The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.
Why I'm Celebrating Mean Mommy's Day This Year
The first tulips of spring always bring back the dull ache of a Mother's Day disaster from when I was about 8 years old. I was playing on our block on a beautiful spring day, skipping, whistling, loving the return of the warmer weather and all it brought, when I noticed that the tree in our neighbors' front yard was now sporting a circle of the most exquisitely bloomed yellow, pink, and red tulips. Earlier that morning on our walk to school my mom had enthusiastically pointed out and expressed her love for some other floral beauties that had just sprung. It was almost Mother's Day. It seemed like kismet.
When I showed up at our front door and proudly showed my mom a colorful bouquet with ragged stems, her expression was exactly the opposite of the beaming smiles I'd seen in FTD Flowers commercials. She gasped and demanded to know where I had gotten them. After suffering through my lame claim that I found them on the sidewalk, she coaxed out a confession then instructed me to return the flowers to the neighbors.
A few months ago I told this story to my own children as a funny cautionary tale, and they’ve since asked me to repeat it over and over. This is their favorite part: when I sheepishly went to return the flowers, I dropped them on the neighbors’ welcome mat and ran back home. My mom was perched against the screen door, arms crossed when I returned.
“Did you give them back?” she asked. I nodded. “What did they say?”
When I couldn’t come up with anything, she sternly instructed me to go back and apologize to the neighbors in person. Since I couldn’t be trusted, she accompanied me to confirm that I did it right this time, watching from the sidewalk while I went up to their front door alone.
My kids giggle here, picturing their mommy as a little girl walking up the neighbor’s steps in tears, embarrassed and mad that she was getting busted for trying to do something nice. The story closes with me ringing the doorbell and giving a quiet apology and the slightly droopy flowers to our neighbor whose corners of her mouth were now droopy as well and I always throw in a little lesson for good measure, a that’s-why-we-don’t-damage-other-people’s-things nudge.
This is the kind of stuff I’d like to see on Mother’s Day cards. Sometimes moms ask us to do things we don’t want to do and speak sternly to us (some even yell, or so I've heard), but they do so out of love and a desire to help us grow up to be people they want to be around. The real mother-child relationship looks nothing like the sort depicted in the foreign language of Hallmark-ese:
“Dear Mom, When I grow up I want to be just like you,” followed by an idealized list of virtues (patient, loving, sweet, thoughtful, dependable, etc).
“A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”
Is she? Just the other day I snuck away while the kids were getting ready for bed to savor the last piece of chocolate in our house because I knew otherwise my treat-crazy children would’ve taken a few careless bites and likely left it for dead under a pile of dirty laundry.
I want to reclaim Mother’s Day and make it more real. Instead of buying into the “perfect supermom” Mother’s Day story, this year I’m celebrating Mean Mommy’s Day.
Mean Mommy’s Day means not speaking in platitudes. Instead it means focusing on specific real life interactions, big or small, regardless of whether they’re the sort memorialized on Mother’s Day cards or the incidents that would be better labeled “the day mom went crazy and threw our shoes down the basement stairs.”
Yes, being a mom is cuddling up with your sick child to read a book together, playing an epic game of tag at the park, and giving up your ice cream cone after your son drops his on the pavement; but it’s also the occasional hurry-up-ing, forgetting to pack gym shoes, under-your-breath cursing, and the refusal to play that second round of the board game the kids invented because it’s just too long and boring to endure another time.
I want my children to know that a good mother doesn’t have to put her own needs last in all circumstances. A good mother is not always patient, kind, and smiling. Rather, a good mother is a combination of all the great stuff plus the shadow side of her Mean Mommy self, that person she is when she isn’t at her best.
After years of suffering through Mean Mommy’s visits, I’m finally proud to own her as part of me. Naming her has made those shadow moments less scary and easier to recover from, because she represents a neutral way to acknowledge that it’s normal and okay to sometimes lose my cool and fall short of my best self.
Happy Mean Mommy’s Day to all the wonderful and imperfect mothers out there. May we celebrate as the loving and flawed moms we are, and may we smile knowingly at any well-intentioned Mother’s Day cards we receive with implications otherwise.