On Friday, Austin came home from first grade and announced he had made a card for me. He handed it over and I told him I’d put it away to open on Sunday. But the front of it was hilariously cute. On it, he’d written, “Happy!!! Mothers!!! Day!!! Mom!!!!” and drawn a stick-figure likeness of me and him. I couldn’t wait to open it.
That night, we had to go to the elementary school picnic. Of course, it was scheduled at the same time as the preschool picnic which was across the street. This seems to happen every year and was never an easy situation even when Shawn was alive. Now it’s literally impossible for me to attend both of these events at the exact same time, and of course Tommy wants to go to his preschool picnic and the big kids want to go to theirs. In any case, I got some help from friends and I made it to the elementary school picnic where Austin happily ran off to gorge himself on Pixy Stix and other forms of sugar. (Claire stayed home.)
There were seemingly thousands of people there, groups of happy families talking and laughing and generally enjoying the perfect weather. It was wonderful and it was terrible, like a lot of things these days. I loved seeing friends and getting well-wishes from acquaintances, but it was hard to see those happy families and it was exhausting to feel like I needed to put on a brave face the entire time. Eventually, Austin wanted to go home. He had ingested just a little too much sugar and had a tummy ache.
As I put him to bed that night, he stretched out his arm and held my hand. “Big day, huh baby?” I said to him.
He nodded and fell asleep. I looked at him and thought about how he was still so little that free candy and a playground still made him blissfully happy.
The next day was the start of Mother’s Day weekend. Usually, Shawn and his guy friends would take their kids for a weekend adventure, and I’d spend two days relaxing and enjoying myself with my friends. This year, those guys did the same thing again – and they brought my big kids. There was no question about whether my kids would get to go. They were coming along with all of the other kids. Forever.
That was a good feeling.
So, Saturday morning I got up early and sat with Austin in our recliner that Shawn bought just a a few weeks before he died. We cuddled together and talked about the fun he was going to have on the adventure. He was a bit quiet, and finally said, “But no grown-up from our family is coming on the adventure.”
He was, of course, talking about Shawn. This was their weekend. I looked down and saw that he was tearing up.
I told Austin that I was sad about that too. As I’ve started to realize, my kids don’t miss their dad in every moment in the same way I do. But they miss him acutely in moments like this, maybe even more intensely that I do. “Remember, Austin,” I told him, “you’re going to be with Mr. Justin, Mr. Josh and Mr. Shaffer – and they all love you like their own kids. I bet dad is up in heaven so glad that his friends are watching out for you.”
That seemed to work and I eventually was able to leave for Spa World with my friends. We hung out all day in orange jumpsuits, sweating in various sauna rooms and laughing with each other. It was wonderful. That night, we all went out to a fancy dinner, stopping first for the tequila shot we always took at the start of the night. Each year, that shot signaled that the night was for shedding our roles as moms.
It was a great night. I talked about Shawn plenty, but I laughed more than I cried. At one point, at a rooftop bar overlooking the city, I realized I’d been talking about Shawn for quite a while. I turned to one of my friends and said, “I don’t mean to be constantly talking about Shawn.”
“Marjorie,” she said back to me, “I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but I’m so glad you are talking about him. Not just for you but for us. His death was the biggest thing to happen to all of us this year. We want to talk about him too.”
That made me feel good. We all miss him. Even on a weekend when his main role was to get out of town with the kids.
That night, as I went to sleep, I thought about how easy and fun the night had been. I figured that it must have been easier than other major life event nights (like my birthday) because Mother’s Day was not a day that I actively celebrated with Shawn.
Sunday morning, I woke up to silence. I felt peace for a few minutes, and then missed my family – all of them. I decided to open the cards the kids had given me. They were all adorable, and I saved Austin’s for last.
I laughed once again at the outside of the card (“Happy!!! Mothers!!! Day!!! Mom!!!!”) and then I opened it up. Inside he had written, “I love you for tacking kare of me and if Dad was allive I wod love him to.”
Oh. And there it was. The 7-year-old script punched me in the gut. He must have made it at school, dutifully drawing pictures of me and him together, thinking of how he could best tell me that he loves me with all his heart. But he didn’t want to leave dad out and he wanted to make sure that I knew that. He’s still always thinking of dad.
Dad is missing on Mother’s Day, and it shouldn’t matter, because Mother’s Day is about me.
But it’s really not. Mother’s Day is about family. Even if – like me – all you ever want on Mother’s Day is to do nothing with your children, it’s still about family. In the past, Mother’s Day was about the love my husband showed to me by giving me some space. It was about giving me a full weekend free of everything that overwhelmed me – even if that meant I was also away from everything that meant anything to me.
Mother’s Day is about hilariously funny and meaningful cards, written out in loopy kid handwriting and decorated with glitter. Mother’s Day is about knowing your spouse will take the load for this one weekend, even if you usually take the brunt of it at other times. Mother’s Day is about honoring that role that mom plays – one that, for me and many of my friends, was played alongside Dad.
But this year, Mother’s Day is different. I’m not going to sugar coat it – it’s been hard in many ways the past few days. And yet, my kids still made me cards that are honest and thoughtful. My dad still made me breakfast and my male friends still took the kids away for the weekend. I still took that obligatory tequila shot and laughed with my mom friends.
Happy and sad together, that’s Mother’s Day this year. Just like Austin’s card, nothing is straightforward anymore. Maybe it never will be. Maybe the complicated mix of emotions will always be there and maybe I’ll never have the same Mother’s Day that my friends still have each year. But – my kids and I will figure it out together. Because that’s what Moms do.