My wife and I are about to have our first child.
The baby isn’t due until October, but my wife said people had been asking what I had planned for her on Mother’s Day. I didn’t have a plan. When she mentioned this to me, rather than just say I didn’t have a plan, I chose to complain about how she’s not a mother yet, and how “mother” is an earned title.
“Do people shower Mother’s Day gifts upon young moms who gave up their children for adoption?” I angrily asked.
I was hiding my devastation. She knows my life story, but still doesn’t know the depths to which this holiday sends me.
When I was seven years old, a man I never met killed my mother.
She was a marathon runner, training in the crisp chill of a late February morning. He was driving a pickup truck in the opposite direction. For some mysterious reason, he ran off the road and struck her. He was sober, and there was no problem with his car. She died instantly.
When questioned by the police, the 51-year old man had no idea what had happened.
It was murder wearing the softer exterior flesh of an accident. The newspaper that week said the reason for her death might never be known.
I was seven. My siblings were eleven and sixteen, and we were each affected in different ways because of our ages, all uniquely tragic.
I had to deal with the especially harsh alienation that comes with kid gloves.
Because I was so young, only the bravest individuals dared even breach the subject of my mother’s death. I firmly believe my first grade teacher, Mrs. Bowker, had one of the toughest jobs in the world in dealing with me in light of this situation.
As a rural white kid in the 80's, the norm was very much the two-parent family, so much of a kid’s elementary school life was tied into having a mother. When I was in a class, language had to be altered slightly; subjects had to be handled with care.
No matter how lightly you tread, however, you can’t take a whole holiday off the calendar.
Every year as Mother’s day neared, school projects turned into giftmaking exercises for our moms. Kids would cut construction paper cards in pink and white, or make little tissue paper flower arrangements, thanking their mothers for their endless sacrifice.
No exceptions were ever made for me. I was not excused from participating in these exercises. Instead, I had to make the projects and address them to no one.
Every year of my elementary school age without fail, I had to make expressions of deepest youthful gratitude to an empty hole.
Thanks, ____. I love you for everything you do for me, thank you for always being there! XOXOXOX
This is something my older siblings didn’t have to endure. They were in middle school and high school, they had already had their chance to draw pictures for our mom or write her silly notes, to thank her for being so sweet and loving.
Mother’s Day was the annual reminder that I didn’t.
By the time I got to middle school, my father had remarried. This served to make Mother’s day even worse, because I could not allow myself to accept my stepmother as a replacement to my poor deceased mom. My siblings despised her, and my mother’s family loathed her. Even my father’s own family even treated her with lukewarm disdain.
If I didn’t know what to do when Mother’s Day arrived before, having a stepmother made it so much worse. It went from being painful to being simultaneously painful and awkward, and that’s how it’s remained my whole life.
Right now, my pregnant wife is sitting in the living room alone, unaware of the magnitude of my turmoil. As I prepare to walk out there and take her to breakfast, I am steeling myself against a lifetime of paper flowers and thank you cards with no recipient. My lovely, generous and caring wife has given me the chance to finally celebrate motherhood. She has finally given me an appropriate target for my Mother’s Day gratitude.