Years ago, as a single woman living in New York, I came home one night to a message on my answering machine, no mistaking my mother’s voice: “Close your windows, there’s something coming from Jersey.” Apparently some sulfurous vapor had been released into the atmosphere from, yes, New Jersey, and was headed straight to NYC. Humor aside, what may have been lost on me as the daughter testing her independence (if only a stone’s throw from the fold) was made ever so manifest the minute I found myself on the flip side of the mother-daughter coin. I may not leave LOL voicemails, but e-mails and text messages underscored by J-worthy typos are part and parcel of the daily repartee with my daughter. Each year out on her own brings a new mix of freedom and frustrations; I get to observe both from afar, give only as much advice as I’m asked to give, breathe a little lighter as anxieties give way to healthy coping strategies; the more she takes care of herself, the better off we both are. And if I can’t protect her (forever), I can still remind her of my favorite line from The Runaway Bunny: “’If you become a bird and fly away from me,’ said his mother, ‘I will be a tree that you come home to.’”
Some things take a little getting used to. On the first Mother’s Day I would spend without my own mother (she had died a month earlier), there was no chance to mourn. My daughter, six years old at the time, wanted to test her mettle on a two-wheeler. We were on a cul-de-sac next to my in-laws’ house, Grandma all smiles as I kept her pride and joy as steady as I could, until it was time to release my grip, the gift for me truly in the giving. On the first Mother’s Day I expected to spend without my daughter (her freshman year at college), the blues went out the door the minute she walked in – surprise! The best things come in no packages at all.
Nothing is as constant as change. My husband’s mother picked herself up from the ashes of my father-in-law’s death years ago, moved to northern California, a retirement community minutes from my sister-in-law; I like to think of it as making up for lost time, all those years she got to see her daughter once, maybe twice a year when she came back East for a visit. Now Grandma (and a blue-ribbon one at that) could really get to know her other granddaughter, born a few years after my daughter. The cousins, close by any standards, both live in Los Angeles, and what greater joy could there be than their surprise visit to Grandma on her last birthday, 87 years old and still going strong?
No surprise that Mother’s Day is always a mix of emotions for me. Even if any mother might agree that Mother’s Day should be every day, the credit for the day of celebration as we know it goes to a woman named Anna Jarvis. In 1907, two years after her mother died, Jarvis started aggressively campaigning for a national day commemorating mothers. By 1909 a day of observance would be set aside in forty-five states, red and white carnations (a favorite of the elder Jarvis) worn in tribute to mothers. Seven years later, the second Sunday in May would be declared a national holiday. As a poignant afterthought, Anna Jarvis, so distressed by the commercialization of the holiday, would spend much of her resources and the rest of her life in outright opposition to the holiday she had created.
Who can blame her for feeling the way she did? The truth be known, Mother’s Day is my least favorite day of the year to go out to a restaurant (but don’t ask me to cook, either). Just let me sit quietly with the Sunday Times, a cup of coffee and a fresh scone. Flowers are always welcome. Most important of all, a phone call from my daughter.