mother's day card

I didn’t really enjoy Mother’s Day until I stopped wanting to enjoy it.

Mother’s Day has always been a bit of a catch-22. If you feel appreciated as a mom, you don’t need to make a big thing about it once a year. And if you don’t, then a single day of homemade cards and restaurant meals isn’t likely to help much.

And yet, despite how manufactured the day can feel, we still follow the script for it. That’s probably because the fallout from ignoring Mother’s Day is worse than the little effort it takes to buy a card and flowers. Or because a merchandising empire is built upon the queasy feeling of guilt associated with the holiday.

I blame the media, marketing, and pop culture. Not only am I probably right, but it allows me to place blame on something large and nebulous, which is something I like to do whenever possible.

That is why I also blame them for the fiasco of my first few Mother’s Days.

When I was a new mom, I had some strange ideas about how Mother’s Day would work. For one thing, the day appeared to be in soft focus and lit by the guy who does Hallmark movies.

It would be a day where everything would go according to my expectations: I would get breakfast in bed — croissants, coffee, and fresh fruit. And maybe some bacon. There would be thoughtful gifts,  like that necklace I mentioned once in passing eight months ago. We would have a nice dinner somewhere quiet and exotic, hopefully named Zanzibar. And hovering in the background would be my clean, nicely dressed, adoring children.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

With the perspective that comes with time and experience, I now know why.

Because my husband can’t read minds, because young children are terrible cooks, and because it’s asking way too much for one parent to watch little kids while preparing a gourmet breakfast, wrapping presents, and overseeing the making of Mother’s Day cards. And it’s because there’s no such thing as a quiet restaurant on Mother’s Day, not if we’re taking the kids.

Even expecting the adoring children was too much to ask during the baby and toddler years. Yes, the kids love you, but expecting a toddler to appreciate your sacrifices as a mother is like expecting a goldfish to understand fluid dynamics because it lives in water. Young children live in a world of perfect selfishness. Your love is a fact to them, not an object of gratitude.

Of course, I couldn’t see all of that. I was just disappointed that the perfect Mother’s Day I imagined never turned out that way. (Needless to say, I didn’t communicate any of my ideas of Mother’s Day perfection to my husband because if you do that, he can’t magically intuit what you want, so it won’t be as meaningful. What can I say? I was an idiot and probably still am.)

So what made me turn the corner on Mother’s Day? Lowering my expectations.

At some point, as the kids grew older and I became less focused on my role as a mother, I stopped thinking about how I wanted Mother’s Day to go. It became more like any other day. Aside from enjoying that there was a day when no one would dream of asking me to help with the dishes, I didn’t have any expectations.

That’s when I was finally able to experience the day for what it is.

It’s not fair to my kids or my husband to expect them to pour a year’s worth of appreciation and love into a single day, especially when the tools available to them are crayons and french toast. So I don’t expect them to try. I expect them to spread out their acts of love throughout the year, and allow me to reciprocate in kind.

On the day itself, I appreciate the homemade gifts and the efforts to make my day nicer. But I don’t need anything other than a pleasant day with the people I love most in the world. Since I stopped wanting so much from the holiday, every Mother’s Day has been a beautiful one.

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