HOUSTON, TX – I just got off the phone with my daughter after trying to decide on a restaurant for Mother’s Day. We settled on Mexican food. Big surprise in Houston. It has to be a buffet. Big surprise for Greeks. She’s also getting me a purse for the summer season, which lasts about six months here. It’s the only thing I need, and the first time I’ve made a specific request in a very long time.
But our conversation took me, like some weird version of Ebenezer Scrooge, back to Mother’s Days Past. My daughters would get up early to make me breakfast, always sure to toast the toast first so that it was cold and rock-hard by the time my meal was complete. Then they poured milk over a heaping bowl of a sweetened cereal they had chosen – Fruit Loops or maybe Lucky Charms – until the trademark toucan or leprechaun had drowned in a sea of colors that do not actually occur in nature and should never be deliberately ingested by anyone over seven. The orange juice was cold – and so was the coffee. But everything was scrumptious. They would gingerly carry the tray into my bedroom and stare me awake, as if I hadn’t been awake for hours, and sit on my bed as they watched me eat every bite. Every bite. We would talk and laugh, and I would punctuate our conversation with “Yum” and “Delicious.”
Then, I would open my cards: the ubiquitous stick-figure mother holding hands with her two daughters, one with brown braids and the other with a halo of blond curls, all three wearing triangle dresses. I barely looked human, but I always thanked them for making me so beautiful. I have macaroni picture frames and macaroni necklaces and macaroni wallets. When I was their Girl Scout leader, we stopped with the macaroni and crafted fun and almost useful stuff, like garden gloves garishly painted with faux manicures and dazzling bracelets and rings.
I still have everything they ever made for me. The garden gloves have long faded, and the macaroni is petrified, but the memories are priceless. I smile as I write this, and laugh as I imagine every mother who has read this pulling out storage boxes, rifling through junk drawers and venturing into hoarder closets searching for her special memories.
So what do they give me now that they are older and can afford stuff? I’m waiting for Megan so that we can go shopping for that purse I need. And I’ll stave off the temptation for chips and salsa all week so that I can eat with orexi at that storied, 40-item buffet on Sunday. She will make me a card, but we’ve come a long way from macaroni. Megan is quite the artist and specializes in three-dimensional cards that she embosses with personalized details – for me, that would be any homage to Shakespeare. They are lovely keepsakes, and she could make quite an income if she made them professionally. But she’d rather work with teens who stand on the threshold of failure and point them to another door instead.
Nicole, who lives in Tucson, AZ has given me the best gifts ever in my grandsons. But I’d like the occasional card anyway. No macaroni for her, either. In fact, no card at all. Nicole is a high school science teacher (she works with troubled teens as well), and an environmentalist. Cards kill trees. Forget that she can make them out of recycled paper. The stamps, the envelopes, the energy used/wasted to transport them a little over 1000 miles. She lives in the desert, but she has created irrigation projects and planted flourishing gardens where nothing but sand had grown before. My grandsons have worked with her since they could walk and carry a pail of something at the same time. Their current project is cleaning up graffiti in Tucson. They would have a field day in Houston! Do I miss the cards? Of course. Are her good works a better gift? Absolutely.
Like all teenage girls, Nicole’s greatest fear was that she would become her mother. And then that wonderful day when she called and admitted, “It’s official. I am YOU!” I couldn’t stop laughing, trying to imagine what the boys could have possibly done to drive her to this point. God, I reminded her, has a great sense of humor and infinite patience when it comes to delivering His punch line. So do mothers.
Unlike my mother’s generation, I don’t think about death. But right now, I am thinking about what my daughters will do with all those sympathy cards – assuming there are any. Megan will create a scrapbook to which she can refer on those anniversaries that prompt strolls down memory lane. Nicole will take her share and burn them, use the ashes as mulch in a flower garden, and think of me when she smells those gardenias. And on my tombstone, some variation of the following: “If you have done this for the least of my brethren, you have done this for me.” “To thine own self be true.” “Our mother – she taught us well.”