On the Wednesday before Mother’s Day in 1999, I returned home after volunteering for a teachers’ appreciation lunch at my son’s school to find twenty missed calls from my mother. The previous week she’d gone for her bi-annual scan to make sure the breast cancer she’d beaten hadn’t returned. As I scrolled through the caller ID list…Mary Eady, Mary Eady, Mary Eady, Mary Eady…I knew the results were bad. When I finally dialed her back, her voice was hoarse. She told me her cancer had come back, not in her breasts, which were long gone by that time, but in her lungs, her lymph nodes, her brain, everywhere. We hadn’t planned to spend Mother’s Day together that year (I don’t remember why), but by the end of that phone call, I had begged her to come to Austin for the weekend and she had said she’d leave the next day. It was not only our last Mother’s Day together, it was our last holiday. She died two months later.
It’s been twenty years since I experienced a Mother’s Day that has been anything other than bittersweet. My son has given me gifts made with buttons and construction paper and popsicle sticks. He’s bought me books and flowers. He’s taken me out for lunch or a movie or bowling. I’ve loved every gesture, every gift (except the year he re-gifted me a Barnes and Noble card I’d given him for Christmas), but they don’t stop me from beginning and ending every Mother’s Day the same way: in tears, missing my own mother.
Last Sunday after we came home from bowling and lunch, I was scrolling through Facebook posts when I came upon a blog repost from my niece, Jenny. It was titled Happy Whatever, and in it she describes the pain many people feel on Mother’s Day. I realized I’m not the only one, which served only to accelerate and then extend my end-of-Mother’s-day crying jag.
By Monday afternoon, I’d forgotten all about Jenny’s post as I sat in the floor of a classroom at the Travis County jail with Bonkers, my therapy dog. Two young women approached and sat down with us. Bonkers rolled on his back for a belly rub, and we laughed. They updated me on the kitten program they were both involved in (the city shelter brings litters to live with the inmates and be socialized), and then one of them asked me, “Did you have a good Mother’s Day?” I told them how I’d lost at bowling because my husband refuses to let me win, even on Mother’s Day. I asked if either of them had children. One answered, “a two-year-old daughter,” the other, “a ten-year-old son.” I asked if they got to have any contact with their children for Mother’s Day. The first woman told me that her daughter was living with her grandparents. The grandmother was understandably cautious with such a young child and would only agree to occasional phone calls, which the mother said was good because she didn’t want her daughter to see her in jail. By the time she finished explaining her situation, she was blinking back tears. The other woman explained that her son had been adopted by as a baby. It was an open adoption, but while she was in jail, she was not allowed to have contact with the adoptive family. I said I hoped her son had a good life, and she assured me that he has a very good life. She also teared up, and by this time, the other mother was so upset she had to leave the room.
When I got home, I was telling Dave about the visit and Jenny’s blog post, and it dawned on me that I don’t want to celebrate Mother’s Day any more. I’m all in favor of honoring motherhood, but I don’t need a special day for that. I honor my mother every time I open a door for an elderly man with a walker or smile at a mother whose toddler is throwing a tantrum at the grocery store or perform some other small act of kindness as she taught me to do. And as far as being a mother, I have a son who, even though he’s a grown man with a life of his own, I see most Monday nights at our local pub quiz. He’ll go with me any time to lunch or a movie or even bowling. All I have to do is ask.
So here’s to motherhood! To the lovely mother who still inspires and watches over me, and to the son still brings purpose and joy to my life. As for Mother’s Day, next year I think I’ll focus instead on those who haven’t been so lucky.