“For you, Mumma,” said Becky. It was almost Mother’s Day circa 1991 and she’d just finished her first “uptah camp” breakfast of the season: a Pop Tart skillfully warmed in the toaster oven, our favorite appliance, and handed to her on a paper plate by her big sister. She placed before me a handmade gift which, as usual, was a cross between art and nature and full of kid folklore. This offering was a human image, hand-carved onto glistening paper in shades of neon.
“Ooooh, it’s nice honey! Who is it?” I had to ask.
“It’s you Mumma, you in your bathrobe. Happy Mother’s Day!” How could I not have known? The pointy little head atop the pear-shaped silhouette fringed with hair spikes. The zipper extending all the way down to the crow-like feet. Nobody, not even myself, could ever see me for who I am like my family.
A year or two later, our local paper began running short stories entitled “My Mom” submitted by school children. I remember reading with amusement (and trepidation) some of the sentiments the little nippers thought proper to fit into three or four sentences:
“My Mom has curly hair and green eyes like mine. She works in an office. She likes ice cream.”
“My Mom used to clean house a lot, but now ladies come in a special truck and do it for her.”
“My Mom is a nurse and she takes care of sick people. I am proud of my Mom. Sometimes she gets grouchy around suppertime. She works real hard and needs help. Her hair was gray until she turned it back to brown.”
That was the year Becky’s kindergarten did a similar synopsis, published on a huge scroll of craft paper. “What does your Mom do?” the teacher wrote at the top. The list she transcribed in huge magic marker letters ranged from little kid stream of consciousness drivel about their maternal care givers to the generic “My mom cooks, vacuums and watches Oprah Winfrey.” Somewhere along in the middle was Becky’s response: “My mom goes to Hannaford and types on the computer.” (My circa 1993 priorities in a nutshell, and in the right order, too.) Yup, and in between all that shopping and word crunching, I managed to slap together a few thousand sandwiches, watched her stage debut as a raccoon, and had the alphabet song emblazoned across my brain.
“What would you write about your mother for the newspaper?” I asked Helen. I figured, at age nine, her seniority would afford greater depth of vision.
“Hmmm…I’d write that you love camp, and Dad, and us, and Eric Clapton, but you hate Easter grass…and that you have exactly the same color eyes as mine, only redder.”
So much for aged wisdom! “Nobody has asked you to write anything for the newspaper, have they honey?” I asked, suddenly deciding that was the year I’d settle for magic marker immortalization and hope the media would not be interviewing my offspring. She’d given me my day in the spotlight though when, at age 5, Helen used all her crayons to win the Mother’s Day art contest sponsored by (you guessed it) Hannaford. “My Mom is special because she cares so much about me” it proclaimed to all ‘neath a butterfly-adorned rainbow. No Mommy stick figure to further distinguish me that year, just a short, sweet, primary-colored sentiment posted in the window above checkout aisle 3. And that, plus the $100 grocery gift certificate, was as good as it got back in 1988. Course that was BC (Before Computers), way before I could snap a pic with a smart phone and broadcast my celebrity status to everyone drawing breath. And my babies couldn’t begin texting me as soon as they got manual dexterity and an unlimited family roaming plan either. We didn’t have the wherewithal to universally “like” our kids, to plaster their Facebook walls with little heart emoticons, or to instantaneously show how smiley-faced we were over their ability to share a perfect digital rose postcard with us and 65,312 other one-of-a-kind, “truly soul inspiring” Moms. Back then we had local papers capturing middle class motherhood small-town-America-style, and TV commercials showing kids what they should buy at JC Penney to make Mom look extra special when they took her to dinner at Friendly’s. But, even back in 1988 BC, I do remember attaining some notoriety with my own low-tech social media campaign. “My daughter drew that,” I’d point out to any shopper who happened to wheel past checkout aisle 3. “For me.”
It’s antique artwork now, preserved, framed and hanging above the desk in the upstairs hallway where I store my other Mumma memorabilia. There’s a folder of handmade cards in the top drawer that still gets my attention, even if I’m only rooting around for a pencil. Stuffed full of toddler scrawls, sophisticated custom hallmarks, and everything in between, it holds my personal dog-eared history as seen by my next of kin. Looking back through it all now, I’m glad my daughters took notes, reporting without censure and with a flair for vivid color. Over time, their Mother’s Day messages tracked who I was, how I hoped to be seen, and where I was in my work/life balance spectrum.
“Happy Mother’s Day to the best darn technical writer in the world!” Becky wished me circa 1998 with a creation she printed off our state of the art 300 DPI color printer. It featured a clip art rendition of me, lounging on the beach, snorkel in one hand and pina colada in the other, enjoying the fruits of my new profession with a family vacation. At the time, I remember feeling equally as proud that she put “happy mother” and “technical writer” in the same sentence as I was of the fact that she’d mastered PowerPoint and fancy fonts in the limited time I allowed her to boot me off the home PC.
“Here’s so you can spend Mother’s Day with your favorite people!” Helen proclaimed artfully in another memorable Mumma folder moment. It was during my Mustang years and, with just a bit of help from PhotoShop, she’d morphed our extended family (here and long gone) into my new red convertible along with me and Bono from U2.
After reaching that high-tech pinnacle, the girls’ greetings gravitated away from glitz and back to homespun, to simpler pictorial essays about being my grown-up daughters. Some were spoken, some printed on PostIt notes, some filled all available space in the “blank inside” store bought cards. Each told a tale of love and support, of silliness and adventure, of my special brand of mothering. And the best ones—the ones that said it all—were just words whispered, from younger women to their older one.
“I think you’re beautiful, Mumma,” Becky said softly. We were sitting side by side on the couch the other night and I’d just made one of my more candid body image confessions. I had to laugh at myself and the fact that, after all these years and all her heart-felt affirmations, most days I still couldn’t bring myself to agree. While I’m glad her image of me progressed from those early zipper-bodied, crow-footed impressions she had when she was four, I still need her mirror to show me at my best—to convince me I’m less Dilbert caricature and more classic da Vinci.
It’s been 30 years now since I received my first Mother’s Day card. It was from Tom, who promised me he couldn’t imagine anyone else being the mother of his children. I remember resting the card atop my hugely pregnant belly, crying a few estrogen-fueled tears, and imagining that maybe, hopefully, he was right. And now, thanks to Crayola, HP, and my two lifelong travel correspondents, I have plenty of evidence.
Happy Mother’s Day!
For more Mother’s Day messages, see: