I walked into a drugstore today to buy some Mother's Day cards. I browsed through the sea of pastel, flowered cards. Each card was an ode to the World's Best Mother or a testimony to the Mom of the Year. I put back each card I picked up, my fingers pressing against the cellophane-wrapped rhinestones.
I remember what was supposed to be my first Mother's Day. It was May of 2003, and my baby hadn't made it. That day felt like it would drag on forever.
I remember my "adjusted" first Mother's Day. It was May of 2004, and the adoption of our daughter was soon to be completed. That day flew by in the blink of an eye. Ahh, Perspective, you are a chameleon of a lens.
When my husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary, we were the parents of one little girl. By the time we celebrated our 10th anniversary, we were the parents of two little girls. And this year, when we celebrated our 15th anniversary, we are the parents of three little girls.
Three times blessed. It is more than I once thought I might ever have. Some years have been marked by triumphs and celebrations. Some years have been notable for their setbacks and challenges.
This has been a hard year, the hardest one I've known in my years as a parent. It started hard and it has gotten harder.
More than one kid needs more than 100% of my attention, and it's testing my endurance as a mother, as a working mother, as a friend and as a wife. Back to back-to-back doctors' appointments for a child's major, unrelenting allergic reactions that rage without an identified cause. Back-to-back to back meetings and appointments for a child's complex behaviors that must be seen as a language and not as a label.
The worry, the fear, the uncertainty about what to try next. The sadness when things aren't getting better. The utter exhaustion of it all.
I don't feel like the World's Best Mother. I feel like a mother who is filled with doubts right now. A mother who is asking questions for which there may not be clear answers.
As Mother's Day approaches, I am thinking of the moms for whom the mothering is rough. The moms with kids who are struggling to feel well or act well or function normally at school. The moms who know that the measure of a good mother is based on a complete load of crap, because there is no standard metric for how to raise kids, especially kids that are not neurotypical or who carry a burden of inner pain that you can't take away or whose bodies don't always thrive in the air we breathe and the grass we walk on and the foods we eat.
I'm raising my glass to the moms who have learned to leave their own ego at the door, because there is no room to care how your kids look to others. There is only the giving of yourself to your children -- making the best decisions you can while armed with as much information as you can gather - and hoping for a good outcome.
I'm offering up armfuls of Mother's Day flowers to the moms who face the isolation of being alone in a crowd. Parenting is a unique journey, no doubt, but I'm thinking of the mama whose friends are all traveling in small groups together -- climbing into cars, trains, planes and boats - while she is pedaling a unicycle.
My husband reminded me that the celebration of Mother's Day can be found in the totality of being a mother, in the moments where we are all OK and happy together. And there have been many of those. They are the bright spots.
I feel my heart lighten as I recall our five perfect days in London in October. We left everything behind at a moment's notice, and we expected it to wreak havoc on the kids, but they rose to the occasion, and it was gorgeous harmony. I remember how I packed four gallon-size Ziploc bags of medicines and never even needed to open three of them. There was only magic and joy and memories about which I will write at some point in the future.
I think of my beautiful friends who cannot relate, but still ask how things are going. In addition to taking care of their own kids, they have provided nearly constant rides and childcare for my girls as I shuttled different kids to different doctors. They have brought us dinners; they meet me at lunch with a pot of flowers or my favorite chocolates. They do not judge. They say, tell me how to help.
I think of the moments when everything is going right. A wave of peaceful contentment might hit me as I'm reading a book to the girls while we snuggle on the couch, or during a family dinner when we sit at the table and the flickering candles cast a warm glow. There is probably nowhere I'd rather be than under blankets together in the freezing basement watching a family movie.
The happy images come faster now. Watching my oldest girl swim 106 laps in the swim marathon. Watching my middle girl work with her dad on algebra problems in their matching Superman pajamas. Watching my baby girl learning to read and write and spell, new words coming each day.
This is motherhood. This messy, agonizing, joyful collection of moments, sometimes dark with despair, other times an adrenaline-rush of a high. Wrapping your arms around all your children, those born of your womb and those born of another woman's womb, and saying, I will never give up on you, even when everyone around me is losing faith, I will be your advocate and your love, and when everything else is stripped away, we will be here clinging to each other, because family is what matters most to us.
I guess I'm learning that my Mother's Day might not look like the mass marketed version. It isn't about a fancy restaurant brunch, although I'd be happy to partake in some chocolate chip pancakes. It isn't about sentimental cards or shopping or taking a spa day. It's just a day to say, I don't need to be the World's Best Mother. I just need to be my own family's best mother, and only I know what that looks like. Chances are, it looks like the five of us sprawled on the kitchen floor -- four of us with crazy hair and one of us with no hair - maybe wrestling or reading books or drinking coffee and chocolate milk, enjoying just a few minutes alone together.