Thursday, May 17, 2012

Swim Lesson: What I've Learned About Mother's Day

Swim Lessons are lessons I've learned from being a single mom that are encouragement to other single parents, and as it turns out, married parents too! The biggest lesson is, as Dory from Finding Nemo says, "Just keep swimming!" The rest are nuggets of truth I've learned along the way that made the difference between drowning and survival.

You'd think I would have learned to stop expecting big things long ago after my attempts at blowout boy-girl birthday parties in middle school were an epic fail, but I haven't.

I want to feel special. I want to be recognized for everything I do. I want them to know how much I care. Do my kids know the way I strategically try to set them up to succeed with everything I do? Do they know how much effort I put into hiding veggies in their food so they get the nutrients but still get to eat something they "like?" Do they really understand that from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I sit down in the evening I never stop? Do they know that even though they aren't babies I still hear every sound they make in the night, that I go in most nights after they're asleep and check on them? Even with every flower I plant in the yard and every time I wipe the counter top, my goal is that we will have a lovely, welcoming place they call home.

But sometimes it goes beyond that and into the frustration and the selfishness I feel with every sweaty sock I peel out of the couch in the living room, and every pair of underwear that didn't make it into the laundry basket. I find that bitterness in the slime I scrub off the kitchen chairs and the insane amounts of trash and crumbs I clean out of my car. Seriously, where does it come from? It's like they manufacture filth!

It would be a gross understatement to say that I was under appreciated in my first marriage. I honestly don't remember if anything was done for me my first Mother's Day. Though I was given a spa gift certificate for my second Mother's Day, complete with a pregnancy massage since I was carrying Alec at the time, I was fully expected to make up for the time I missed when I got home. After a lovely morning at the spa with tea, massage, facial and pedicure, I was welcomed home to a husband on the couch playing video games and a child who'd been left in his exersaucer for God knows how long who was severely in need of a diaper change (the expectations didn't stop there). Wouldn't it have been more "fair" for me to come home to a pristine home, lunch awaiting me, and baby already down for his nap so I could continue my relaxation? Sure, but I do remember my own mother teaching me early on that life isn't fair.

My third Mother's Day I was freshly separated, my two young children and I living with my parents while facing impending single motherhood. I expected extra care and sympathy that Mother's Day, especially since my children were so young and probably hadn't planned to make me breakfast in bed. I don't mean to imply that my family didn't do enough to show their love for me in any way. They completely supplied food, shelter, diapers, free childcare and so much more to me as I struggled to establish myself as a working mother and get on my feet (which took another year and a half). In my family, we all get together at someone's home for a potluck cookout, and generally all the women make sure that all the other women get cards, baked goods and something from their kids. I guess I just expected a little something more, you know, since I was the unfortunate one. Shouldn't I have gotten some giant gift card to purchase an entire professional wardrobe I didn't have for this new scary job I was going to have to get? I failed to see the $20 gift card to Borders from my sister-in-law (with a promise of free babysitting so I could get away for an hour or two to get "me" time) as the enormous act of kindness that it was. My mother even made sure to give each of my children a bag of Bath and Body Works products to give to me so I wouldn't be empty handed. Even then I was still bitter, as if I, above any of the other well deserving woman in my family, deserved to be treated like a queen.

The next year, I was long into single motherhood and single mom dating, and living on my own. I had worked extremely hard to establish myself in my own home, with no debt, and without having to ask for money from anyone. I was fresh out of a terrible (and in retrospect, terribly embarrassing) breakup, and felt more alone and on my own in motherhood than I ever had. I decided I deserved a nice breakfast and forced my kids to go to Mimi's Cafe and had to endure stares and even comments from others about how unruly my kids were and how I ought to do better at keeping them in line. I ordered a mimosa to shut them out. I then showed up to my family get together, and again was so bitter I actually made ugly comments to others about how moms with husbands get better treatment on this holiday. I'm ashamed at how bitter I was that day, allowing my own disappointments and sadness to dampen the simplicity of such a special holiday.

My first year into my second marriage (I guess we weren't actually married last year, but might as well have been) I expected a LOT from my new man. I thought surely he would do something akin to hiring a host of servants to feed me grapes and fancy cheese and fill my champagne glass while I sunbathed. Instead, I weeded the flowerbeds while he took the kids to pick out small gifts for me, and proceeded with my normal chores. I have since learned that this was how he was raised. I'm not his mother, and he was under the impression he had done just what was expected of him. I since have boo-hooed to him and explained that the one day of the year I would like to sit down and relax and not be expected to cook, clean or discipline is Mother's Day. This year was much better (breakfast in bed and him fielding the "mommy mommies," throughout the day), though no array of servants or fancy cheeses.

So, here's what I've learned about Mother's Day, or any other day of the year I might feel the itch of entitlement: Expectation is the silent killer. The minute you begin imagining how things should or ought to be, you're in trouble. Mother's Day, birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day and anything else is just like the rest of life. It's what you make of it.  If you're not makin' honey, you'll get stung by the bees! You have to simply appreciate it for what it is, and if there are more special things you want, do them for yourself! If you don't want to clean for a day, don't! Either get all your chores done before that day so you can relax, or make a decision to not be annoyed with clutter for a day. If you don't want to cook, treat yourself and your family to breakfast out, even if it's McDonald's. If you want a spa day, save up and buy it yourself.

Just be sure to wear your handmade jewelry when you go.

And if you really want to feel special, be sure to go out of your way to make your own mother and the other mothers you know feel like queens. Giving and kindness taste a lot better than bitterness. I promise.

Love and Honey,

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