There’s no better way to spend Mother’s Day

On my mother’s last Mother’s Day, in 1997, I was 13 years old. Earlier in the week, I had hitched a ride with a friend to the mall so that I could go to Scribner’s bookstore and buy my mom an Agatha Christie novel as a gift. I chose a Hercule Poirot mystery and had the cashier wrap it up in pretty paper at the store. Then I brought it home and hid it carefully under my bed until Sunday.

I don’t remember giving the book to my mother that Mother’s Day, although I did give it to her. And I’m sure she liked it, as the Belgian, mustachioed Poirot was her favorite literary detective. I do, however, remember what my mother and I did that Mother’s Day afternoon, after the presents and the pancake brunch my brother made for her were over.

My mother’s final gift

That school year was our first one back in the states after living abroad for 15 months for my dad’s work, and it had been a hard one for me. My fellow eighth graders were not particularly nice to me, and there were a lot of tears on my end over the course of the year. On Mother’s Day, we still had a solid month of school left before summer vacation, and things were still tough for me, socially.

Something nasty had happened to me that Friday that I had not yet told my mother about. While walking across the blacktop at school after lunch with a big group of classmates, I heard one whisper to the others, “Hey, let’s all stop walking and see if Dixie just keeps on going and we can get rid of her.” Walk? I fairly ran away from them after that. How humiliating.

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I had tried to keep the pain of this cruel trick to myself so as not to ruin my mom’s holiday weekend. But on Sunday afternoon, despite my best efforts, it all came pouring out of me. My mom and I lay on my bed together for more than an hour as I sobbed and she did her best to comfort and encourage me. She lay next to me with one arm wrapped around me and stroked my hair with the other, all the while saying all the soothing and understanding words she could muster. Finally, I began to calm down — and then suddenly remembered that I had resolved not to cry to my mom on her special day. Whoops!

“I’m sorry for ruining your Mother’s Day,” I choked out.

My mother sat up unexpectedly. She looked me in the eye.

“Dixie,” she said. “There is no way that I would rather spend it.”

My mom died suddenly in her sleep one week later, the victim of an unnoticed heart condition. In hindsight, I sometimes think that this lesson on her last Mother’s Day was one of the best gifts she ever gave me. My mother had a varied, interesting life with wonderful experiences and beautiful accomplishments. But she really did value people above all else. I do not doubt for a moment that of all the things she could have done with her life, she was being completely honest when she said that spending her life with me — even when I was weepy and snotty and not particularly good company — was the way that she wanted to spend it.

Counting my blessings

As with most holidays, Mother’s Day can be a bit fraught or cause complex feelings for many of us. For me, I miss my mother on this day each year in a special way, even while I feel gratitude for her love and for the blessings I’ve been given in mothering my own four children. Sometimes I also get upset about the annoying coincidence that commencement weekend at the college where my husband teaches almost always falls on Mother’s Day weekend. This upsets me because it means that he usually has to work, and so I must spend a significant portion of my Mother’s Day doing what I do every day: the ordinary labor of taking care of our children.

But each year, the memories of my mother’s words also remind me that presents and treats and time “off” are not really what I seek from my motherhood. Don’t get me wrong: Moms do need breaks and gifts, and I love the sweet things my children give me on Mother’s Day and the quiet hour by myself that my husband insists I take once he gets home from commencement. But what I really want from Mother’s Day is to be a mother, and not everyone gets that. Some women long to be mothers but aren’t, and others are mothers only to children in heaven. Mothering my children is a gift, a privilege and my greatest treasure.

So every year, when I find myself once again cutting up apples and wiping noses and laughing at kid jokes and giving baths on Mother’s Day, I’m not really put out. Instead, I say to myself very truly: There is no way that I would rather spend it.

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