Not Just a Sunday in May

He meant well, but 15 years ago, my husband was young and inexperienced and unaware of the significance of a Mother's Day gift.

He thought he had purchased something I would like — but when you're a new mom with a 6-month-old daughter, and you're celebrating your first Mother's Day, a professional-quality electric mixer just isn't what you have in mind.

Over time, I realized that giving me a kitchen appliance probably was a reflection of my husband's years of buying gifts for his mother. Come to think of it, she had a mixer just like it.

Since then, my husband and I have learned a lot about Mother's Day. He has learned that, when recognizing the vital role played by the mother of his children, a gift that plugs in is not a winner. I have learned to smile while chewing undercooked French toast.

If Mother's Day is a day for pampering mothers, breakfast in bed is the quintessential act of luxury and leisure. Early on, my husband and our children established breakfast in bed as a tradition on this important holiday. They loved the idea of assembling a delectable morning meal on a tray and bringing it to me with a flourish — complete with a Mother's Day fanfare sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”

I would sit up in a feigned “just awakened” haze, pretending I hadn't heard the ruckus in the kitchen below that invariably included shouting, tears, and an occasional smoke alarm.

My bedridden breakfast feasts — while thoughtful — presented a problem for me, because I hate to eat in bed. I even hate the idea of eating in a bedroom. In my mind, there's something incongruous about food and pillows — they just don't go together. And then there's the crumb issue.

A few years ago, I finally let everyone know my true feelings about breakfast in bed. I confessed that I especially don't like eating oatmeal in bed — which, if I recall correctly, was on the menu the morning I let slip my preference for a table with my tableware. So now, they call me to the kitchen when their traditional Mother's Day breakfast is ready.

Like the Mother's Day morning meal, the gifts I receive in honor of my maternal role have evolved over the years. Used to be, I could count on tissue-paper floral bouquets and sculptures made of pipe cleaners. I kept these on the kitchen windowsill for the obligatory display period (four days). Within a week, they moved from the kitchen to the top of my dresser to the “file cabinet” under the sink in the bathroom to the permanent off-site storage facility.

Some might call me heartless for sending my Mother's Day gifts to a landfill, but I have four children. There's not enough attic space for all the picture frames made of Popsicle sticks I receive.

Gradually, my Mother's Day gifts became trinkets from the Dollar Store, the one place my children could afford to buy anything. My husband would take all four children shopping on the Saturday before Mother's Day (leaving me at home — alone — which was the real gift). They purchased coffee mugs, hand lotion, oven mitts, and jewelry. Of course, jewelry purchased for a dollar discolors my skin, but no matter. It's the thought that counts.

Now that they're older, my children use Mother's Day to buy things they can borrow from me later. I get cool accessories, but I know I won't necessarily be able to find them when I want to wear them, as they'll be hidden in the black hole known as my teenage daughters' bedroom.

Like mothers everywhere, I “ooh” and “aah” on Mother's Day over every act of kindness, every handmade gift, every present wrapped with too much tape and tied with Christmas ribbon. I know the soggy cereal and weak coffee and the cards made of cardboard from the bottom of a shoe box are intended to remind me that I hold a special place in the hearts of my children.

Mother's Day is a great day to be a mom, but what my family doesn't understand is that, despite what the calendar says, Mother's Day doesn't always come on the second Sunday in May.

For me, Mother's Day is a Thursday in April when, after brushing her teeth at bedtime, my second-grader asks, “Mom, which tooth did you say is decaffeinating?” Hiding my laughter so she isn't embarrassed, I explain the tooth that's turning gray “is probably decaying — not decaffeinating,” and will be the next to come out.

Mother's Day is also a Saturday in November when, after playing poorly in her last middle school basketball game, my 13-year-old holds back her tears until we get home and it's OK to melt into my arms and cry out her disappointment.

Mother's Day came 10 years ago in an emergency room, where I held my eldest daughter's hands to my chest and locked her gaze in mine, quelling the fear in my gut as I promised my little girl she would be all right.

Mother's Day came last summer at the end of a brilliant August afternoon, when twilight enveloped the interstate while I drove with my son past endless rows of corn and the sun splattered across the sky and faded into the horizon, and he said, out of the blue, “I love you, Mom.”

With so many Mother's Days, the gifts I get for being a mom are priceless, indeed.

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)

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