Last year on Mother’s Day, I was awakened by a mini herd of family members—my three kids, husband, and large dog—who presented me with breakfast in bed. It didn’t matter whether or not I was hungry, if my hair was knotty and stuck to one side of my head, or if I had morning breath. All I had to do was look at the tray that was placed on my lap.
The red tulip springing from the diminutive bud vase was the first noticeable detail that went into this collaborative effort. Urged to take a closer look, there were more signs I was meant to notice. The blueberries were placed delicately on top of the omelet in the shape of a smiling face. The coffee was made with hot milk, forming just the right amount of bubbly foam on top. The granola was homemade, and beside it, a folded note declared this group’s love for me. I looked up at their faces, and one wagging tale, and felt like the luckiest person alive.
And I am.
But for me, Mother’s Day has two sides. My own mother, now 78, is the crowning matriarch of my life, and the leading lady who we always celebrated on this typically sunny day in May. How I only wish the days could be sunny for her now.
After a traumatic childhood during the Holocaust, my mother managed to create a good life for herself. Not without pain or struggle, she pushed through the decades with a sense of priority, balance and joie de vivre. She worked hard, played hard, and loved her family. Growing up, our mother’s day celebration was always shared with our small, yet tight, extended famille—my parents, brother, grandparents, aunt and uncle.
Music by Tchaikovsky or Haydn bellowed beautifully through the outdoor speakers as we devoured the luscious platters of salads, vegetables, cheeses and meat prepared by my mother. We sat around the large oval table on the deck behind my parents’ house, until we eventually retreated to some time in the garden, accessed by a long, descending staircase.
As I grew up and had a family of my own, I inherited the torch of hosting holidays for my parents and a handful of relatives. There were many times when together, we feted the day with a similar sort of vibe—only now they were on my backyard deck with James Taylor or Dar Williams piping through the outdoor speakers. In recent years, though, things have changed all too drastically.
My brother does not participate in our gatherings, and my aunt lives far away. So the guest list is short. My mother, severely depressed since my father’s passing nearly six years ago, can no longer mold a smile no matter the scenario. She is a heavy presence, and my kids have grown uncomfortable with her constant neediness and demands to be near me as much as possible.
So last Mother’s Day, after being surrounded by a morning of love from my inner sanctum, I looked ahead to the afternoon with a fair amount of dread. I did my best to muster some enthusiasm for the post-breakfast bliss, but it didn’t come easily. We “celebrated” with my mother over an early dinner, showered her with gifts, and were relieved when it was all over.
This year, I am minus one kid who’s in college and plus one wagging tail. I imagine that I will, again, wallow in the warmth of the morning, and feel less enthusiastic about the afternoon. But we will continue through the ritual and I will tell my mother the truth—that she has been an amazing mother and I love her. And then, I will crawl back into my cozy den and snuggle with my not-nearly-as-needy family.
It’s a sad reality that Mother’s day has shaped into a dichotomy of the beautiful and the lets-get-this-over-with. Nevertheless, she is my mother. It is she who taught me, and my children indirectly, that a care for detail—that flower-filled bud vase, the “we love you” note, those blueberries—can bestow a deep sense of beauty and meaning. Sadly, my mother has now forgotten about those things. But I haven’t.