May 13, 2012 was Mother’s Day in the U.S., a day of spiritual origins that has only recently taken on human form. A time of reflection on what it means to be a mother, what our own mothers are like, and what challenges we face if we are childless or our mothers are no longer around physically or emotionally.
It’s a holiday of mixed emotion, the same as Christmas and Thanksgiving and all those other holidays that remind us of our families–or lack thereof.
Last year’s Mother’s Day found me in Ireland with a dear friend taking an excursion to the quaint town of Kilkenny. As the train whisked us through villages, on its way to its final destination of Waterford, we gazed at the rolling green landscapes, the beauty that is Ireland. And we reminisced about what it meant to be a mother and to have a mother. We toured a castle, browsed through a block-long nursery, stopped by a pub (of course) and visited the abbey. This quick day tour gave us the flavor of a colorful town. Thoughts of family back home disappeared into the background of our sensory experiences.
This year’s Mother’s Day posed different challenges. Finding myself now as a single mom, I wondered how my adult sons were coping, those young men who flew the coop and have made their own nests in various roosts around the country.
Not having heard since Christmas from J, my oldest son, who lives closest to me, I particularly wanted to know how he had been faring for the last five months. Due to finances he no longer had a phone. And he wasn’t into social networks, or even checking e-mail regularly. So I had a wealth of questions swirling around my brain, seen through the lens of my eye as a mother. Does he like his new apartment? His roommate? Is his car in working order? Does he still have a dream of becoming a teacher? Can he afford to visit a dentist?
These questions–and many more–went unanswered until last Sunday. He e-mailed Friday night asking if he could come over on Mother’s Day afternoon for a visit. And maybe we could also have lunch.
“Of course you can,” I typed as soon as the e-mail entered my Ethernet.
Then I screamed, “Yes!” to no one. Only my stuffed teddy bear might have heard me, but he could have been asleep on my pillow shams.
Before J stopped by, I received a phone call from my younger son A. I hear from A more regularly, but it was still a thrill to listen to his voice, chattering away about what he had been up to. My mother ear detected the excitement in his voice as he spoke about a possible raise in his salary. I puffed up like a peacock. But soon I had to cut him off. The doorbell beckoned.
And there stood my oldest son, J, the one who opened my womb almost 28 years ago. He was holding a dozen red roses. After I whisked him inside and hugged him shamelessly, he brought the flowers to my sink, filled the vase and arrayed the stems to prevent their drying out.
“J, you don’t know how long it’s been since I was given fresh flowers!” I exclaimed. “I think I’m going to cry.”
He just gave me one of his dimpled grins, so pleased that he had made me happy.
Then he sat down in my grandma’s antique rocking chair and we caught up on each other’s lives. Funny how a few minutes can turn into an hour. My stomach’s growling finally interrupted my curiosity about my son and his “doings”.
“Want to have some lunch?” I asked, filled with hope.
“Oh yes, it’s been a long time since breakfast.” John started to get up.
“I’m not sure where we should go, since we don’t have reservations.”
“How about IHOP?” J asked. IHOP is one of John’s favorite places to eat. I thought about how it would probably not be too crowded, especially at 2:15 pm.
“Perfect,” I agreed, and we set off to quell the rumblings in our grumbling stomachs.
Sure enough, when we arrived there were no lines and plenty of empty tables. I refrained from fatty fare, despite those urges to indulge. After all, I’m giving a presentation on obesity and edema at a hospital in a few short weeks and must set a good example. I simply ordered a healthful omelet filled with all sorts of veggies, accompanied by a fresh fruit dish. J splurged on a milkshake and banana-strawberry waffles. We both savored our meals and the freshness of our conversation.
After we had sufficiently cleaned our plates, John got up, paid the bill, and we left.
The sweetness continued. I thought he would go back to his apartment at that point. But instead we went back to mine and talked some more over some diluted grape juice from my rather empty refrigerator. Finally I showed him my “new” TV, a castoff from some friends who had been given a flat-screen for Christmas. I gladly relieved them of their cathode-ray TV. He admired it along with my media center.
And then he gobsmacked me.
“Let’s watch an episode of Get Smart, Mom.”
Now this particular activity had been a ritual every Sunday afternoon in our happier household of two years ago. On Sunday afternoons we would all sit down as a family and watch a few episodes, laughing our heads off. Would you believe the episodes we picked to watch on my special day consisted of three parts? We watched for over an hour. And laugh, we did. I don’t think I could have been happier if someone had transformed my body into a healthy twenty-something shape. These precious moments with my son proved far more therapeutic. This was what memories are made of.
After that, we talked some more. Finally I asked John if he wanted to have dinner, but he declined my invitation; he had to get back.
An odd thing happened after he left. I did not exhibit symptoms of the empty-nest syndrome that I normally experience when the boys take off. Maybe it’s because J lives so close by and I hope to see him at his workplace, if not somewhere else around town. Or maybe I’ve gotten accustomed to the alone feeling of an empty nest and have healed from it. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful.
While my own departed mom has been gone since November 2004, I do not usually pay special tribute to her on this day. She is with me every day: in my smile, in my mannerisms, even in my appearance and behavior at times. I feel her hand on mine–in mine–gently guiding me, leading me to forgiveness, love and an indescribable sense of peace.
Nine years out from my last diagnosis of breast cancer, I still get to enjoy my grown sons. What more could I ask for on a sunny Sunday in May?
What has been your source of strength on the day when mothers are celebrated in your country? If you celebrate the day, what do you do?