The awkward wonder of Mother’s Day

As a kid in kindergarten, I used to pick flowers for my mom from front yards on my several block walk home. She loved the sentiment but gently stopped me from destroying our neighbors’ gardens.

Mother’s Day is similarly wonderful and awkward. It’s a day of hastily scribbled notes on tacky store-bought cards. It’s a day of unrecognizable sculptures put together in preschool and given bashfully or proudly as if handing the world back to mom.

If the things done for and said to moms on Mother’s Day were a form of currency given in exchange for all the things moms say and do over the course of the year, then it’s a pretty bad exchange rate and moms are getting seriously ripped off. But it’s not. There’s no accounting in this equation, no attempts at equity.

Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, wrote a poem about going to summer camp and thoughtlessly weaving a lanyard which he later gave to his mother. In the poem, he writes of the humorously unbalanced economy of mothers and their children, Here’s an excerpt from the end of the poem:

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Collins ends the poem with a wonderful twist:

And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift — not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

And that is the true beauty of Mother’s Day, isn’t it? It’s not the quality of the gifts given to mother’s everywhere, expressing love back to them after all they’ve poured out. It’s the continuing quality of the love that moms never stop to give to their children that in some wonderful heavenly alchemy turns our humble and halting expressions of love into gold.