Mothers' Day bouquets in Mexico City Photo by YURI CORTEZ/AFP/GettyImages
For years, I hated Mother's Day. My mother died when I was 22, and every year after that, when spring rolled around and the greeting cards reared their heads, I felt the resentment start to bubble up. “Tell mom how much she really means,” the signs at Hallmark implored me. It felt like a mean joke, just another reminder of all I’d lost.
My mother and I had always been close, but in the last few years before she died, after I’d gone off to college, we’d gotten closer. We emailed a few times a day, relating the little details of our lives. I knew what she’d had for lunch, how her best friend’s daughter was settling into her new apartment. She knew which book I was reading for my Russian novel class, which of my roommates was pissing me off. We had catchphrases, inside jokes we’d repeat in the emails and cards we sent each other.
The first Mother's Day after she died, passing by some greeting cards in a store, I thought about buying her one. Maybe, I thought, I could start a ritual of getting her a card every year—a kind of “taking back” of the holiday. But then I thought about how I’d never actually send the cards, how they’d just sit in a drawer somewhere, the way the flowers I brought to her grave every year just lay there, wilting, until someone threw them out. And the inside jokes would never change—my mother and I were frozen in time, like the picture of us on my nightstand, taken just a couple of months before she died. I decided not to get her any cards. And I continued to hate Mother's Day.
But then, a little more than 4 years ago, I became a mother. I didn’t have to be excluded from Mother's Day anymore, I realized—I would get cards! And I have—hastily scribbled by my son, with Thomas the Tank Engine stickers affixed haphazardly. I have been allowed back into a club from which I’d long been excluded.
A bit more than a year ago, I became a mother again—this time to a girl. I am half of a mother-daughter pair again, and this reality has churned up a longing I haven’t felt in years. I remember the things my mother and I liked to do together—the leisurely lunches and shopping trips, punctuated with laughter and gossip—and I imagine doing those things with my daughter. I remember how we could confide in each other our deepest worries—mine usually about a boy I was pining after, hers substantially deeper, often about her aging parents—and I imagine doing that with my daughter. I think about all the things we never got to do, the parts of our relationship we never got to explore—her giving me parenting advice, me helping her mourn the loss of a parent—and I imagine having all that with my daughter. So much seems possible.
And yet, I know I can’t—shouldn’t—recreate with my children the relationship I had with my mother. Maybe my daughter won’t like shopping. Maybe my son won’t email so often. And that’s okay—we’ll do other things. We’ll have different catchphrases, different inside jokes.
What I do hope stays the same is the feeling I had, when I would come home late on weekend nights as a teenager and my mother would be waiting up for me on the living room couch. She wasn’t waiting to make sure I didn’t miss curfew—she simply couldn’t sleep soundly until she knew I was home, safe. At the time, I teased her for being neurotic, but even then, it felt like a warm hug. That’s what my mother gave me, above everything else: the feeling that she was looking out for me, cheering me on, loving me with such purpose. I hope I can give my children that; to know that I had would be the best kind of gift.