I had a truly crappy Mother’s Day this year.
I think Anna Jarvis would understand. Inspired by her own mother’s life, she started a campaign in 1907 to recognize mothers for their contribution to society. She was successful in making Mother’s Day a national holiday, but then spent the rest of her life fighting its commercial exploitation. She died in an asylum when she was 84. (That’s her in the photo above, on the right. Her mother, Ann is on the left.)
A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
My bad Mother’s Day was no one’s fault in particular. The problem was that my husband, Brian, had been working way too much. He’s on a project that is challenging and even sometimes fun, but also complex and intense. After weeks of working late, often until 2 or 3 am, the intensity combined with lack of sleep started taking its toll.
I took the kids out Saturday morning so he could rest. When we met up at a school function in the afternoon, Brian told me he’d been fighting off anxiety attacks all day. He’d tried to go out and get me something for Mother’s Day, he said tearfully, but couldn’t think of leaving the house without making things worse. We hustled home and put him in bed. He slept for 15 hours straight.
Sunday morning he told me he didn’t think he could get out of bed.
“No problem!” I said, trying not to act alarmed. “I’ll take the kids out. We’ll do something fun.”
After all, Anna Jarvis was right. I don’t need flowers or cards or candy. But I need my husband to be okay.
I recently read a report that said fathers now feel more torn over balancing work and family than mothers. In our family, that makes sense. I left my job last year and now freelance part time. But my husband, who does the same web consulting work I do, has continued full speed ahead. Someone has to, right?
I wanted to make the best out of Mother’s Day–if nothing else, so Brian wouldn’t feel so bad. Maybe I could take the kids to the Little Farm in Tilden Park. I’d just soak in my delicious children by myself, somewhere peaceful and kid-friendly and outdoors. Then we could go to a toy store to get birthday presents for Jake, who was turning three on Monday. This idea sounded much better when it was scripted as a two-parent act, but now it was improv.
It started raining before we even left the house. Goodbye, peaceful outdoor setting. I decided to take the kids to Kindergym, a giant room at the YMCA with a bouncy castle, a jungle gym, a climbing wall, and lots of rowdy children. Heaven for my two- and seven-year-old. Clamorous, overstimulating hell for me.
When I couldn’t take any more, I pried Jake and Ruby out of their homemade fort, (Aw! C’mon, Mama! You said 5 more minutes! That wasn’t 5!), and signed them into Child Watch so I could go to a dance class that I love. I knew the day would go better if I could do one nice thing for myself. But I tweaked an old knee injury and had to stop after 20 minutes.
Shower. Limp back to Child Watch. Pack up kids. (Aw! Just one more picture, Mama! I’m not done with my picture!) Drive to Fourth Street.
I knew the toy shopping had a better chance of going well if we ate first. I picked the yummy Mexican place at the end of the parking lot because it’s fast and they have a simple rice-and-beans plate that both kids usually eat with minimal complaints.
The restaurant was the most crowded I’d ever seen it. We snagged three chairs at the end of a long table with a very unhappy looking family at the other end. They did not look like they wanted to share their table. So I didn’t ask. I just plunked the kids down and ignored the unfriendly glares. Maybe it wasn’t personal. Maybe they were having a crappy Mother’s Day, too.
Even if it was personal, I couldn’t blame them, really. Jake hadn’t napped and was entering his “mean drunk” stage of the day. When the food arrived, he refused to eat his beans or anything with protein. (No! Jus’ rice, mama! I only want rice!) Which made Ruby laugh for some reason. Which made Jake mad. (You no laugh at me, Ruby!) I didn’t really feel like sharing a table with him, either.
I called Brian to check on him. He hadn’t moved from the couch since we’d left three hours ago. He started to say something else, but I couldn’t hear him over the kids.
“I want more rice! Ruby, you dop pushing me!” Jake screeched.
“Jake, leave your sister alone! Ruby, sit up in your seat!..Brian–I couldn’t hear you. What did you say?”
“I need to get off the phone,” he said.
When we hung up, Jake started crying.
“I want to talk to DADDY!”
“Sweetheart, I’m sorry. We can’t talk to Daddy right now. Daddy needs to rest.”
My son lay his blond head on the table and wailed at the top of his lungs.
“I WANT TO TALK TO DADDY!”
Over and over and over again.
I knew exactly how he felt. I wanted Daddy, too.
More dirty looks from restaurant patrons. It was too crowded to walk around to Jake’s side of the table, so I just sat there, staring at him while the whole restaurant considered my incompetence.
This is Mother’s Day! I wanted to yell at them. Can you guys cut me a little slack?
After a long minute, I asked Jake calmly if he would like to play under the table. He sniffled and allowed that he would.
We finished lunch. Once outside, both kids magically became peaceful. It’s weird how that happens sometimes. I considered my options. Take them home and stress out their father, or muscle through the toy store, and mark one very important item off the to-do list.
It was the fastest shopping spree in birthday history. I bribed Ruby with a dollar to “babysit” her brother, then left them near the stuffed animals and frantically hobbled through the aisles, pulling things off the shelves–a robotic claw Jake has been obsessed with for weeks, a spy pen like the ones Ruby and Martha have that he covets, a kid-size rake so he can do something besides defoliating the plants with his baby scissors when he “helps” me in the garden.
Birthday presents. Check.
“OK, guys, it’s time to get in the car.”
“Aw! We’re not ready yet–”
“I’ll give you a candy when we get home,” I said. I had sunk to a new low. Candy Bribes.
I will spare you the rest of the gory details. It suffices to say the second half of the day was as fun as the first half. Short nap for Jake. An art project that I never helped Ruby with because Jake woke up too soon. A whiny trip to the grocery store. Arguments over dinner. Lots of wondering how my mom did this. Lots of wishing, for the millionth time, we had grandparents nearby. Lots of worrying about my husband, flat on his back upstairs.
When the kids were in the bath, I emailed my friend Angel. I needed to complain to somebody but didn’t want to make Brian feel worse. Later that night, she sent this email back:
…both of mine are finally asleep-Amalia after getting all cranked out and crying for 40 minutes and Paloma after having a dramatic fighting/yelling/crying battle in the shower (doesn’t want to wash hair)…this comes of course after telling Paloma it was time to get ready for bed and finding a huge mess in her room (having told her several times to clean it up already today) complete with a glitter spill all over her bed-which she knows she is not supposed to get out on her bed. Oh yeah, and Amalia peed on the floor while she was waiting to get in the shower. And my husband was sleeping this whole time after working the whole day.
mothers day is whack.
but some day, when our kids won’t even remember to call us because they’re in Paris, or NY or wherever, and you and I are at the spa in Calistoga for a “girls’ getaway”, we will reminisce about when our beautiful children were still ours to love, and hold, and feed, and wash, and scream at. We’ll long for these times, or at least remember them with a sentimental warmth in our hearts.
I have to wash the glitter off my feet now before I go to bed.
Monday morning came. I took the kids to school. Brian showered, shaved, dressed, and drove to work, just like nothing had happened.
You know what would be a great way to recognize mothers next year? Stop burning out the dads.
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