Forget-me-nots and pretty pansies in pint-sized cardboard boxes sit in large trays on the foyer tables at church on Mother’s Day. They’re there for the mamas to scoop up and take home, bright little bits of life to say to weary young mothers that they’re valued and to older mamas that their steady acts of great love have not been forgotten. These tiny reminders aren’t frivolous. They’re powerful symbols of appreciation from our chosen community, and they bolster our tired spirits with their fragile joy.
And that’s why, for years, those flowers destroyed me.
They broke me apart into tiny pieces. They made my stomach clench. And they pulled my grief, loneliness, and longing right to the surface, like an oil slick on water.
I didn’t go to church on Mother’s Day in 1998. After losing my third baby to miscarriage and wondering whether I’d ever join the ranks of blissful mamas around me, I just couldn’t take it. The celebrations. The kind words. The sympathy. And especially the flowers. I, quite literally, couldn’t take the flowers.
Oh, I was offered flowers in the previous years. Out of great compassion, I was offered flowers by my pastors and my friends and the sweet old ladies who hurt to watch me hurt. No one in my church full of loving people wanted me to feel left out. “You can take some flowers, too,” they’d say on Mother’s Days. “We want you to have them.” And they did. They really did. But I couldn’t take them even though I knew that it would make everyone else feel better. Because what would I do with these flowers once I had them? These happy pansies? These forget-me-nots? What could I do? Plant them at home in our yard? What if the flowers lived and were a constant reminder of what I’d lost? Or what if the flowers died and reminded me that I failed keep beautiful things alive?
No. Taking the flowers wasn’t an option.
When I was a child, Mother’s Day was easy. It was about my mom. And homemade cards. And, when I was 8 years old, it was about baking her a very moist cake all by myself with 3 cups of oil because I wasn’t good at recipes yet and “1/3 cup” was just too confusing.
Now that I’m a mom, Mother’s Day is… well, it’s complicated. It’s about my mom. It’s about Greg’s mom. It’s about me.
These days, Mother’s Day is about making sure we acknowledge our mamas, because there’s nothing like becoming a parent yourself to convince you that mamas can feel underappreciated and that our mamas, though no longer in the trenches with little ones at home, deserve our thanks for raising us to be self-sufficient enough to pay for our own counseling. (Good job, our mamas!)
These days, Mother’s Day is about trying hard to meet all the mamas’ expectations while we all pretend not to have any expectations at all.
These days, Mother’s Day is about meeting my kids’ needs. Most particularly, that I stay in bed and pretend to be asleep, and not get up no matter how badly I have to pee because I know that the second I try to run for the potty, my kids will arrive with my annual breakfast-in-bed and they will be devastated that I’m awake already. I will singlehandedly ruin their Mother’s Day and we cannot have that because everyone knows there’s no crying on Mother’s Day.
And these days, Mother’s Day is about looking at all of the experiences we have as women, from ruining cakes to longing for forget-me-nots to juggling Mom’s Day with my kids and my moms and my grandmoms… and recognizing that Mother’s Day is as complex, as multifaceted, as joyful and as sad, as it is to be a mother. That is, Mother’s Day is full of celebration, and Mother’s Day is full of desolation, and Mother’s Day is about learning to come to terms with being a Both/And kind of a woman.
We mamas – we have so very many experiences on Mother’s Day. And they are as different as we are. As different as our stories. As different as our memories.
For some of us, Mother’s Day is filled to brim with gratitude. We feel honored and cherished. Valued and pursued. And we leave the day with a sigh of pleasure and fulfillment.
But for some of us, Mother’s Day carries a measure of pain and of sorrow and of loss. And for us – for we mamas who are just a little bit lost – it’s important to remember that we don’t walk this road alone.
Today is the day after Mother’s Day. A day as complicated and as simple as yesterday was. A day that’s a mix of things over which we’ll rejoice… and things over which we shall tear out our hair.
And to all of us, I say,
Happy Day After Mother’s Day!
Happy Day After Mother’s Day, mamas and mamas-to-be!
If you rejoiced yesterday with wild abandon, appreciated and celebrated by everyone around you… or if yesterday was dark and lonely… or if yesterday was a mix, a jumble, a tangled ball of yarn that’s impossible to unravel… I want you to know, you’re not alone.
You’re amazing. Whether or not you could take the flowers, you’re amazing.
And today is the first day of an entire new year.
Happy HAPPY Day After Mother’s Day!
P.S. I wrote this piece for the mamas at my local Mothers of Preschoolers group.
I was incredibly honored this year to be the mentor mom for the team that leads the group. The “mentor mom” role was new to me. When they asked me to do it, I balked. Mentor other moms?! Then I laughed. Then I asked the askers, “But doesn’t a mentor mom need to know what she’s doing? Because I am a total screw-up, you guys, and I’m not very good at pretending like I have it all together.”
They said, “Perfect!” And that’s when I knew we were going to be great together.
So this year, I got to hang out with a lot of moms who are way cooler, way younger, way taller and way skinnier than me, and they never made me pretend like I knew what I was doing. Instead, I spent the year sitting with these mamas, in awe of their strength, wisdom, perseverance and endurance, and I got to tell them that they’ll sleep again someday. Not that I’m sleeping; just that I hear it’s possible we’ll sleep again, and I’m all about sharing hope.
I told these mamas that they’re doing a great job.
I told them to give themselves a break.
I told them not judge themselves too harshly.
I told them the truth as I understand it, which is that there are lots of different, right ways to raise kids and to engage God, and that trusting their mama gut is good.
I wrote this piece for my local Mothers of Preschoolers group, which meets today, but I wanted to share it with you, too. Because I feel the same way about you – this awe that you let me into your life with my imperfections and inconsistencies and brokenness and that you still let me tell you the best truths I know.
And so, dear mamas on the Day After Mother’s Day, how was it? How was your Mother’s Day?
Really really. How was your Mother’s Day?
Was it happy? Was it sad? Was it crazy? Was it mad?
With still more love,