin siblings eight years younger than herself). Her own father was a drinker and would disappear for periods of time. She was forced to be an adult at a young age. With me, she rediscovered the joys of childhood, of having a future ahead of you where anything is possible. Something that was taken from her that she made damn sure I had.
But she died almost thirty years ago. And I think about her less and less… and I hate it. I don’t want to forget. Sometimes I force myself to think about memories that don’t have any photographic evidence to support them, just so that they don’t fade away. But at this point, my life memories that don’t include her far outnumber those that do.
Back to Mother’s Day. What to do with Mother’s Day when you don’t have a mother? There’s the obvious: Call all the mothers in your life that you cherish: friends, cousins, neighbors; and tell them all that you love them. But that always reminds me of her absence — that I’m trying to make the most of the situation. Mother’s Day needed new meaning for me.
Last year was the first happy Mother’s Day since 1983. It was the first with my newly-adopted rescue pup, Picard, who has aroused some long-dormant maternal instincts in me. Providing love and a happy home to another is indescribably satisfying, life with Picard has taught me.
This year I have a whole new celebration planned: A girlfriend, also motherless, has re-entered my life after a few years of estrangement, which began shortly after my ex-husband and I separated. I’ve come to learn that she was going through a separation (and eventually, divorce) of her own during that time. So we’re going to spend Mother’s Day together. Cooking, eating, drinking, catching up, and celebrating our Mothers with the joy and gratitude that I wish those miserable-looking people at brunch could appreciate.
That’s where I feel lucky, because I had the greatest mother that ever lived. I’d rather have the nineteen years I had with my mother than ninety years of anything less. I just wish you could have met her.