My mom forgot my birthday. I don’t know how old I was at the time–maybe ten or eleven. I was certainly at a young enough age that birthdays still really mattered. I woke up expecting great things. Instead, no card, no gift, no cake, no nothin’. It bothered me, but it probably would have bothered me a lot more if I hadn’t been so busy doing my own laundry, something I involuntarily started when I was seven, and cooking my own food, which I started at about the same time. I remember going to school and being shocked to learn other kids’ mothers made their lunches for them. They had better lunches too, sandwiches made with real honest to goodness peanut butter as opposed to the peanut flavored spackle I had to eat. It came in a five pound tub with a plastic shovel attached to the handle. At first, I thought that was kind of neat. Hey, free beach toys. But I soon realized I actually needed the shovel because the “peanut butter” was about as smooth and creamy as asphalt. On the plus side, if I didn’t feel like eating my lunch, I could use it to fend off cafeteria bullies. And it wasn’t like that god-awful peanut butter was all I got. I always had a nice juicy graham cracker to wash it down. I’m sure the other kids were jealous, especially the one who brought a candy bar to school every day, or the other one who always had chips. I went to his house once and was amazed to discover an entire dish washer full of chips. Seriously? We didn’t even have a dishwasher, unless you count my two young hands, both scarred and blistered from constant exposure to scalding water and sharp utensils. I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not.
You’re perhaps wondering why, with Mother’s Day just a few days away, I’m dredging up all these horrible childhood memories. My therapist said it was good to get it out in the open. Besides, it’s all true. Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a tad. It’s possible my hands never actually blistered or scarred. That doesn’t alter the fact that I was doing dishes when I was barely tall enough to reach the sink. What if I ever fell in? I might have drowned. Of course, my mom never thought about that because she was too busy not remembering my birthday.
Yes, Mother’s Day is this Sunday and I want to say for the record that I’ve got the best mother in the world. I didn’t immediately come to that conclusion. It’s tough to see the big picture when you’re having discount peanut butter surgically removed from the roof of your mouth. But I do have memories beyond forgotten birthdays. I remember Mom giving up a big chunk of her summer to give her goof-off son a crash course in biology so he could pass the New York State Regents exam. I remember her playing games about anytime I asked, and reading aloud for as long as I felt like listening. Poor eyesight meant I needed all my books on audio. When I was away at college and certain books weren’t available, my mother would record the books herself and send me the tapes. I’m sure she’d say it’s what any mother would have done but I don’t think that’s true. She went above and beyond. I didn’t recognize it at the time but I certainly do now.
It started to click when I moved away and discovered I already knew how to cook. clean, do laundry and generally take care of myself. Then I became a husband and a parent. Those experiences, especially the parenting, gave me a greater appreciation of Mom’s kindness, love and patience. Both my kids adore her. When they visit Grandma, they actually ask to do things like wash windows, mop the floor, cook dinner and mow the lawn. At home, these same kids whine and complain if they’re asked to do so much as pick up their dirty socks off the floor. What makes them respond to my mother so differently? I wish I knew. My old friend, the one with all the chips, says there aren’t many people in the world he has more respect for. Well, that’s easy for him to say. She never forgot his birthday. I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!
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