I was in the full day Ganon classroom last week as the students excitedly completed preparations for their Mother’s Day Tea. “This is my VERY best work,” one girl proudly told me as she showed off the flower-adorned hat she had made for her mom. “My mommy is going to look so, so, so beautiful when she wears this,” one of the boys added. As I listened to their voices, and looked into their bright eyes, I saw my own two sons on Mother’s Days past. I recalled Matt’s broad smile, his teeth a little blue from the bite he had taken from the painted macaroni necklace he made me when he was 3. And I could hear Josh’s voice as he read to me from the card I carried until the paper literally shredded. In his very best “invented, guess-and-go spelling,” below a drawing of a trophy, he had written, “There otta be a hollafam for mothers.”
It has been so many years since I received a handmade mother’s day gift (unless you count the mimosas Matt made a few years ago before taking me out for brunch). I say this not nostalgically, but in disbelief. The cliché is true. While the days are long, the years go so quickly. The last picture in which I am taller than both my sons was taken 19 years ago. I long gave away my copy of Siblings Without Rivalry. The two boys who needed a timer so each could have “alone time” away from the other are now men who regularly meet for dinner after work.
Some of the “other mothers,” as the boys called them, the women I met when our children were in preschool, whose friendship and generosity I relied on for everything from pick-ups from Hebrew school to advice about packing for camp, are now grandmothers. Some are joyfully enmeshed in new empty nest careers, while others are blissfully retired. After all these years, when we see each other, we are still mothers who don’t know how we did it. But we did. We nursed our children through ear infections and strep throats. At night, when we finally got them to bed, and we were completely exhausted, we packed lunches, sewed costumes for school plays, and baked cupcakes for birthday parties. As mothers of teenagers, we waited up until they got home safely and grounded them when they got home late. And then, suddenly one day, we found ourselves helping them move into their first homes away from us.
We did it in the days before Facebook. During their elementary school years, there were no cell phones, e-mail, or internet. We had a few reliable parenting books, the pediatrician, and each other. And still, we spent hours sorting through the conflicting advice. I remember us one morning, during those early pre-school years, sitting over coffee, sharing our latest mistakes. We promised from then on to tell each other whenever we blew a child-rearing decision. We said each mother’s mistake would be learning experiences for the rest of us. That way, we concluded, no one would repeat the mistake, things would all even out, and our children would be fine. And then some of us had a second child, or a third, and we realized that what was a mistake with one child, even one of our own, was just what another child needed.
Looking back, I laugh at most of the mistakes, and cringe at others. But if there is one mistake I made that I wish I could help other mothers avoid it is this: I did not live in the moment enough.
Earlier this year, while preparing a memory book for my own mother’s birthday, I looked through hundreds of old family pictures. There was one I could not put down. It was taken at what we called the “regular playground,” on what must have been an unseasonably warm winter afternoon. There is snow on the edges of the swing set, but the boys, probably ages 5 and 8, are dressed in sweatshirts. Although the sun is almost down, and the boys are shrouded in shadow, the smiles on their faces are radiant. Josh is on his knee, holding a football for Matt to kick. I wish I could remember what else we had done that day. What did they talk about on our way to the playground? Did we buy snacks at the deli and eat it on a park bench? When we got home, did they remember to wash their hands? I hope that on that rare beautiful afternoon, I didn’t rush them, didn’t lose patience if Josh kicked a pebble all the way home or Matt asked questions I was too tired to thoughtfully answer. I wish I could remember their voices at that age, the smell of their freshly shampooed hair, and just how they looked when they slept. I wish I had not been in such a hurry each day to check off my “to do” lists and had not been such a slave to the routine: homework, dinner, bath, story, bed. I wish I had treasured just “being” a little more, and fretted about “getting it done” a lot less.
And for those of you not practiced in the decoding of new writer’s spelling, Josh was telling me that “there ought to be a hall of fame for mothers.” He’s right. I wish all of you a very happy Mother’s Day.
Thursday May, 10, 2012 at 08:49AM