For a few years when the boys were small I went out to eat on Mother's Day with them, paid the hefty brunch prices and basked in the boys' adoration, even if they did keep asking the waiter to refill the bread basket so many times he was deeply annoyed. I felt as a single mother-- since the year Weldon was 6, Brendan was 4 and Colin was 1-- that I deserved a great meal I didn't create on one day a year anyway.
But I was always more than a little sad watching all the other father-present families (I never did like the term intact, because the opposite is unglued?), jealous, yes, and reminded of not just what was for our family, but what wasn't. For our family anyway.
So I have chosen for the past 10 or 12 years or more to have Mother's Day at home. Either the boys cook or we get carry-out Chinese. Egg foo young to be exact.
This Mother's Day, Weldon, at 22, is finishing up his finals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and won't be home.
"We'll celebrate next weekend," he said. I'll be in Madison to watch him graduate with honors, with a triple major. I am burst into flames proud of him.
Learning from my other mom friends that I had to get a hotel room in Madison a year in advance, I circled 5/14 on my calendar in 2010, and at 9 a.m. that morning a year ago called the hotel near his apartment and a block from campus to make my graduation weekend reservation. Though the room prices nearly quadrupled from the rate during the rest of the year, I booked instantly and eagerly.
Now I see that choice is making me choose.
Next weekend is Greco State for Colin, and I need to be there as well. It is a big tournament for him and for the OPRF team, as we host it at home. Coach Mike Powell sent out an email that he needs all of us on deck, for concessions, check-in, anything, everything we can do to help. I had to choose Weldon over Colin. College graduation trumps a big wrestling tournament, and Colin is a junior. He has next year. I just can't do both.
I am lucky Brendan, 20, is on the quarter system at Ohio State (same as me at Northwestern University) and this is not the weekend I have to drive to Columbus, pack him up and move him out. Brendan said he is sending me my Mother's Day present and will make me a fantastic meal when he gets home.
The Thursday and Friday in June I drive to retrieve Brendan, I am missing the ACT test for Colin (not that he needs me much, I just would like to make him a protein-filled breakfast). The next day I am working at a day-long seminar and I will miss the send-off for him on his senior trip with the wrestling team.
For Weldon and Brendan's senior trips, I was able to drive a group of wrestlers to the airport each time. That allowed me to get a few hugs in at curbside from my sons as well as my caveats and last-minute reassurances that yes, each indeed had his drivers license, sleeping bag and money.
It seems for the past 15 years as the only parent I have been choosing one child over the other out of sheer logisitics. When they were all on Little League baseball teams, each son played on a different field in different teams in our suburb, and some games, unbelievably were scheduled at exactly the same time. I drove like a crazy woman from one field to another, often missing the perfect play from one son while watching another son wait for his at bat from the bench.
Many, many times I had to choose work over the school assembly or the in-class presentation, many I found aggressively scheduled mid-day. But as the only income in the household, I seriously had no choice. I still have no choice.
As a mother I have always been trying to make the right choices for them, for their futures, for their presents. I know, I know, I know. I am not perfect. I am not the best mother in the universe. I yell. Though definitely not as much in the last few years. Perhaps I am just too tired.
I have many recurring dreams about my sons. The one I often have is they are waiting downstairs in our house for me to get packed; we are scheduled to board a plane, I don’t know where we are going but it is an international flight—and I cannot execute the simple process of getting my clothes and shoes packed, and then I cannot remember how to get to the airport and I am worried if the boys themselves are packed, if they have everything they need.
Sometimes I wake up in that beginning part of the dream, where I am in my bedroom with an open suitcase, clothes, shoes and books thrown on the bed and the floor, and other times I wake up when the dream has moved to the airport—Chicago’s O’Hare—with me screaming to get through security, the boys (they are always small in the dream) tagging along behind me and me shouting that we cannot miss the plane.
The dream does not include the details of three-ounce bottles in plastic storage bags or pat-downs, but my heart is always pounding and I wake up sweating. There is never, ever a happy ending to this travel nightmare--when we are on the plane or have landed somewhere beautiful safely, you know, the postcard dream. No, we are always unsuccessfully en route, thwarted. We never arrive.
I listen to other mothers tell stories of their growing children – happy stories—and I wonder if that can possibly be true all the time. Or if they are delusional or deliberately skipping the less than optimal parts. Truth is it is difficult to be a mother, a parent, even when you have a partner who holds up his half of the house.
Does no one else have a flip side to the framed family photographs?
We have a not so old washing machine that may be on its last legs. It is my third washing machine in this house in 16 years. I know one washing machine is supposed to last that long in total, but in our house they just don’t—none of them do, no matter the brand, no matter the type, no matter how much they cost. I do about three full loads of laundry a day when the boys are all home—one full load a day when it is just Colin and I in the house—his workout clothes, towels, my workout clothes.
I am currently in full-blown denial about the washing machine and that it should be replaced. It does not spin. Let me revise that, it does not spin without an intervention.
It stops on the dial at the spin cycle. It only took me one or two loads of dripping wet clothes to see the problem. So to dry the clothes past dripping wet, I have to open the top, manually turn the basket with one arm, with the dial set to spin and one finger pressing in the hole where the top should be, so the basket will move at all. It takes three, four, five of my Fred Flintstone starting the car turns to get it moving, then fwack, I lift my finger and let the top of the machine come down. I pray the spinning continues and I have tricked the basket into spinning. I watch the hose in the cement tub to be sure water is coming out to prove the spin cycle is working.
Most of the time it does. A few minutes later, when the spin cycle stops on its own, the clothes are dry enough to hang or throw in the dryer (which also could stand to be replaced because it can only take a small towel, some socks and underwear at one time). No appliance in our home is in peak shape. You would never know, looking at the clean clothes in our closets or on our backs, smelling the clean sheets, admiring the clean guest towels in the bathroom off the kitchen, that the spins are not automatic. I intervene.
I can’t change the way it has worked out for my sons. I wish I had chosen better for a husband, I wish that their father had been the man he said he was and the father I imagined he would be, long ago in my 20s when he was young and handsome and full of promises. But that was an old choice. What I choose now is to move forward.
My good friend Susy emailed me recently that her life has been going extremely well personally and professionally because a while back she decided to choose to be happy.
I agree with her. Except I tell my sons all the time that being happy is not the goal of life, it is a byproduct of doing what you are here to do, finding your bliss by fulfilling your broader dreams of where you fit in the world. You can be happy eating a cheeseburger. Taking a nap. Watching “Jersey Shore.” Life is more than that. There is happy from immediate pleasure. And then there is lifelong happy that sometimes hurts along the way.
The choices I make do not make my sons happy all the time.
Yes, I am trying to do what is best for them. Often my choices are not optimal, only the best I can do. But I do know this: from now on, for me, for them, as Susy suggested, I choose happy.