Lost in Suburbia
When I noticed that Hallmark had already replaced their Mother’s Day cards with Father’s Day cards, I realized I’d better start thinking about what to get my mother this year before my only remaining options were teddy bears or flowers. Of course, when I was little, it always made perfect sense to me to give my mother flowers for mother’s day. I knew she liked flowers but, being a kid, I didn’t have any money to buy flowers. Then I realized that the neighbor had gorgeous flowers in her garden and I could cut her flowers and give them to my mother for free. So I did, and everyone was happy until the neighbor caught on and then my tulip supply was cut-off.
Naturally, my mother would always say I didn’t have to buy her anything. She was thrilled if I just gave her a card and a homemade gift. By the time I was thirty, however, I think she had enough jewelry boxes made of Popsicle sticks to last a lifetime and she probably expected a little more from me, anyway, now that I was actually earning a living. Still, it was hard to figure out what to get her. She had enough nightgowns to fill a lingerie catalog and yet she mostly wore a t-shirt and leggings to bed. She had more jewelry than Elizabeth Taylor yet she mostly wore the same earrings every day. She had plenty of bath oils and scarves and pretty writing paper and all the other things the advertisers tell you your mother would love for mother’s day and so I was at a loss for what to get her that would convey the depth of my love and appreciation.
When I was a kid, my brothers and I would give my mom her homemade cards along with burnt breakfast in bed, take her to the park for a picnic lunch, and make an extra effort not to fight with each other so Mom could have a peaceful mother’s day. This seemed to really make her happy, although for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why. Toys, candy, even money, I could appreciate. But lousy kid-cooked food and hanging out with me and my annoying brothers? That, I didn’t quite get. “Someday when you’re a mother, you’ll understand,” she’d say, as she’d give me a squeeze.
Of course, like everything else that she predicted, she was right about this, too. And so when I had my own kids, I suddenly understood that it wasn’t about the gifts at all, but about spending the day with the people I loved, and having them want to spend the day with me.
When the next mother’s day rolled around, I realized that I could buy my mom earrings and nightgowns and scarves, but the one thing I couldn’t buy her now that I had my own family and lived an hour plus away, was time with me. Or then again, maybe I could.
And so I began a tradition of giving her “us” gifts. I gave her a gift certificate to dinner with me… a day at a spa with me… tickets to the ballet with me. She caught on and chipped in on a mother/daughter yoga weekend... an overnight in the city… massages and manicures for two. It didn’t really matter what we did. It was one day of the year that we knew we would spend together.
Then as I began researching this year’s mother’s day gift, I happened upon a mother/daughter cruise to nowhere for three days over mother’s day weekend. We were all set to reserve our stateroom when my mom said, “Do you think your kids will be disappointed that you won’t be home with them for mother’s day?” Suddenly, I realized that having special time with my kids was as important to them as having time with my mother was to me.
So I rallied the troops. “Hey, how would you guys like to spend Mother’s Day with me and Dad and Grammy and Pops and we all go to a nearby Dude Ranch with horseback riding and a pool and waterslides and all the ice cream you could eat,” I asked them, knowing that it would have been a slam dunk even if all I mentioned was the ice cream.
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Then I checked back in with my mom, the former teenage horseback riding aficionado, whom I knew would be chomping at the bit (hah!) to go riding for a weekend with me.
The reservations were made. The hard hats dusted off. We were all gung ho, and then my mom slipped and broke her elbow.
Needless to say, she was devastated.
“Obviously I can’t ride, so I guess we should cancel,” she said forlornly.
I shook my head no. “Mom, the horseback riding was a nice bonus, but you can still go and hang out by the pool and be with us for the weekend,” I said to her. “That’s really what it’s about, anyway, right?”
She nodded and gave me a hug.