Mother’s Day is not my favorite holiday. Mother’s Day is the emotional equivalent of Valentine’s Day…try as I might to temper them, my expectations are through the roof, and when when my family fails to provide a string quartet and a cappuccino imported directly from Rome to wake me up, I get mad. Then, in an effort to over-correct what I know is an utterly irrational reaction, I begin to think of all the ways that I really don’t deserve such a thing. Inevitably, I end up at the realization that I’m a wretched wife and mother, and if I were a good one like Sally Homemaker down the street, my husband would appreciate me. But he doesn’t. Because I don’t deserve appreciation. Because I’m a failure.
Last year was a welcome relief from the annual Mother’s Day emotional rollercoaster of horror. I even wrote this whole post about how I had basically leveled up in the virtue game. I was pleased as punch about all my newfound wisdom and selflessness and yadda fricking blah.
This year, I read that post and wanted to reach back in time and punch my past self right off her high, stupid horse.
Here’s a thing about the Ogre: he sleeps like Rip Van Winkle on Ambien. It takes heroic effort to wake him up at all, much less to wake him up without yelling. One year, when Charlotte was a baby, I decided that I deserved breakfast in bed for mother’s day, and I was gonna get it no matter what it took. After 30 minutes of trying to get the Ogre out of bed, I finally just pushed him until he fell out of the bed. Because he’s a much better person than I am, he sort of shook his head to clear it, got up, and went and made me breakfast.
But that was a crap move, and I felt bad about it the next day. I promised myself I’d never force my husband to get up and make Mother’s Day special in some artificial, contrived-by-me way again.
However, I did not promise myself to be happy about it. This year, I could not wake my husband up at all. He had finished his grading the day before and his subconscious must have been like, “that’s it, dude, we’re done. Ignore everything and sleep like you mean it.” I finally gave up and decided to pile the kids into the car and drive to Naples to buy myself an eclair at a bakery. (Yes, that’s what I wanted for breakfast. Shut up.) I was a little annoyed, but not full-blown angry. I was more like, “hey self, we don’t want to make breakfast, so let’s just go get something cause we want it, and we deserve it”
But then I started thinking, do I really deserve this? It’s an hour drive and we are trying to conserve gas. It’s spending money on a whim, and we’re really not in a place to do that. A good mother would just turn around and get something closer to home. A good mother would probably just make breakfast even if she didn’t want to. Although really, a good mother would be getting breakfast in bed, because she would have spent her days working hard, with a smile on her face, and always thinking of her family before her blog. She probably wouldn’t even have a blog. She wouldn’t need to write, because she would feel totally fulfilled in her vocation. She wouldn’t want to light the word vocation on fire because just hearing it gave her a panic attack. She wouldn’t be all unhinged with a messy house and not even any good writing to show for it, she wouldn’t lose her temper and yell at her kids, and she definitely would not have pink hair and a nose ring. She’d be quiet and patient. She’d wear an apron. — AND SHE’D LIKE IT! and on and on it went, the soundtrack of self-flagellation that I have carefully crafted out the angst born of being selfish and feeling really sorry for myself about it.
By the time I turned around (because of course I turned around, are you kidding?) and got home, I was in the funkest of funks. The Ogre got up shortly after we got back and I tried overly hard to hide it, instead chirping in falsetto like Snow White about how lovely the drive to nowhere was and how happy I was that he had gotten some sleep.
He was like, “somehow I do not believe a word you are saying.”
And I immediately became a puddle of ugly crying on the bathroom floor.
He kind of sighed and was like, “is this about how I didn’t make you breakfast in bed again?” and I was like “no-o-*hiccup*-ooo! It’s about how I don’t deserve breakfast in bed! *strangled, histrionic sob*”
He sat down and said, “Calah, who is a funeral for?” I immediately answered, “the people left behind.” He nodded and said, “okay, so who is Mother’s Day for? ”
I was astute enough to realize that “me” was probably the wrong answer, so I said, “uh, you and the kids?”
The Ogre nodded. “Yeah, and do you think we feel loved? Do you think we know that you love us, and that you work hard to keep us fed and clothed and somewhat well-behaved?” I nodded. “So, why do you feel like a failure?”
I immediately launched into a list of all the why’s….the house topping the list, followed closely by the laundry, followed by the fact that Charlotte doesn’t know her letters, Liam doesn’t have any friends his age and gender, we’re never doing organized educational trips —
The Ogre cut me off. “Stop it. What are you doing? You’re making a list of what other people do. You’re making a list of all the ways you don’t do things the way all the people around you do. Why are you doing that? You can’t be someone else. You keep trying, and you keep having breakdowns when you fail. Why don’t you just live your vocation your way?”
