Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Learning to Celebrate ME on Mother's Day

As a young girl, I dreaded Mother’s Day.

At the time, I couldn’t have put why into words.

My mother was the sun and the moon to me. Yet each year on Mother’s Day, she sat in the chapel listening to talks about amazing, angel, perfect mothers. She inevitably teared up and was miserable.

I spent my time in Primary thinking of ways to make the rest of her day happy. Maybe on the way home from church, I could pick a pretty bouquet of wild flowers. I’d clean up all the dinner dishes. I’d draw her pretty pictures. That would do it, right?

Now that I’m a mother, I get it. My mom didn’t think she measured up to the mythical idea of the Ideal Mother—the mother that does not and has never existed. I’ve spent too many Mother’s Days thinking the same thing.

In his book All Moms Go to Heaven, Dean Hughes declares that instead of giving mothers flowers in sacrament meeting, we should give out solid chocolate statues of the mythical Ideal Mother so we can all bite her head off. When I read that, I wanted to fill a stadium with moms and cheer our lungs out. But while I understood the whole “Ideal Mother is a myth” thing in a logical sort of way, it took something else for me to understand it in my heart.

Several years ago for my birthday, my husband and I had plans to get a babysitter and go to a restaurant, maybe even catch a movie—a rare treat. Since the day landed on a Saturday, I planned to spend most of the day resting and having “me” time.

It didn’t turn out as planned.

My youngest, then age two, woke up with croup. The poor thing, usually so energetic, lay on the couch without moving, staring off into the distance. She wanted to be held, didn’t want to eat, and didn’t talk.

I took her to the doctor, where, due to a clerical mix-up, we waited for hours and were the last to leave the off-hours clinic. From there I brought her home, picked up my seven-year-old, and the two of us went to the store for a gift to take to a birthday party, where I dropped her off.

Then I raced to the grocery store for my baby's prescriptions so we could give them to her before her nap, which was already overdue. While waiting for them to be filled, I did last minute Christmas shopping for the kids. Finally, with medications in hand, I hurried home to my little girl, who looked worse than ever.

I gave her doses of three separate medications and tried to coax some food or fluid down. I changed a messy diaper, got the cool mist humidifier set up in her room, held her close, and finally got her down for a much-needed nap.

Clearly, date night wouldn’t be happening.

At the end of the day—after reading a Christmas story to the three older children and babying my sick little toddler who simply didn’t want to leave our bed—my husband and I settled down.

I collapsed on my pillow—wearing my new birthday pajamas—and my husband said, “Sorry your birthday wasn’t a very good one.”

But in a sudden moment of clarity, I knew he was wrong. As I reviewed the day, I realized that this birthday held more meaning to me than any other. Birthdays are usually a selfish twenty-four hour fun fest.

This one was different. I had moments when my little girl wanted no one but me because only I could make her feel better.

I took care of her in ways she didn’t fully understand, like giving her medicine and running the humidifier, but which made a difference nonetheless.

I spent time one-on-one with my oldest daughter, who thrives on individual attention. The time wasn’t long—maybe only half an hour—but we had fun walking through the store aisles hand in hand, choosing the perfect birthday present for her friend.

Even something as simple as shopping for stocking stuffers brought me joy as I selected items I knew would be meaningful for each of my four children.

For bedtime, I read special Christmas stories for my kids and tucked them into bed with hugs and kisses. Each of my children knew I loved them and cared for them unlike anyone else in the world.

After family prayer that night, they'd all given me huge hugs, nearly bowling me over. And I held onto them tight, knowing that they are my greatest treasures, and that in some way, I really was making a difference in their young lives.

So at the end of that ragged day, I had the realization that my life mattered—and that because I was born on that day many years ago, four little people were now benefiting from my life. My birth really was something to celebrate.

It wasn’t as if I was making huge waves in the world, creating social change or solving world hunger. But under my roof, under my watchful eye, my children had a mother who loved them dearly and who loved caring for them every day.

Ever since then, whether it’s a birthday or Mother’s Day, I make a conscious decision to make the day special.

Of course I am not even almost the mythical Ideal Mother. I usually have dirty dishes in the sink. More than once we’ve run out of clean underwear.

But I am worth the celebration. My children love me. I love them. I am their mother. I’m doing my very best to raise them in the Gospel.

And on Mother’s Day, I make a point to let my children celebrate that fact, finding happiness right along with me.

Only one rule: No tears allowed, unless they’re tears of joy.