For me, Mother’s Day is a double-edged sword, as the joy of celebrating mothers is a bit lost on me. I see others making plans with their moms, writing, Skyping or ringing them up the old-fashioned way–by phone. I see them taking their mothers out for brunch or dinner, and allowing them the much-needed time to put up their feet for a day and relax. Ahh! Even my own, grown-up kids have sent me flowers and told me how much I mean to them. My son, Josh, has finally proclaimed in a card that I am “The best mom around!” Exclamation point and all. Which means, I am no longer just probably the best. Good news, indeed!
But here’s where the double-edged sword comes in: None of these things can I do for my own mother. I cannot make plans with her nor can I pick up the phone and call her. Not since she passed away 17 years ago.
For Mother's Day, my son has been honoring his abuela's memory by giving me a bouquet of tulips. Which means, he knows the way to his mother's heart.
And yet, I can think of tulips. For when I think of my mother, Mary, I think of tulips. These were her favorites, and every year she’d make me plant them with her in our garden. Using a trowel to carve out holes in the soil, I’d push the tulip bulbs deep into the earth. And all the time I’d be sneezing and wheezing, not realizing that the pollen and grass were giving me massive allergy attacks, and that the garden was no place for someone as allergic as I am to the outdoors. But I did it for my mother, who loved to see the flowers in full bloom.
Giving her joy was something I lived for. One of my favorite things to do was to wait until she’d gone to bed, then sneak downstairs, into the kitchen and give it a good scrubbing. I’d mop the floor and wipe the counters. I’d organize the papers, mail, and magazines that she and the rest of us had accrued throughout the day, and had left scattered on counters, the kitchen table, you name it. I’d stay awake until two in the morning to make sure the kitchen was perfectly gleaming for when she shuffled in early in the morning to prepare my father’s coffee.
There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her. For Mother’s Day, I’d save my babysitting money to buy her cologne from Kresge’s, a blouse from Gertz Department Store, or a ceramic butter dish from Fortunoff’s, with a cow smiling from atop the lid. I’d bake Spritz cookies, the only cookies that I learned to bake in Home Economics class, and sprinkle them with sugar. Yes, I’d do anything for one of my mother’s smiles.
She was always so busy throughout the day, taking care of the needs of four kids and our father. She wouldn’t sit down, except to watch The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on weeknights and Saturday Night Live on the weekends. Johnny Carson and Gilda Radner made her laugh. My memory of my mother is of her watching these shows with a large stack of newspapers at her side, the only time she got to read. She’d look for stories of possible interest to her children, and she’d clip and mail them to us. During one year in college, I accumulated well over 100 clippings and I read each one. Human interest stories, articles about current events, celebrities, and hometown news. Long before the Internet, my mother’s clippings were my lifeline to the world beyond my university campus.
On vacation with my mother in Atlantic City, circa 1962.
I would do anything for my mother and yet I feel as though I took her for granted. I assumed that she’d always be there for me when I needed her—to talk, to offer advice, to share her family stories on summer vacations, and to cook our favorite Venezuelan dishes. But she’s gone now and I can never get back our time together. Gone with the wind, in a fleeting, blink of an eye.
Some of you will understand how I feel on this particular day. For everyone else, I hope you will take a moment, and please hug your mothers. Tell them how much you love them, not just today, but everyday. You should know, you should really know, just how lucky you are!
So, Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere! As for me, today I’m celebrating with my family, including my dear cousin, Roxanna, who has also lost her mother.