Mother's Day wasn't a holiday. It was a painful reminder. Facebook, commercials, and even the grocery store spent mid-April to early May rubbing it in my face that I didn't have a mother to celebrate.
My mom committed suicide when I was 11 years old, leaving me with only a few Mother's Days that actually stand out in my memory. I remember the botanical gardens filled with her favorite yellow tulips, and maybe brunch. But more than anything, I remember the orphaned feeling that first holiday without her.
The circumstances of her death provided anything but closure. My lack of spirituality didn't provide much comfort regarding the whereabouts of her soul. Without a proper burial, I even lacked a grave site or ash scattering location where I could lay some sunny tulips in her honor — at least there wasn't a final resting place that anyone cared to share with me. But that's a story for another day.
I spent many second Sundays in May trying to replace her with "mother figures" whose importance I exaggerated in order to include myself in Mother's Day. In the week or so prior, I would pour over the influence other women had in my life. So-and-so's mom always asks how I am. And my biology teacher gave me half a hug when I was crying in the hallway last month. And the lady down the street complimented me on being polite. I'm so lucky!
For a few days, or maybe a few hours, I would consider myself incredibly lucky that I had all these women who cared for me as though I were their own child. But that brief, self-created high would plummet. After daydreaming on this utopia where all the mothers were mine, the harsh reality that these women were nice to me because they were nice to everyone, or worse, felt sorry for me, made me more than just sad that my own mother was dead.
I was embarrassed that I thought these strangers actually cared for me when my own mother didn't care enough to stick around (a resentment I would work through later, but certainly not as a teen). I was angry that the women who were closely connected enough to my life that they could have been a mother figure didn't consider me daughter material. I was filled with regret for not appreciating my mom enough when she was here.
Nearly a decade of bad Mother's Days marked by tears, booze, or denial came to a gradual end when I finally reached a point of acceptance. She wasn't going to come back from the dead for a friendly mimosa, and I couldn't send her flowers. I would still quietly mourn my mother and flip off the calendar, but I could exist during those April and May days without crumbling.
This year is different.
After 15 years of resenting the day, I am looking forward to it more than my birthday. Hell, this might even be better than Christmas. This is the first year that I won't be a daughter missing her mom. I will be a mom celebrating with her son.
Not once in that decade-and-a-half did I consider that the day's meaning could change if I started a family of my own. I am sure it wouldn't have provided much comfort at 12 or 15 or 20 even if I had, but when I saw those commercials for overpriced flowers at a discount and Groupons for afternoons of pampering at a salon, I soared just as high as I used to fall. And not just because I'm now lumped into the category of people who are given gifts in early May.
There is still that piece of me that will always feel empty without my mom here, but another part is overflowing, flooded, tidal-waved with love for this little person in my life. Every twist and turn in my chaotic life led me to create my own family, and even though my past is haunted, my present is contented and my future is filled with potential.
I'm taking back Mother's Day this year. Or maybe I should say it was given back to me, by my son. For me, this isn't a Hallmark holiday meant to spur the economy as kids give their moms indulgent presents; it is a celebration of the challenges, sacrifices, joys, and heartaches of motherhood. My baby boy has given me some of my hardest days and some of my most amazing in the short six months he's been here, none of which I would trade for a balanced life.
While I'm happily bracing myself for the next six months, I'm going to exhale on Mother's Day. I'm going to bask in the happy glow of my family and take the time to appreciate the simple, cliche pleasures of being together. If my breakfast in bed is stale Cheerios with my son and instant coffee with my husband, it will be the best Mother's Day I've ever had.
(Oh, but Husband? If you're reading this, a yellow tulip would be nice.)