Mother’s Day and the Aftermath: Why I Still Don’t Do It

I quit Mother’s Day 10 years ago when it rolled around 2-3 weeks after the sudden death of my mother. I’ve tried a few times since then. Really, I have. But I still can’t do it.

Even when I became a mother 5 years ago, I still was not interested in Mother’s Day. Although someone apart from my husband and me insisted that my son get me a card one year and it stuck.

Mother’s Day generally is not a good day for me. It comes at the end of the back to back…to back series of significant dates: the anniversary of Mom’s death, her birthday 7 days later, and Mother’s Day roughly the weekend after that. By the time Mother’s Day rolls around, I get points just for getting out of bed, y’all.

I still don’t go to church on Mother’s Day. I’ve tried a few times. It’s too painful. And when you combine that day with the usual baby dedications that occur, I really can’t do it.

Yesterday was no exception. In fact, I spent much of it in tears…probably because of hormones. Probably because I was a dumbass and watched Trouble with the Curve, which hit a teeny weeny bit too close to home. Probably because people keep trying to make me do Mother’s Day. Probably because it marked the end of those three weeks that can be so tough–at least at some point along the way.

People keep telling me it will be different once this baby is born. (People who know I have a son also asked me how my first Mother’s Day was or if I’d gotten any “pre-mommy” gifts…and I had to remind them that I ALREADY AM A MOTHER. But somehow that brand of motherhood is not legit because I didn’t birth the child I have walking around right now. Which is a whole different problem with the prevailing sentiments of the day.)

What people fail to realize is that Mother’s Day will continue to come at the end of what some years is an intensely emotional three-week period. What people may not have considered is that I will not dedicate this baby on Mother’s Day. It’s hard enough to be pregnant and hormonal. Add to that the fact that this baby will not get to know my mother as an actively involved presence in his life and that I will round out this pregnancy and birth without the presence of my mother–to say nothing of parenting this baby without her…I can’t imagine putting all of that together on one day.

I don’t see my sentiment about Mother’s Day changing any time soon. And even if it becomes a day of celebration for me, I will be ever mindful that it is not a day of celebration for many.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day. If it’s a good day for you, have at it. The best it has been for me so far is a day in which I again express thanks for the mother I had, for the wisdom she gave me, and for the ways in which she loved me so very well. But I don’t need Mother’s Day for that.

Bend Before It Breaks

I’m quickly approaching the 9th anniversary of my mom’s death–a date which is book-ended by other significant dates over the span of about 6 weeks. I usually start feeling and/or anticipating the pain that inevitably comes around mid-March.

So here I am.

This year, it’s been a different experience. My grief is much closer to the surface sooner that I thought it would be. And in many ways, it’s just as raw as it was nine years ago. This time, though, I’m allowing it to surface and to come out–and providing space for it. Because I clearly have not finished the active grief process, and I know I still need to do that.

The tag line for this blog is an African proverb that spoke to me in the months following Mom’s death. It occurred to me today that I’ve been trying to outdistance the pain and grief still residing inside of me even after almost 9 years. I’ve succumbed to it on occasion, but usually on my terms–which meant short-bursts-because-I-had-to-but-not-really-sitting-with-the-pain-and-grief-and-allowing-it-to-come-out-so-I-can-fully-heal. Grief doesn’t really work on one’s own terms, and I cannot outdistance it anymore. Nor am I trying to.

This year, when it wells up, I am welcoming it to the surface, holding it, and then letting it go. I am finally–truly–walking wading through the muck because I know I need to and because I am finally okay with doing so. Mainly, I think, because I feel better equipped to wade…or because I’ve finally come to a place where I really am okay with letting go of the pain and keeping only the memories. Either way, I’m leaning into the process in a way I haven’t before.

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

Today is Dr. Seuss’ birthday. The first Friday in March is Read Across America day–a way to celebrate Dr. Seuss and reading. There usually are a variety of reading-related or Seussical events around this time of March. 

And so…

So…

     So…

          So…

I dressed up as The Cat in the Hat and read to all of the kindergarten and first grade students at school yesterday. I floated the idea past the first grade teachers a few weeks ago and the kindergarten teachers on Wednesday, and they were all about it. It wasn’t until about Wednesday this week that anyone even bothered to ask why I possessed a Cat in the Hat costume.

My mom was a reading specialist. Not only was she incredibly gifted at teaching children to read, she made them fall in love with it. And she would dress up as book characters from times to time and read to her students. Her longest standing character was Ms. Wishy Washy. I have no idea when she acquired the Cat in the Hat costume. I do know that after her death, I just couldn’t part with it. I wore it for Halloween a time or two. Mostly, though, that costume has stayed in the bag in a closet wherever I’ve lived since Mom’s death. 

