For what would turn out to be our last Mother’s Day, I sent my mother two cards—one for that year, and the one that I had purchased but forgotten to mail the year before. We were never really Mother’s Day people.
On the rare occasion I remembered to call my mother on the day itself (as opposed to two or three days later) there would be about 45 seconds of holiday formalities before getting to our actual conversation. The call would start something like this:
“Hi Ma, Happy Mother’s Day”
“You doing anything today?”
“I was thinking I might shampoo the carpet.”
“Whatever makes you happy.”
Calls on her birthday followed much the same pattern.
But now that she’s gone, Mother’s Day looms rather large for me. Beginning a few weeks before, that word, Mother, starts being repeated in every commercial on television. Products with no particular maternal tie in—cell phones, laptops, cars, ice cream—suddenly become “just the thing for mom.”
And I find myself trying to avoid any mention of my mother. Not for my sake, but for the sake of others.
It feels rude, when people are going on about their plans, or how their mothers drive them crazy, to mention the fact that I don’t have a mother anymore. Suddenly they feel bad, and then I feel the need to awkwardly reassure them—“No, no it’s ok. Really, I barely even notice anymore.”
It’s not that Mother’s Day is a day of sadness for me. It’s just a day of somewhat cruel irony. After 28 years celebrating the day sporadically and in the most half-assed way possible, I now spend it trying to avoid speaking or thinking of my mother. It’s as though I’m being forced to make up for all of the Mother’s Days I forgot by being uncomfortably conscious of every one from now on.
I know there are people who will go to a parent’s grave on a holiday or a birthday. In fact, our most elaborate Mother’s Day celebration was spent at my grandmother’s grave shortly after she passed away. We actually got dressed up and bought flowers that year. But it seems odd to celebrate in death what we rarely celebrated when my mother was alive.
And I frankly don’t understand funerals or cemeteries. In fact, I think there’s a link between our lackadaisical approach to Mother’s Day and my total inability to understand or relate to the sanctioned ways of mourning.
My mother was, in many ways, an odd woman. The highest praise she could give anyone or anything was to say that it was “different.” She was constantly hunting for novelty—from acting classes and high heeled sneakers, to lectures on Jung and learning Reiki. She looked for things that would make her happy and, though she arguably never really found them, she knew they were not anywhere obvious. She had the courage to search for joy in the oddest places, and the much greater courage it took to abandon paths that turned out to be fruitless.
I’ve inherited her restlessness, her hunger for novelty, her insistence that things in her life either be just so or not at all. It is, without question, an enormous pain in the ass. I’ve never lived anywhere for longer than 2 years unless I was in school. It was only two years ago that I, for the first time, took a job that was a natural and logical next step from my last job (as opposed to say, transitioning from law clerk to secretary to retail).
But every time I find myself looking around and thinking, “ugh, I did this yesterday, enough already!”, it’s a reminder that I’m walking around with my mother whispering in my ear, telling me to find my own way.
When my mother died, all I wanted to do is buy as many live crabs as I could carry, steam them with beer and sit around telling stories, cracking open crabs with my bare hands, and getting drunk on Coors Light while my mother’s old 45s played in the background (only for my mother would I drink Coors). There is nothing that says Pat Frost like freshly steamed crabs, watered-down beer and Motown, and nothing that invokes her memory less than a funeral parlor or a graveyard.
And when it came to Mother’s Day, all those commercials, all the things you do—flowers and brunch—we never, ever did, because it just didn’t make sense for us. I have never in my life had brunch with my mother. I never gave her flowers, and she didn’t seem particularly interested in them. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Mother’s Day brunches or flowers, or the rest of it—just that, for us, celebrating Mother’s Day the way everyone else did would have required us both to become completely different people for a day. And that seemed like an odd way to thank her for the role she played in my life.
My belated call and her determination not to waste a Sunday when the carpets needed cleaning more or less captured the essence of who we were with each other. I was always well-intentioned but kind of absent-minded and my mother was always ruining my weekends with household projects.
Through a strange sequence of events, I find myself about 2 miles away from both the hospital my mother was born in and the house where she spent her first 12 years. I’ll probably stroll over that way, though I don’t know what to do once I get there. Stand and stare and picture my mother reading comic books on the stoop, or chasing after her older brothers, I guess. I’ll figure it out when the time comes.
Mother’s Day is over, and I am once again free to remember my mother the way I choose to.