My favorite Mother’s Day tradition

Like many moms, I have certain Mother’s Day requests: time with my girls. Time to myself. Something delicious (Starbucks is dandy, thanks). No cooking required. A few nice words. Nick, Ella, and Annie are really good about making sure these things happen; every year, I appreciate their consideration.

In addition to the above, I also ask for something a little unusual: computer time. More specifically, computer time to spend on Facebook, writing messages to every mother on my friends list. This may seem like an odd Mother’s Day request, but it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day.

Over the years, people have commented on this annual rite of passage. Most are cordial or appreciative. A few are skeptical (“You spend all that time online when you could be outside or reading or laughing with your kids? Isn’t that the opposite of what Mother’s Day is supposed to be about?”). More than a few comment that the messages are “so thoughtful” or something along those lines.

While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not comfortable with the praise ’cause here’s the truth: I didn’t start this tradition from a thoughtful place. I started it because I felt obligated.

I have a group of mom friends who I “met” through an online message board when I was pregnant with Ella; we all had babies due in December 2004. Eventually, we moved our communications to Facebook, where we continue to “see” one another today (we have also met in real life, but those are crazy stories for another day…). When I first joined Facebook, I was tickled to discover several of my former message board mama friends. Being able to easily keep up with them again was a terrific treat. Hence, in 2009 – my first Facebook Mother’s Day – I decided that I wanted to reach out to these lovely and inspirational gals.

Mother’s Day seemed perfect. After all, in addition to being pretty excellent friends, the very reason that these ladies and I had met one another was through our shared motherhood. Our friendship was made even stronger because we all had children the same age; we’d gone through leaky boobs, sleepless nights, potty training, and the first day of kindergarten – together. As much as anyone on the planet, these women shaped me into the mother I am today through their advice, their friendship, and through how they parented their own children. I wanted to tell them that they were doing a fabulous job as moms and, although it’s sappy and clichéd, I wanted to tell them on Mother’s Day.
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That was all: tell a small group of friends I thought they were great. Easy peasy, over and done. When I sat down and began to type, however, I found myself scrolling through my entire list of friends, many of whom are also mothers. Some I didn’t know very well, but with others, I’d see their names and think, “She makes those crazy bento lunches!” or “She’s always at her son’s football games!” or “When her daughter was sick last year, she did a helluva job holding it together.” 

So I thought, I guess I’ll write to those moms, too. And I did. And at first, I felt pretty good, writing messages to the friends whose mother-ing I knew well enough to talk about. But here’s the thing: all of the messages were written on my friends’ walls, which meant that any of their friends could see them… Meaning that the rest of my Facebook mom friends – the ones I didn’t know very well, the ones who don’t post often – could see them, too… Meaning that it would be pretty obvious that I’d picked and chosen to whom I was writing.

So then I thought, Well damn. The whole point of this was to say nice things, not to make anyone feel left out or crappy. I guess I’d better write to every mom on my friends list. Or, in other words, I felt… obligated… to write to everyone.

So I did.
And it was… incredible.

I know that whenever anyone reaches out to me and says something nice, it feels good, so I definitely hoped that my doing so would make people feel good. It did. But there was so much more than that.

Most of the time, I received an acknowledgement – maybe a “thank you.” While that wasn’t why I was writing – I wasn’t looking for recognition at all; I just wanted to make people smile – it was lovely nevertheless.

But then there were friends who were just floored. Some had had a rough Mother’s Day. Others were in a difficult place. Still others had been feeling gross about themselves for whatever reason. The vast majority of the time, I had no idea that any of this was going on; it’s not as much fun to talk about bad stuff as it is to post selfies, you know? When these ladies heard from someone randomly telling them that they were damn fine moms, it caught them off guard – in the best way. They said they felt they could go on. They said they felt good about themselves for the first time in ages.

I’d had no idea; I was stunned.