By about October, when I realized I’d fallen in love with the elementary school at which I work currently, I decided the costume needed to come out again. I waited until a few weeks ago and offered to wear it while reading to the students–just like Mom used to do and likely would have done again this year. As this week progressed, I wasn’t sure how it would go or how I would feel. I did go on a search for the pictures of Mom dressed as the Cat–and Ms. Wishy Washy–and finally found them at Dad’s house. In the process, I came across some of the cards handmade by some of the students at Mom’s school when she died. They were still beautiful and still heart wrenching. By the time Friday rolled around, I was at once nervous and excited to read to all of these little friends. I donned the costume early in the day as I was scheduled to read to first grade as soon as announcements were finished and all of the students gathered into one classroom. They were so excited and seemed to enjoy hearing The Cat in the Hat read by…well…The Cat in the Hat.

I changed between reading to first grade and reading to kindergarten…mostly because I had legitimate work to do in between. Also, I had a different Seussical outfit to wear. There is also an administrative intern at my school and we’ve become self-proclaimed Team Intern. After some shenanigans with the Assistant Principal on Thursday, we dubbed ourselves Intern 1 and Intern 2 and made t-shirts for ourselves for Friday. I swear, the kiddos were just as excited about that. We had some serious celebrity status on Friday. 

At the end of the day, the principal thanked me for doing all of that. I told him it was my pleasure. And I meant it. That experience did more for me–I think–than it did for anyone else. Because it put me in touch with Mom in a very different way than I’d experienced previously–and in a way that would have surely made her smile. 

 

I’m headed into spring time–and one of those 6 week stretches in the year that can be very difficult. But Dostoevsky once said, “The soul is healed by being with children.”

And so it is. 

Mother’s Day

Every year I write a post about Mother’s Day and how I don’t really like it–especially in church. This year’s post takes that sentiment, weaves itself into a bigger net, and includes a litany you can use for your Sunday AM worship if it fits your context. Here goes…

 

God of creation, you have been in the business of birthing your children for generations.

On this day, we thank you for the women who have desired to do the same, who have labored to become mothers through childbirth or adoption. We thank you for the ways in which they teach us to love and care for ourselves and the world around us.

We pray for the women who deeply desire to become mothers but struggle to do so. We ask that you provide hope in the midst of disheartenment and that you remind these women that they are by no means less of a person because of imperfect biology.

We pray for the women who have loved and lost children—for whom this day is fraught with painful reminders of who and what they have lost. We pray that they may encounter you in new and different ways through other children in their lives and find peace.

We thank you for the women who have made a difference in our lives as mothers, who loved and cared for us in the ways you would.

We thank you for the women who have worked to be the best mother possible but whose experiences of parenting have not matched their expectations. We ask that you bolster these mothers, reminding them of the ways in which they lived up to your idea of motherhood.

We thank you for the women who tried to be mothers, who may have failed because they lacked the resources they needed to be present as mother. We pray for those sons and daughters who mourn the mother they are or were not able to have, that they may find in you, and in this community, the deeply loving and nurturing presence they have missed.

We pray for those sons and daughters who are motherless because of disease and death, that they may have a sense of your presence in the midst of their pain and the solace and joy that come with fond memories.

We thank you for the ways in which our lives are shaped by our mothers, by our quest for motherhood, and for motherhood itself.

Above all, Creator, may we all work to be the kind of parent for our children and the children around us that you have been for your children for generations. Help us to look to your Spirit as a guide for being parent—for knowing how to love, when to speak, when to whisper, when to stay quiet, how to play, how to nurture and comfort, and how to be present.

We ask these things of you, in the name of our Brother, Jesus. Amen.

 

***I’ll also make an attempt at tweaking this for Father’s Day next month. Be on the lookout.

Tis the Season in Which I Participate

When the question came up during Community Time a coupla weeks ago about whether you are a Scrooge, True Believer, or mere Participant when it comes to Christmas, I sensed that I’m a participant. I just couldn’t really articulate why. And then I landed on a radio station the other morning and it started up a Christmas song. One of the ones I really like. And then it occurred to me that I don’t really listen to much Christmas music…or really even get into Christmas that much anymore.I do try.

I’m the one primarily responsible for decorating (though Al does the lights on the tree), shopping for presents, and gift wrapping. I do basically all of the meal planning, cooking, and baking. I’m also the one involved in coordinating gift giving and other plans with family.

I’m right smack in the middle of it all.

Which is why I can’t be less than a participant.

But that doesn’t mean I enjoy all of it. Or most of it.

Growing up, Mom was in a group of women who got together once a month to play Bridge. Or catch up on the latest news (gossip?) from work. Or both. And everyone agreed that every December, the group was going to meet at our house. It was a combination of things, really. If you knew my mom, you knew that woman could throw down in the kitchen. If you had the opportunity to be at my house between Thanksgiving and the week after New Year, you saw the decorations that were pretty much everywhere. And the Christmas music playing most of the time. And the baking. Good Lord, the baking.

And I still really miss that. As in, I still don’t do well without that.