He’s said this a million times, and I’ve shrugged it off a million times. I shrugged it off yesterday morning, actually, and climbed back into bed and pulled the covers over my head instead. I kept thinking about how Charlotte once nicknamed me Hulk Mommy because I lose my temper and yell so much. I kept thinking about how even though I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that my kids know I love them, I still think I’m not loving them the right way, or enough. It took the slobbery kisses of an 18-month-old to pull me out of my funk and get my head straight again.
Last night, we had to go to mass in Naples since we forgot that the afternoon masses at the university stop during the summer. We got ice cream on the way home even though the kids hadn’t had dinner. We fed them dinner, brushed their teeth, put them in pajamas, then let them go outside and set off fireworks for Mother’s Day. The Ogre and I shared a scotch and watched our kids run around barefoot in their pajamas with tiny explosives, and it felt just right.
That was an awesome Mother’s Day. It’s not something I’ve ever seen anyone else do for Mother’s Day, and it’s not something I would have thought of had we not just happened to have the fireworks. But I’m glad we did, because that’s an us kind of thing. That’s a me kind of thing.
I look around, and even though all the mothers I know are different, they all seem to do things the same kind of way. Clean house, nice furniture, curtains on the windows, kids who can read and don’t walk around singing Pink’s “Raise Your Glass”. Quiet, orderly houses, where no one is nicknamed Hulk Mommy. They read the same books and talk about how to live their vocations and when I’m in those conversations, I feel like a fraud. Like a total fake.
I realize that I’m overgeneralizing, that I’m viewing other mothers through ridiculously rose-colored glasses. Truth be told, though, I have no flipping clue what the word “vocation” means. Sure, I could give you a definition, but if I had to explain what it meant for me personally, I’d end up saying “the thing I fail at every day.” They all seem to have some kind of esoteric knowledge about what a vocation is and how to go about doing it well, and when they start discussing it I’m over here like, “yeah!…I mean, what?”
Is it really a part of my vocation to devote an hour each day to be “available” to my husband? Or to reorganize the kids’ drawers after they go spelunking through them, looking for that one Hello Kitty shirt? Or to keep the dog off the couch to teach her “pack order”? Or to start the day with catechesis at the breakfast table, after we’re all neatly dressed and ready for the day?
I’m the kind of mom who doesn’t drill her children on their catechism at the breakfast table, but instead puts on hair metal or modern rock and dances horribly around the living room, in my pajamas, without a bra. I’m the kind of mom who is hardly ever dressed and ready for the day until about 2 pm, and even then I usually just throw on clean yoga pants and pull my hair back. I’m the kind of mom who lets the dog sleep on the couch and sometimes curls up with her. I’m the kind of mom who just shuts the drawers when they get messy, and then tries to find excuses to avoid opening them again. I’m the kind of wife who regularly falls asleep on the couch before my husband even gets home from work, and who mumbles “gnightilurveyou” when he wakes me up to go to bed.
And yeah, I’m the kind of mom who loses her temper and yells at her kids, but who takes them aside minutes later and apologizes for treating them that way. I’m the kind of mom who gave Charlotte a magical bracelet after she nicknamed me “Hulk Mommy”, and promised her that if I turn into Hulk Mommy she can give me the bracelet and I will put it on and immediately go back to being regular mommy. I’m not the kind of mom who has figured out now to never again be Hulk Mommy, but I am the kind of mom who’s figured out how to keep that promise.
I’m not the kind of mom who’s going to wake up on Mother’s Day to a balanced, homemade breakfast served to her by a loving husband and doting children. I’m not the kind of wife whose husband gets all starry-eyed over and refers to as “his bride”. I’m not the kind of mom who has organized her home into a tapestry of order and tranquility.
I’m the kind of mom who gets fireworks. I’m the kind of wife who gets my ass slapped appreciatively by my husband when no one is looking. I’m the kind of mom whose home is loud and sometimes chaotic. But when I’m happy, it’s such a happy home.
I can work on virtue without feeling like every second I haven’t attained ALL THE VIRTUES is evidence of my catastrophic failure. I can live out my vocation mostly in pajamas, with pink hair and a nose ring and rock music and the occasional breakdown. It’s not all good, the way I do it, but it’s definitely not all bad, either.
I hope, over the course of the next decade, I’ll eventually end up with a clean house, nice furniture, curtains on the windows, literate children, and a deeper understanding of and appreciation for my vocation as a wife and mother. I also hope, though, that I still have pink hair and a nose ring, and that we still start our mornings with dance parties…followed by the catechism.