Have I Told You About My Gifted Children?
Lowered expectations is the key to happiness.
If you are fortunate enough to have a mother still among us, then I would advise you to show your appreciation to her on Mother’s Day. I say this to you as a daughter who loves her mother, the woman who taught me that olive-skinned girls have to be very careful about pink lipstick and that a tablecloth makes any meal formal.
If you are fortunate enough to be a mother, then I would advise you to establish a realistic expectation of your children’s ability to express the debt of gratitude they owe you - and then decrease that expectation by three quarters. I say this to you as a mother who loves her children, the people who once treated her to a “brunch” served exclusively from the vending machines at a bowling alley.
It is my sincere belief that expecting children to give the kinds of gifts that mothers truly deserve is a losing proposition. Most mothers have earned elaborate handmade cards with heartfelt prose rendered with exquisite penmanship. There should be antique jewelry and at least one sumptuous meal in their honor on that day. But what if one of us happens not to win that particular jackpot?
When my son was in second grade, he pulled a wrinkled sheet of paper out of the bottom of his backpack on Mother's Day and presented me with an acrostic poem with the word “MOTHER” scrawled vertically. Each letter was represented by a descriptive adjective meant to warm my heart. The first word was “Mammal” and the second was “Omnivore.”
These many years later, that is actually one of my most memorable gifts. However, in that moment, my expectations were misaligned with my child’s ability to be gracious. Instead of supporting what turned out to be a very accurate description of me, I cried. After all, I do have hair, nurse my young and have specially-shaped bones in my ears. In addition, I have a tendency to eat everything.
I have since learned to accept whatever gifts come my way as incredible bounty. A half-finished bag of Gummi Bears and a miniature Batmobile? That’s great! A well-handled caterpillar who is now “sleeping”? Thank you, and let’s let him finish his nap outside.
My daughter Scout once gave me four dollars and told me to get my teeth whitened. She also painted and glazed a ceramic plate for me, but devoted only half of it to Mother’s Day and the other half to High School Musical on the premise that the latter was a more inspiring artistic theme. I still have both gifts.
Little Poe has made several gifts for me at preschool, but she often instills them with such passion that she cannot give them away. The pencil holder she made from popsicle sticks, tempera paint and a soup can was certainly stunning and I understand why she decided to keep it for herself. I am content to visit it on the bookshelf in her room.
If I were a more philosophically-inclined person, I would take measure of the ways in which I inadequately celebrated my own mother when I remembered to do so at all. If I were that person, I would note that part of being a child is living in the warm blanket of unconditional mommy love. Children cannot appreciate what they cannot imagine living without.
I would pay attention to the irony of the fact that we repay our mothers by being good mothers to our children, each generation instilling a debt which is paid forward. Never is debt more willingly accepted nor more willingly offered.
However, I’m not that sophisticated. I am only a mammal and an omnivore. I don't know any better.