And then there was the most unexpectedly exciting thing of all: the joining in. I don’t remember why I posted on Friends’ walls instead of sending private messages, but I was immediately glad I did because other friends started adding on. Sometimes, they’d simply “like” my post. Others, they’d write comments telling the friend why she was, indeed, a kickass mother. Either way, these women suddenly had dozens of friends confirming their awesomeness.

It was stupendous.

Women do a really good job of tearing one another down, either overtly (“How can you feed your kids Teddy Grahams? They’re basically toxic” or “You allow PG-13 movies? How… interesting…”) or more quietly (“No, Raphael’s not doing soccer; we refuse to schedule any after school activities because we believe in letting kids be kids”). We whisper behind one another’s backs about everything from eye wrinkles to how often we allow our kids to buy school lunch.

This is nothing new – the whole “Mommy Wars” thing and all. It’s not just moms either, of course; women, in general, can be pretty damned nasty to one another. Yes, we are good friends; we can call on our pals when we need advice or support. We compliment one another on our outfits or our haircuts. We thank people for their help. But in my experience, it’s pretty rare for a woman to say to another woman, “You’re fantastic. You inspire me. Here’s why.”

I include myself in this statement. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true: I don’t often tell my friends that they’re wonderful just for the hell of it. Being so vocal feels… strange. Uncomfortable. Plus, when I’m telling someone that I love how patient they are with their children, the unspoken sentiment (in my own head) is that I’m not as patient. There’s a comparison (again, in my own head) that, frankly, doesn’t always feel so good.

Basically, I avoid saying nice things to other people because it makes me feel bad about myself. Which is pretty neat and not at all embarrassing.

Somehow, on that Mother’s Day in 2009, I was able to break out of my selfish, self-protective bubble, and the response was beyond anything I could have imagined. Turns out, when you say kind things to people (and really mean what you’re saying), people appreciate it. Go figure.

Writing Facebook messages to my mama friends has become a treasured tradition; there is no obligation about it. I wish them a Happy Mother’s Day and, when I know them well enough (otherwise it sounds forced or canned), tell them why I think they’re magnificent moms. Yeah, it takes hours and during that time, I’m not outside or hanging out with my daughters or reading magazines, but the happiness that connecting with these women brings – considering why they’re making a difference, why their kids are lucky to have them, how they inspire me – is incalculable.

It’s pretty hard not to feel awesome while you’re pondering someone else’s awesomeness.

So, if you’re looking for something to do this Mother’s Day, I’d encourage you to tell some moms that you think they’re doing a bang-up job. You don’t have to go through your entire Facebook friends list or your entire neighborhood or even your entire family tree; just pick a mom or two or ten and tell them that they’re fabulous. Be genuine. Mean what you say. Then sit back and revel in the delicious feeling that accompanies celebrating other moms.

I mean, that’s what Mother’s Day is about, is it not?
Although I’m sure as heck not going to turn down any Starbucks or handmade cards or You just sit here and we’ll do the dishes. Life is all about balance, after all. My mother says so.
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You can bet, come Sunday, I’ll be telling my own mama why she rocks.

Hear… and now

I grew up in the hang-out house. You know the one – that place where people are always gathering, especially in junior high and high school. In a lot of cases, the hang-out house is the one where the parents are the most lenient, where the kids can get away with the most, from drinking to overturning tables to debating how to TP the neighbors. My house was… uh… not that house. My friends and I were dorks nerds just not into that kind of thing. Our get-togethers consisted mostly of us just relaxing in my basement, playing music, drinking soda and eating junk food, and talking about God knows what.

Which sounds really lame, now that I write it all out.

In our defense, we did kind of have the most awesome basement of all time. It was really big – the full length of our house – large enough to hold a bowling lane (although we didn’t have one. Duh). But we did have lots of other amazing amusements – real arcade games (pinball was my favorite, although the guys seemed to enjoy the race-car game), a ping-pong table, a pool table, a great seating area with couches that we could totally destroy (although, again, being rather straight-laced, we did not), and a jukebox. That held records. You know, the things that came before CDs. Which are the things that came before MP3… Never mind.

