A Strategy for Mother’s Day04/30/2022 ● By Rick Epstein
A day off from motherhood is a good idea, but to take it on Mother’s Day would be a symbolic admission that the family experiment had failed. (I think of Dr. Frankenstein fleeing the castle, leaving Igor to contend with the monsters they’d created.) On Mother’s Day the challenge is to make a woman glad to be a mother, not let her try to forget she is one.
That's the thinking behind my Mother’s Day strategy. Although our observance of the day is modest, I orchestrate the proceedings and manage our three children so as to create the illusion that, as Judy Garland would put it, “There’s no place like home.” In fact, Mother’s Days in our house generally starts out like the final scene in “The Wizard of Oz.” My wife Betsy is lying in bed, and when her eyelids flutter open, she sees the rest of us standing around her with benevolent smiles on our faces. The main difference is that Dorothy was waking up from a strange and wonderful dream, but Betsy knows there can be no waking up from hers.
We cushion that blow with breakfast in bed – nothing elaborate. We give her coffee and a couple of muffins on a tray. Although the kids have already eaten, nothing seems to dress up a meal like watching their mother try to eat it in bed. They crowd in like stray dogs, mooching scraps until the final bites have been taken and the last crumbs have been distributed among the bed sheets.Then we present her with a bouquet of flowers – the all-purpose expression of regard that welcomes royalty, cheers the afflicted, and advances a seduction. It seems to serve all these functions on Mother’s Day.
Then come the gifts. Our kids have little buying power and few shoppertunities, so Mother’s Day is not a big merchandise day. It is a day when it is the thought that counts, although you might wonder what they are thinking. Fairly typical is the gift our daughter Marie made when she was 6. It was a sort of pyramid made of Popsicle sticks fastened together with glitter-glue.
When daughter Sally was about that age gave her mom one of her remarkable drawings – a family portrait in crayon – five stick-people, all smiling hugely, their arms straight out from their sides to display the three-fingered hands that are characteristic of the aliens who populate Sally’s mind. Her style was crude, unapologetic and beautiful. S A L L Y was written big across the sky, each letter in a different color, and you got the impression that was the most important part of the picture. But it wasn’t; standing beside the “people,” wearing a big red grin, was a plump yellow beast that was the cat or dog Sally was wishing we’d get. The picture was really propaganda for the joy of pet ownership.
When the girls were younger than that, each year their nursery school would help them each to produce for their mother a little handprint in glazed terra cotta, and Betsy has amassed quite a few. (Someday archaeologists, sifting through the ruins of our home, will puzzle over our household pets that were forever stepping in wet clay, and try to guess what they looked like from the soles up.)
Finally, the Sunday paper is presented, and then we leave Betsy alone with it for a carefully timed half-hour. Any longer than that, and she’d be liable to spend more time in the travel section than would be good for her, or she might find herself remembering those lazy Sunday mornings of her child-free yesteryear when she’d have time to explore the entire newspaper, instead of just skimming it for coupons.
That's pretty much it for Mother’s Day, except that for the rest of the day, I run interference for Betsy – changing diapers, distracting a needy tot when Betsy is cooking, taking bigger kids aside for pep-talks on good behavior, and rushing in to break up sibling trouble before it starts.
When done right, what filters through to our honoree is the wonderful stuff that is always there, though badly diluted by everyday hassle and strife.
Yes, I'm playing a dangerous game. My wife will almost inevitably wonder why she isn’t getting that high level of support the other 364 days a year. But the love of a good woman makes me take that chance, and – God bless her – she has never made me regret it.
Rick Epstein can be reached at [email protected].