I spend most of the first half of May in a frenzied state. It's the busiest time of the school year for Yousuf as a professor, and right smack in the middle of his end-of-year insanity lies Nissa's birthday. And right smack in the middle of all that lies (insert suspenseful music here)...Mother's Day.
Mother's Day. The day I love to dread and the day I dread to love.
Every year on Mother's Day, the college that Yousuf teaches at holds their Graduation. Think five hundred kids and their parents plus the faculty all packed like sardines into an arena while anxiously anticipating the following five seconds of ecstasy for:
a) making it across the stage without tripping (for the graduates).
b) a short-lived sense of vindication for the return on their investment (for the parents).
c) being able to hold their pee for a new personal record (for a certain faculty member who I may or may not share living arrangements with).
Did I mention that this happens every year on Mother's Day? Oh, good. I didn't want you to forget that very important point. And lest you think this is some sort of scheduling error, let me put that thought to rest right now.
They do it on purpose.
And that's the part that drives me bonkers. The college touts Graduation as the event that is the perfect Mother's Day present, saying as much in their welcoming address. Of course, this is all fine and dandy for the Graduates and families because they have the privilege of carrying this singular Mother's Day memory with them for the rest of their lives - and don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful memory...for them. For me, the rest of the faculty and their families, Graduation holds another meaning altogether. Graduation is the day that I don't get to celebrate Mother's Day with my whole family. And this will go on for as long as Yousuf teaches (which we hope will be a very, very long time). Thanks A LOT, College.
But there is another side to this coin...which is the fact that until I couldn't have a Mother's Day morning with my entire family, I didn't really want one anyway. I always felt that any grand Mother's Day gesture would be superficially driven by the notion that my family was doing something nice because they HAD to. So I was happy to have a regular day with my regular peeps doing regular things. No big celebration needed. Until now.
Yeah, I know. It's hard being as crazy as I am. Actually, it's not that hard at all, because this type of indecisive thinking is the very definition of who I am. I don't really want something until it's gone. Then I want it BAD. I'm like the grown up version of a toddler. Someone remind me why I'm responsible for two children, again?
This was the first year that Inara noticed Yousuf's absence during Mother's Day. She came bounding into our room first thing in the morning, announcing that she was going to make me pancakes while I stayed in bed allllll day. Then she saw Yousuf getting dressed into fancy clothes, and she narrowed her eyes at him while asking him accusingly:
"Is that what you're going to wear to make pancakes, Daddy?"
(Although the notion was entertaining for a moment because some part of me wondered if his outfit was like the male equivalent of a French Maid's costume. Maybe just the nice shirt and tie but boxers on the bottom? Hmmm...that was a better mental image.)
So we had to break it to her gently, as we do with everything concerning Inara. And it never really matters how gently we break it, because it always ends up being A Big Deal, especially where Daddy Leaving is concerned. And then he goes anyway and I'm left dealing with one very angry little girl, and her little sister who decides to emulate every emotion Inara displays just because she can. Happy Mother's Day, indeed.
All this is to say that Mother's Day is probably the day I look forward to the least all year long. While those who are lucky enough are relaxing all morning, and being served thoughtful breakfasts in bed, my Mother's Day is usually spent scrambling to find a way to make my kids feel like they deserve a special day too. Because that's the thing about Mother's Day - and the real reason I miss having one with my family - it's not even so much about me as it is about them. I wouldn't be a mother without these little monkeys. It's as much their day as it is mine. I want them to have something special, even if it means eating half-cooked and soggy pancakes. I want that.
To be fair, Yousuf understands this just as well as I do. Perhaps even more, because the look on his face whenever he leaves us on Mother's Day isn't one of anticipation for watching his students celebrate the biggest moment of their lives (up until that point). It's far more forlorn than that. It breaks my heart to see him that way, and makes me want to simultaneously hold him hostage and set him free. So I carefully rearrange my features, kiss him good-bye and tell him that it doesn't really matter anyway. That it's just a day and that we can make our own Mother's Day memories some other day. I promise that I'm not upset and wave from the window as he leaves...
...and then I feel sorry for myself. Which I absolutely loathe doing, because it makes me feel so powerless, so alone, and I am neither of those things.
This Mother's Day morning was better. I made my girls a special breakfast to thank them for the gift of Mother's Day, and we pinky swore to have a great day, just us gals. Then I took them to the market, where there was a huge flower and garden plant sale. I bought them cookies as big as their heads, and we made plans for our as-yet-unplanted garden (I don't have a green thumb, and probably never will...but I like to pretend otherwise).
It was actually bigger than her head. Luckily we split it three ways.
We spent the morning outside, amidst other families lugging wagonloads of plants while the mothers carried huge bouquets of flowers. We even extended and received many "Happy Mother's Day" greetings of our own, and it felt good to participate instead of focusing on what was missing. What wasn't missing was the love our family carries for one another - that is always something that is a tangible force in my life. It's something that I carry with me like a talisman everywhere I go, especially when we're not all together. And especially on Mother's Day.
That indelibly buoyant feeling was palpable in the air on Sunday, and I envisioned every family walking around in their own protective, nurturing bubble of love. Sometimes I imagined our bubbles touching and instead of bumping into each other, the bubbles would absorb a little bit of the other until the feeling grew and grew. By the time we came home, exhausted but happy, I felt like I could almost float away inside my own bubble of love.
And then, when Yousuf came home in the afternoon, I almost did.
He whisked Inara away on a top-secret present-getting-and-making mission, came back home just in time for Nissa to wake up from her nap, and then we were off again, together at last. A picnic in the park, a stroll at sunset, hide-and-seek in the forest, a perfect end to an imperfectly perfect Mother's Day.
Mother's Day will always be this way for our family. It will always start off a little unconventionally, but I suspect it will always end with me smiling too.
The hills are alllliveee...with the sound of me sniffling as I remember that Nissa turns two tomorrow...
And you know something? I think I'm finally beginning to learn that it's just fine with me, as long as we are able to keep strong our protective little bubble of love.
Bubble of love. I'm telling you guys, it's real. And I'm still floating around in it today.
I hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day, friends. I hope that it was perfect for each of you in all of the most meaningful ways.
My never-fail trick to get the kids to laugh for the camera:
"On the count of three, everyone yell, FAAAAARRRT!"
It works EVERY time.