Last Mother’s Day, I was nine months pregnant. While my friends and family loved texting me various emoji that day, I had vowed not to celebrate at all. I wanted to live up my status as a non-mom for as long as I could, explaining to my partner, Dustin, that I would be a mother for the rest of my life — the rest of my life! — so I should enjoy my last chance not being one. Probably I was just in denial.
A year later, and here I am: my first Mother’s Day in a lifetime of Mother’s Days. The hope of “setting the tone” is still there. The pressure is on (Dustin). As with all of parenting, in ways both foolish and beautiful, we must reinvent the wheel. This year, we look at each other across the dinner table and wonder what the hell we should do.
“Do you spend the day with your child,” Dustin mused, “because you love him and that’s what the day is about, or do you spend the day away from your child, because —”
“Yeah, I have no idea!” I said, cutting him off, laughing. “What do people do?”
I was laughing because I hadn’t even considered spending the day with my family. I heard “your special day” on the radio and starting making plans: yoga? A movie? Reading in the park? Now that he mentioned it, though, I did kind of like them in short bursts. Plus, that’s what people do, right? They go to church or to brunch or both. They take photos, Mom puts her feet up and takes a nap, and Dad tries to cook dinner for the first time all year.
But Dustin cooks plenty and we don’t go to church ever, and as someone’s daughter, mere mention of the day makes me feel guilty and then avoidant. It fills me with shoulds. I should send my mom flowers. Or bake her something and mail it to her. I should buy her a necklace and bake her banana bread and have flowers delivered to her. Some better version of me would do all these things.
This will be my son one day, I’m sure. Or, I’m sure intellectually even if I haven’t really accepted it yet. My son will feel all the complicated feelings (mostly guilt-related) that I feel for my own mother, for me.
My family growing up always sat in that (largely Catholic) part of the Venn diagram where we’re unable to express our feelings but also very sensitive and easily offended; we procrastinate, but we also take things personally; we say we’re chill, laid-back, who cares, it’s just a holiday, then that holiday rolls around and we end up, or I end up, crying in the shower because my family will never understand me, or doesn’t care enough to plan ahead. Holidays, growing up, were for making cynical jokes about the hell of it all. We laughed a lot! We always tried. But we were dismissive, and we weren’t posing for any Christmas card photos. Having a little family of my own, with someone who has none of this baggage, has been a new start.
I still have all the sensitivity and pridefulness of my childhood, but something about new love and a blank slate has made me unabashedly sincere and hopeful that we’ll keep it up. We do make cookies, we do buy Christmas trees, we do write each other long letters, and make each other cards. We dye eggs. We make cakes. We have dinner parties. We put off planning these things and then we get pissed at each other and stressed out sometimes, but we know ourselves well enough to know that celebrating made-up days and being sentimental is a great benefit of having a family and of being in love.
My son is 11 months old, which means that if you ask him to give you a kiss he leans toward you with his mouth open, and he does something close to hugging my neck when the mood strikes him (often). He says, “mamamamamamamamama” when he’s reminded that’s who I am, usually when I’m walking away from him to use the bathroom or when his dad is taking him to bed, and he’s mad about it. If he’s very tired, he lies his head down on my shoulder and the perfect weight of him makes me sway without thinking.
If you ask him where his toes are, he will tell you. If you show him a duck, he’ll quack. A cow, and he’ll moo. He knows nothing, yet, of obligation or sentimentality. Next year maybe he will give me a finger painting, something the women at day care sat him down to do. He has yet to thank me for bringing him into the world or blame me for it. He has never drawn me a picture, or drawn anything. He tries to eat flowers. He doesn’t know what lotion is, or candles, or bubble bath, or whatever else you are supposed to give women as gifts.
In the end I’m sure we will re-arrive at everything the holiday connotes: breakfast in bed, the partner panicking and buying something sentimental at the last minute, a break from doing the dishes. Not that I don’t want all that; I am not an accelerationist when it comes to motherhood (treat us as shitty as you really see us, and then soon we will revolt!), and I am newly passionate about the kinds of things you see rounded up on lifestyle gift guides. Shower me with blankets and lip balm! A candle for each hour of labor! A dish towel for every party I’ve missed out on, every friend I’ve lost, every gig I haven’t had time for!
Don’t get me wrong, the sentimentalization of motherhood as a stand-in for actually valuing and supporting mothers is horse shit. Give me free day care over flowers and a finger-painted card any day. But I am certainly going to milk this day for all it’s worth. Because anyway the mugs are, now that I think about it, hilarious and cute. My child’s hands won’t always be so small. The days are long. Fuck doing the dishes. And who doesn’t love being served food where you sleep? So we will do something nice together and I will get some time to myself that day and my mom and sister will text me and ask me what I did for Mother’s Day. I will say I had breakfast in bed. I will show them a photo of a card. I will say we had such a nice day. And we probably will.