Usually, before Mother’s Day I sit down with my feelings and I feel them. I write. As a “motherless daughter” celebrating her sixth Mother’s Day sans a Mom, you’d think that by now I would know what I need on this particular day of the year.
I didn’t sit down and write this year.
Perhaps that was mis-step numero uno.
It’s a complicated day.
There are commercials and feelings.
Sappy posts and guilt.
It’s like the world turns varying shades of pink (“my colors are blush and bashful. Your colors are pink and pink.”) overnight.
The internet posts and flowery tributes.
It’s… a lot.
My first Mother’s Day as a mom I remember being a little excited about wearing two hats. I’d made the leap and was now simultaneously celebrating.
I was the celebrator and the celebratee.
Then, after my Mom died… I found that “celebrating” my Mom morphed into… missing my Mom more than any given Sunday.
I had to figure out how to accept the love from the living side… and mourn and remember the love I had on the dying side. On the same day.
Tricky stuff, ya’ll.
Did you ever go to the circus when you were younger? (Back when we didn’t really know what they were doing to the animals? When we know better, we do better.) Do you remember the tightrope walkers?
A.) I always liked their costumes and loved the potential for success. If they walked the line, weight in hand, balancing the load… and made it to the other side, boom! Joy! Celebration! WHAT A FEAT! Everyone was happy. WELL DONE.
B.) Still, I always held my breath as they towed their line, too. My heart would race for them as they’d try to balance that weight. I’d look away, not wanting to make eye contact. The potential for a heartbreaking fall was a tiny footstep away…
They were SO high up there.
With such a weight holding them down.
AT ANY moment they could slip and fall.
THIS is how Mother’s Day is for me, sometimes.
And I think it’s like this for a lot of us.
Tightrope. Weight. Slip. Fall.
Mother’s Day is spring.
I love the costumery of the day.
I love the pretty.
I love the crafts my girls give me.
My love language just happens to be words of affirmation (shocked?), so all of this?
I love the thoughtful gestures and the donuts.
I love the praise.
And the recognition.
THIS IS THE GOOD part!
This is me wearing a tight-rope costume, flitting across the wire like it’s my delightful job and delight.
Then the wind will blow, and… I lose my footing.
My focus will shift.
And I can’t quite seem to pull it back together.
About to fall…
…and then I do.
The weight of the day, like the weight that tight-rope walker carries shifts from keeping me grounded and stable… to weighing me down. It’s too much. And… I go down.
It’s usually a memory.
It’s looking at an old photo.
It’s the reminder that what was no longer is.
This year, it was a few things.
Yesterday, it was playing a game on the rotating scrabble board that my Mom must have acquired around 1977. I was sitting with my family, glimpsing my Mom’s hand-writing on the scrabble box where she kept score, wishing to God that I was sitting there playing with my her, with my Aunt and my sister. We could play that game for hours. (I regret not being more willing to do that with her. But, I also am comfortable enough to know that not playing Scrabble as often as possible didn’t adversely affect her legacy to me or my love for her. We move on.)
It was the texting with my Aunt, her sister, that reminded me.
It’s the tapping in with my baby sister to see and hear without words the truth about today: that it’s really, really hard.
It was the constant reminder that my someone, the first person who ever knew me, the person who would listen to all of my stories, the person who knew me before I knew me… was no longer just a phone call away.
And you try really hard not to let your grief overtake the effort your sweet kids or husband have invested in making you feel special.
The LAST thing you want is for them to feel like they did something… wrong.
So you duck away. You take some time…
I went upstairs to cry. To acknowledge her. To love her. To FEEL the loss.
I worried that they, my people, would think that they were the reason for my tears. But this is a prime example of taking care of me, so that I could be the best version of me for them. Let me handle *my* business, then I’ll explain it to you.
When I tucked my almost-11-year-old into bed on Mother’s Day night, I asked her if she was ok.
“No,” she said. “Today didn’t go at all like I wanted it to…”
My heart sank. They absorbed my sadness. They’re interpreting my grief as a mistake on their part. Oh dear me, NO. This is exactly what I was afraid of. Crap. Day. Ruined.
She went on, “…we didn’t give you the day you deserved.”
I told her:
I felt your love! You made me the most perfect gifts I could have ever imagined. I could actually SEE the love in what you painted and in what you wrote. YOU made my day WONDERFUL. You made me feel special. And there is nothing I love MORE than being your Mommy. You did nothing wrong, in fact you did all the things… RIGHT.
Remember when I went upstairs? It’s because today…
…today is complicated for me.
(Should I go on? Should I do this? Will it make her FEEL badly? Will she feel responsible for trying to make me happy onMother’s Day and every day after? Will she think that she’s not enough? Is this too much for a ten-year-old to hear about?)
I went on…
“…Today, I really missed my Mom.”
And I broke.
The dam broke. The tight-rope walker fell right off of the taut wire and into the arms of her 5 ft. tall, 10-year-old woman child.
“I missed my Mom a lot today, Lila,” I cried.
“It started when we watched church and I saw that Mom sitting there with her daughters. They had inside-jokes and stories and they were laughing. And it reminded me of how much I missed my Mom, about how much I miss talking with her and looking into her eyes and knowing she gets it…
…I just miss her.”
Lila rubbed my back.
We talked a lot. About being a Mom and being a daughter. About loss and grief and joy and how life is full of both. And we don’t get to choose when we feel them.
At one point, perhaps after she had hugged me a third time, I started laughing and said, “I am so proud of you! I am so proud of your empathy; of how you are putting yourself in my shoes and feeling for me! I am so proud of you!”
In this conversation, I realized that this is motherhood.
It’s being vulnerable and sharing.
It’s not having a stiff-upper-lip and acting like I know everything.
It’s about being…me.
It’s not about flowers and brunch.
It’s about my daughters being them.
It’s about being honest.
It’s about releasing them from expectation and letting them know that they are never responsible for someone else’s happiness, especially mine.
It’s about loving and honoring and remembering and celebrating and feeling.
It’s about everything Shirley taught me.
After I talked with Lila, I went in and had a lighter version of this conversation with my 9-year-old. For the record, the minute I started to tear up, she did, too.
She reached forward and hugged me, and held me with her little tiny arms and rubbed my back.
She didn’t tell me that it was ok, or not to cry.
She just sat with me. In my feelings.
Just like what my Mom would do.
So, that’s why Mother’s Day can be sometimes be complicated over here and maybe even where you are.
With a hug today and always,