Oh, and access to the fridge in the storage room. That was critical.

So, anyway, that’s where my friends and I spent a great deal of our middle and high school days, be it for actual parties or just, you know, chillin’. (Once, our school’s Valentine’s Day dance was cancelled due to snow, but having already bought our dresses and corsages and whatnot, we didn’t want to skip it… so my friends just came over to my place, semi-formally dressed, and we held our own dance right in the basement, all Footloose-ing it out to the records from the jukebox. That was a particularly… pungent… night.)

Except that at least one of my friends was usually missing… because she (it was usually a she, although it was known to be a he from time to time) was upstairs in the kitchen, chatting with my mom. Invariably, at some point during the gathering, someone would be looking for another friend – not playing pool, not on the couches… – and it would finally dawn on somebody else, “Oh! She must be upstairs talking to Emily’s mom!”

And there they’d be, sitting on the high bar stools at the kitchen island, gabbing away about anything and everything – soda for the friend, iced tea for my mom.

(As an aside: my mother adores iced tea. At home, she prefers the Crystal Light variety and almost always has a pitcher of it in her refrigerator. You know exactly how much water to add because she’s drawn a fill line with a Sharpie around the edge of the pitcher. Anyway, that’s been her go-to drink for almost all occasions – my mom doesn’t drink alcohol – and at least 90% of the time, she’s got a small glass of it waiting for her, which she drinks slowly, and then refills. Lots and lots of iced tea.

Except I found out at my wedding – when I was almost 26 years old – that at least one friend of mine was convinced, all those years, that my mom had been nursing a glass of bourbon. MULTIPLE GLASSES of bourbon, just a little bit at a time, resting happily at the island. I’m not sure that my mom has ever even touched a bottle of bourbon, much less consumed it daily – for more than a decade! – in front of all of my friends. I think I nearly peed my pants when I found out my friends thought she was a quiet lush.)

I’m not sure what they talked about, because I rarely joined them – in part because, hey, it was my house and my party (or nerdy get-together), and I wanted to be with the rest of my friends… and in part because, well, to be honest, their conversations seemed kind of private. Not in a, This is a secret! kind of way (after all, they were sitting in the middle of our open kitchen, with people ostensibly coming and going throughout their chit-chat), but there was a subtle vibe that this was a special conversation, to be had between the two of them. I would often lean in and add a sentence or two, but then I’d gravitate back downstairs, leaving them deep in laughter and thought.

Maybe they discussed school. Perhaps extra-curriculars. My girlfriends might have told my mom something they were nervous about, a crisis, a problem. They might have shared boyfriend woes (or lack-of-boyfriend woes) or told her that something special was on the horizon. I do know that she gave them advice, and I know that they appreciated it. But, mostly, I think that she just listened to them and made them feel heard.

And maybe that’s another reason why I never wanted to butt into their conversations: because I already felt heard by her. It’s no secret that I like to talk (*ahem*), so, as my mother, she didn’t really have much of a choice but to hear me. But to really listen is something different altogether… and, man, did she listen. To my oral school projects and my concerns about friends. To my sobs as I cried over a loss or a boy. To my shaking voice as I expressed something I was afraid of. To my elation. To my switching subjects a dozen times in thirty minutes. To my piano pieces. To my rambling stories.

Whatever it was, she listened.

So, having already felt heard, I didn’t mind sharing her with all of my friends. Many of them referred to her as a second mother; rather than be jealous, I was proud. Yeah, she’s an amazing listener, isn’t she? And she’s got enough listening to go around. How cool is that?!

