Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day. My fortieth as a daughter—as a mom, it's my sixth. As a nation, we are celebrating the ninety-fifth official Mother's Day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which says that Congress designated the second Sunday in May for this holiday in 1914, at the urging of one Anna Jarvis, who organized the first observances as early as 101 years ago today, on May 10, 1908. (There are some interesting statistics on mothers in America—married, single, employed or not, all age groups—at the Census Bureau's "Facts for Features" page, here; you might want to have a look.) What do I remember today? It's been hard to focus on any one memory. This may be because there are so many to choose from. Or it may be because, to be honest, I'm really rather tired (a condition chronic for mothers of small children). Today has been lovely, though. I was treated to two beautiful handmade gifts: a colorful card and a draw-it-yourself decorative plate. The card this year actually shows me as having some physical substance and not just sketched as a stick figure—although my son's stick-people are adorable, too, and I've become kind of attached to them. On the card, I am wearing a fancy, polka-dot dress and sporting a huge, open-mouthed smile. My hair is black (ignoring all the salt in my pepper!). Around me flaps a butterfly. It's a very cheerful picture, and the message inside tells me I am special and loved. I must be doing something right, thank god. The plate is abstract and also colorful. There's a yellow shape that reminds me of a saxophone when turned a certain way, and with that association the rest ends up looking like a visualization of upbeat, jazzy music. Lots of spring colors. My son has written "I love mom" on the plate, and also the number "39" (my age), which I find an interesting touch. I love each gift and the time and emotion that went into them. We went out for breakfast this morning and later enjoyed a mild, sunny afternoon along the East River, my son on his bike and I following along on roller blades. Board games at home, reading, and, thanks to my husband, a dinner that I did not have to prepare or clean up after. Still, I am tired, and the fatigue reminds me of my first-ever Mother's Day, on May 11, 2003. That day marked the end of the first full week of having a baby in the house. Mother for exactly one week—talk about exhaustion! I remember seven days of trying so hard to learn the cues: what do the cries mean? I thought that if it was supposed to be intuitive, I was failing miserably. I was on autopilot only: change diaper, feed, burp, sterilize bottles without benefit of a dishwasher (the use of bottles had not been the original plan, actually, but the battle of the NICU nurses and the lactation consultant is a story for another day) . . . then try to get some sleep before the cycle started up again. Slowly, though, I started to learn the language of noises and gestures my son had at his disposal. There was a sweet-sounding "ah-ah-ah" for hunger, accompanied by a sort of head-butting motion against my body when I picked him up, and, if the response wasn't quick enough, a full-on cry. There were other noises, other movements, and then there was silence in sleep, which he did mostly in his crib but often on my chest. I remember the clean baby smell, the softness of skin, the typical baby things that keep you going when otherwise you're little more than a zombie. I remember the intensity of my son's stare, right into my eyes when I fed him, and how it was utterly impossible to look away from him in those moments. I also recall a particularly difficult day—with difficulty digesting, sleeping, everything amiss—leading up to that first weekend, and then, on Sunday, finally—an easy day, lots of peaceful sleeping, and I wondered if this was my first real Mother's Day present. That day, my husband and I went to Kate's Papery to pick out birth announcement cards that we could complete with our laser printer, and suddenly, it all seemed so real. Ink on paper; a name, date, hour, weight. Pleased to announce the birth of their son . . . The other gift to me that first week, though, was my own mother's presence. She moved into the city for the whole week and was on hand morning, noon, and night to help. I don't know what I would have done without her. And, really, that's it: that's what sums up a mother, or should. That total support and love—the stuff of legends—the gift you never can appreciate until it's your turn to give it to the next generation. As a girl, I thought that everything my own mother did came naturally, but I know now that couldn't possibly be the case. As a mother, I am often adrift but doing my best, and it is perhaps because of all the uncertainties and perceived failures throughout the course of a year that a hand-drawn card by a six-year-old boy—one that shows a woman bursting with happiness and love—can make all the difference.

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