Certainly, it has gotten better over time. Decorating our tree this year brought back memories of decorating the tree–and even the whole house–in years past. Mom’s Southern Living cookbooks still smell like home…and I’m using one to make a breakfast casserole for an event soon. Other recipes for my holiday baking are hers, too. Others are some I acquired from two Christmases in Ukraine. And all of my people LOVE the results. Even if it sucks the life out of me to make it happen. (Baking is still a mixed bag for me. I love it and I feel connected to Mom…remembering the times I helped in the kitchen or just sat perched on our step stool, talking with Mom while she cooked and baked but staying out of the way in our small kitchen. But it does take a lot out of me.)

Of course, I can’t tell what takes my energy. The extra work I have to do to pull off Christmas in my house…the fact that it’s yet another holiday without the person who made it so special…the fact that it’s the end of another semester of school which always amps up the workload…or a combination of all of it.

Whatever it is, I still participate. Mostly because I’m participating for others. And hoping for the best when all is said and done.

Mother’s Day

Every year I post about Mother’s Day–and how I don’t do it.

I don’t post about the emotional anticipation of the anniversary of Mom’s death that I have starting at the end of February. I don’t post about my awareness of Mom and Dad’s anniversary on April 3. I don’t post about how I remember Mom and care for myself on April 26. I don’t post about how I tend to still be in aftershock one week later on May 3, what would be Mom’s birthday–how I try to come up with a way to celebrate her then…and usually fail. I usually only post about Mother’s Day. Perhaps because I have no say in how that day plays out. I can navigate the rest of the dates on my terms and in ways that are meaningful for me. On Mother’s Day, I have no say. It is foisted upon me whether I want it or not. And usually, I don’t want it.

I tell my people every year that I still don’t do Mother’s Day–even since I’ve become a mother. Yet, I still get cards and the Mother’s Day greetings that make most women happy and honored. This year’s card from the in-laws came on Friday. It was a Hallmark Mahogany card, which make me chuckle a little. It was a typical card from them–very nice and thoughtful, but not what I need or want. Yesterday, I got a card in the mail from a friend who chose a card that was motherly but one where you wrote the message yourself. She told Ryan to “strike a pose” and took a picture of him. She included the picture and focused her note on him and how blessed he was to have me as his mother.

Al and I were on the deck and talking about this whole Mother’s Day thing. I said, “There’s no getting away from this, is there?”

“Nope. Ryan and I really love you and appreciate what you do and we want to let you know that.”

“I get that and I appreciate that. But couldn’t it be on some other day?”

Later on, last night, Al handed me a card and said, “You can open this now. You can open it later. You can put it away and never open it. But I wanted to get this for you.”

I went ahead and opened it. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. It acknowledged my not wanting to celebrate but his wanting to let me know how much I mean to him. And I didn’t get it on Mother’s Day.

I asked him later how Ryan got to be so gung ho about Mother’s Day. Al said, “Well…he came to me one day and said, ‘You know Mom’s Day is coming, right, Dad? Well, I have money…and I want to buy her a card.”

Al said, “How can you say no to that?!”

As I wiped away a few tears, I agreed.

I still don’t go to church on Mother’s Day. Instead, I went for a 5 mile run at the lake. The weather was PERFECT and it was the best 5 miles I’d done lately. I thought about Mom and how I wished she were here to join us for the festivities later on today. I think she’d really like the place we’re going for brunch–though she probably wouldn’t get into Iron Man 2 as much. And then I thought about being a mom, and how I haven’t really embraced that part of my identity. I certainly love and care about Ryan. I say he’s mine and ours–because he is. But I don’t usually think of myself as a mom. Until now.

So this Mother’s Day, I’ll allow some recognition of me as a mother. And I’ll embrace it a little, too.

March Madness

Just about everything I know about football–and certainly everything I know about basketball–I learned from my mom. (Let me pause to give credit to Al for expanding my football knowledge)

Although she loved watching football–to the point that chores were done by noon on Saturday in the fall–and many lesson plans were written during football games on Saturdays, she REALLY loved basketball. And she got into those games. I mean yelling at the TV like she was a man. Meanwhile, Dad was in the basement working on his model railroad.

True story.

And all that was during the regular season.

Then came March. And the ACC Tournament. And Selection Sunday. Mom would take the empty bracket printed in the Fayetteville paper from Sunday morning and fill it in as the teams were announced. Never mind the fact that the bracket would be printed all nice and pretty like in the paper the next morning. And there was no stopping her–or interrupting her during selection time. And then the NCAA Tournament started. And when Carolina was playing, she was coaching from the couch or her bedroom. She was, however, not one for the prognostication. She just filled in the brackets as the games went along.

And so it is, each March that I print out my bracket. I do wait until Selection Sunday is over…and I fill it in prognosticator-style. And then the Tournament starts and I am glued to the TV–coaching from my own couch. And I think of her and all the basketball we watched–whether we were cheering for the same team or not–and I miss her.

But it doesn’t stop me from watching basketball like my Momma used to do. And filling in my bracket along the way.

Even if it is horribly busted this year.