It’s been years since I spent Mother’s Day with my mom – living away from her, it just hasn’t been possible – but this year, she was coming to Rochester for a few days, and they happened to coincide with Mother’s Day, so I got to spend yesterday with her. And also Friday night, where she (and my stepdad, Steven – Pops, if you’re a granddaughter) attended Ella’s 90-minute swim practice. I talked almost non-stop for the entire hour and a half. She listened. She and Pops came to Annie’s soccer game on Saturday morning, where she and Ella sat on a blanket. Ella talked… and Grandma listened.

All Saturday afternoon and much of Sunday, my girls chattered away – let me tell you this! And then! Guess what! – and Grandma listened. And, even though it was Mother’s Day – a day I might have enjoyed with just my girls, or just my mom – I didn’t mind. In fact, it was just right. My children talking, Grandma listening. Full circle.

It doesn’t even feel like sharing anymore. It just feels like happiness.

I admit: I may not always give my girls my full attention. Sometimes this is by choice (they do not need to have my undivided concentration for everything that they do, no matter what “they” say about making every single moment count!!). Other times, I’m distracted but should – or would like to – be paying them more mind. But, when they talk, I make it a point to listen. To really, truly listen. Sometimes, I even have an iced tea at the ready.

I know how important that can be. After all, I learned from the best.

Unless they’re singing “Let It Go” again. And again. And again, for the love of God.
Then, I think it’s best for all of us if I just tune out.

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My mom with my brother, Taylor, and me.
Taken well before middle and high school, but with cool Maid of the Mist rain gear, so it’s okay.

M is for Most Cool!

Every year, Nick asks me what I’d like for Mother’s Day. And every year, my response is pretty much the same:
1. Some time with the kids
2. Some time by myself to use the computer, preferably with…
3. Starbucks, and also
4. “Some nice words” from the girls

This year, Nick grabbed our family’s recent love of cooking shows by the lapels and, with Ella and Annie’s enthusiastic approval, signed us all up for a Mother’s Day brunch class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center  . It was both delicious and informative, as well as a clever way of “making” me brunch without actually having to do all of the work.
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Following our brunch, I grabbed my laptop and settled myself into our dining room (hardly the most private room in the house, but, given that we lack an office, it’s far better than the highly-trafficked kitchen) — Starbucks in hand — to spend a couple of hours typing away. For several years now, I’ve used Mother’s Day as an opportunity to reach out to all my mom friends and tell them why I think they’re good mamas, as well as to write letters to Ella and Annie detailing the reasons why it was awesome (or fun or crazy or exasperating or all of the above) being their mom this past year. This is hardly rocket science, but it does take a certain level of concentration — and time. Lots of time. Hours. Which sometimes calls for more than one Starbucks, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Nick tried to usher the girls away and keep them occupied while I worked. His first plan seemed to involve some sort of craft (I kept hearing whispering) as well as admonishments to not bother Mommy, because she’s working. This was effective for about eight minutes, until Nick left the girls’ side and I began to hear murmurs of discontent from the other room.

And then, this… (as seen on Facebook)

Just now:(whispering) “Girls, I’m going to go outside, so please continue this here and don’t bother Mommy, okay?”
“Okay, Daddy…”
(five minutes later)
“Mommy… Sorry to bother you, but do you know a good word that starts with a Y for an acrostic poem?”
Um… Youthful? Young? Yes? Yummy?
“That’s great!”(ten seconds later)
“What about the letter O?”
Outstanding? 
“Ohhh, that’s good!”
(twenty seconds later)
“Just one more… What about the letter H?”
How about helpful? Harmonious? Hilarious?
“Yes! That will work!”

If I receive a card addressed to a yummy, outstanding, hilarious mother, I will be SHOCKED, I tell you. SHOCKED.

Well. You can imagine my shock…

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Up close…
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Looks like I can safely cross “Some nice words from the girls” off my list.
I wonder what would happen next year if I asked for a surprise housecleaning…

BTW – I am so totally adding “Yesarific” to my vocabulary.