Originally published on May 10, 2017 and updated on May 8, 2022.
Each day we move a little closer to the sidelines of their lives, which is where we belong, if we do our job right.
— Anna Quindlen
Thirty years ago, the New York Times published a Mother’s Day story by Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen called The Days of Gilded Rigatoni. As a child, I had spray painted my fair share of pasta, so I understood the reference…
They are not long, the days of construction paper and gilded rigatoni. That’s why we save those things so relentlessly, why the sisterhood of motherhood, those of us who can instantly make friends with a stranger by discussing colic and orthodonture, have as our coat of arms a set of small handprints executed in finger paint.
Reading Quindlen’s story as a new, young mom, I didn’t grasp that my children saw me as the center of their world, as somehow perfect, and how fleeting those days would be…
The Mother’s Day that means something, the Mother’s Day that is not a duty but a real holiday, is about the perfect mother. It is about the mother before she becomes the human being, when she is still the center of our universe, when we are very young.
When raising children, the saying goes “the days are long, but the years are short” and as my children grew with their stints in theater, lacrosse, choir, hockey, swimming, skating, skiing, art, reading, writing, and arithmetic, I grew right along with them, navigating the paths of motherhood and career…
It has become commonplace to flog ourselves if we are mothers, with our limitations if we stay home with the kids, with our obligations if we take jobs. It’s why sometimes mothers who are not working outside their homes seem to suggest that the kids of those who are live on Chips Ahoy and walk barefoot through the snow to school. It’s why sometimes mothers with outside jobs feel moved to ask about those other women, allegedly without malice, “What do they do all day?”
As moms, dads, and caregivers, we make mistakes. My children certainly could share plenty of mine.
One story that stands out was the day I heard “I DON’T WANT STINKIN’ PEANUT-BUTTER TOAST!” one too many times. Running late, in the car on the way to school, I rolled down the window and expertly “Frisbee’d” it out, then said, “There’s your peanut butter toast.”
After dropping my daughter off at school, I called my dad and told him what I’d done. He said “Well, you’ve always been good at Frisbee,” and “Motherhood is not for wimps. It takes moxie.”
Yes. Motherhood. A brilliant mix of perseverance, naiveté, and humility…
And amid that incomplete revolution in the job description, the commercial Mother’s Day seems designed to salute a mother who is an endangered species, if not an outright fraud. A mother who is pink instead of fuchsia. A mother who bakes cookies and never cheats with the microwave. A mother who does not swear or scream, who wears an apron and a patient smile.
Not a mother who is away from home on a business trip on Mother’s Day. Not a mother who said “You can fax it to me, honey” when her son said he had written something in school and is now doomed to remember that sentence the rest of her miserable life.
Not an imperfect mother.
Not a mother who Frisbees peanut butter toast.
Then, one day, I turned around and my children were 29 and 26. Even though I was there as it happened, I still feel somehow surprised…
Each day we move a little closer to the sidelines of their lives, which is where we belong, if we do our job right. Until the day comes when they have to find a florist fast at noon because they had totally forgotten it was anything more than the second Sunday in May. Hassle city.
You are a perfect mom. Stock up on time with your little ones and ride the wave into the future as your children slowly discover your humanness.
They will love you just the same.
Just for a little while, they believe in the perfect mom — that is, you, whoever and wherever you happen to be. “Everything I am,” they might say, “I owe to my mother.” And they believe they wrote the sentence themselves, even if they have to give you the card a couple of days late.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Quindlen, A. (1991). The Days of Gilded Rigatoni. Public & Private. The New York Times. Retrieved 4/7/22. https://www.pulitzer.org/winners/anna-quindlen