Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day to all the not-my-mothers!

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Unless you’ve been in a coma since stores started advertising pink stuff (right after they marked the Easter chocolate down by 75%), you know that. Hopefully, you took the opportunity to show your mother that you appreciate her. If you are a mother, hopefully, you felt appreciated. Because being a mother can be a tough task (if you’re doing it right, anyway). Those little angels start by wrecking your body as they exit, and they spend years metaphorically drinking your blood, sweat and tears – and, at least for the first little while – they can’t say thank you. In fact, until they’re about four, they don’t give a damn about you and wouldn’t say thank you even if they could. As far as they’re concerned, you’re like the sun and the moon. Up all day and all night, shining for them – it never occurs to them that it could be any different. Bridget expressed utter shock, and a healthy amount of skepticism when she found out, at the age of four, that I actually sleep. And children are expensive! The amount of money I’ve spent on wine and anti-wrinkle creams since becoming a mother could have bought me a yacht by now, I swear.

For years, Ryan did the heavy lifting when it came to making me feel good about being a mother on Mother’s Day. He still gives me a beautifully worded card, and flowers or garden trinkets, makes food and does housework – and, of course, brings home a big ol’ bucket of fried chicken for dinner because nothing tells this Beth she is loved like disgustingly, deliciously greasy food. Now, though, my girls are old enough to treat me well on Mother’s Day – and they do. They gave me fancy bath junk and flavoured teas, two lovely cards and a collection of homemade coupons for everything from dishwasher emptying and lunch-making to a spa day. I had a nice chat with my mother and my mother-in-law. I scrolled my Facebook newsfeed (yes, I’m back) and marveled at just how much people had to say about mothers. Boy, do we ever love our mothers! (Well, on Mother’s Day on social media, we do, anyway.)

Yesterday had me thinking about a different category of women, too, ones that I didn’t say anything about because I didn’t want to take Mother’s Day away from all the deserving mothers out there. I owe my mother alot. More than I’ll ever be able to properly repay. But she isn’t the only woman who mothered me. Over the years, my aunts have spent hours listening to what I have to say. They’ve offered comfort and advice and encouragement. They’ve put me up in their homes and generously shared their fine cooking with me. They’ve celebrated my milestones with me. Likewise, the mothers of my good friends. I ran in and out of their houses, grabbing snacks and making messes and staying the night more times than I can count. They schlepped me to Brownies and piano lessons and figure skating and youth group events right along with their own kids. They took the time to listen to me in a way that showed me they really cared about me – they didn’t have to, and they already had their hands full with their own family, but they did. Even their grandmothers knew who I was and welcomed me at their table right along with everyone else if I happened to be there at dinnertime. Sweet ladies who gave me a hug and kiss just as if I were their granddaughter. My mother’s friends showed up without hesitation when I called them for help (which I did more than once). My mother did the same for my friends. Many of them called her “Mom Two”, and she still asks about them when we talk. I have no doubt that if any of them turned up at her house she’d be thrilled to let them open the fridge, grab a snack and slouch on her couch like they did all those years ago.

I had a series of long-suffering babysitters. My energetic, mischievous, saucy arse surely made them question how badly they needed the money my parents gave them. Yet, they made me feel like I was one of their own children whenever I was dropped off at their house. They’re still cheering for me today, from miles away, complimenting my photos and asking about my vacations and saying “I remember you when”.

I had wonderfully involved female teachers – strong role models, all. They didn’t put up with any bullshit, but they encouraged me to think critically and question what didn’t add up and proudly express myself.

Fiona and Bridget are now benefiting from the same thing – aunts who listen to them, teach them things, make crafts with them, and watch movies with them. Their Auntie Di is even letting them use their baby cousins as test dummies on which to sharpen their babysitting skills. Great-aunts who spoil them from a distance with a little gift for every occasion. Friends’ mothers who kindly open their home to them, offering gentle discipline and encouragement and endless granola bars and popsicles. Friends of mine who rarely show up at our house without a treat for the girls, chat with them with genuine interest in their thoughts and lives, send cards and letters at Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthdays. I am certain these friends would be there for Fiona and Bridget without pause, if ever they are asked. They have had wonderful experiences with daycares of various types. The women (and, yes, they were mainly women) looking after them treated them with a tenderness and concern and emotional generosity that made it clear that Fiona and Bridget were more than just a job to them. Their teachers, from kindergarten all the way to today, have been more than just educators. They’ve been carers. Channelling Fiona’s exuberance into positive change for other students. Reaching through Bridget’s shyness to draw her out of her shell and show her how strong she really is. Taking the time to make sure neither girl is ever left behind in any subject. Finding the best in each of them, and helping them polish it to a high gleam.

Yesterday was a day for mothers, and rightly so. But today I celebrate others. Hallmark has yet to come out with cards for some of these people. I have a few suggestions:

Thank you, sixth-grade teacher, for putting an arm around my shoulder and telling me I was doing just fine in gym class when I hadn’t made a single basket in four weeks of learning basketball.

Thanks, friends’ parents, for not throwing me out of your car on the side of the highway when I led the whole backseat in yowling “There’s a Hole in my Bucket” all the way from Robert’s Arm to Springdale and back.

Sorry for my sass. You didn’t get paid enough to listen to that.

Sorry I broke your stuff even though I didn’t live in your home, and won’t take care of you in your old age.

Thanks, Auntie, for picking up the phone every time, knowing you were going to listen to God-knows-what for God-knows-how-long.

And on and on. Maybe this is more of a Thanksgiving post, but my thank-yous were already long overdue – they couldn’t wait til October. Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day, not-my-mothers!

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Motherhood is the gift.

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In case you have just emerged from a lifelong coma, let me share something with you: Mother’s Day is a big deal, y’all! We’re talking spa day big. Diamonds big. Weekend away big. You guys, there is simply nothing that shows adequate appreciation for Mom – chauffeur, chef, maid, nurse, psychiatrist, tutor, playmate, confidante, cheerleader, bankroller and everything else that is really important and would cost mega-money to purchase (but you don’t have to purchase it because Mom is such a flippin’ saint that she does it all for free). So, dig deep …. or Mom will know you’re a complete ingrate who never thinks of anyone but yourself. Of course, she knew that already, because she knows everything about you.

The above parody, as silly as it sounds, really isn’t far from the commercials that air in early May every year. Mothers are such an emotional hot-button, companies know they can wax as nauseatingly gooey as they like, and the general public will play right into their hands. Apparently, many mothers have consumed the Kool-Aid, too – the days after Mother’s Day are just behind the days after Christmas and Valentine’s Day when it comes to filing for divorce. Before Mother’s Day, many mothers hit the net, stating that they want everything from a boozy night out with their girlfriends to a star named after them, whining about the paltry efforts of their children and significant others to make the day special, grimly predicting that Mother’s Day will be just like any other day for them. After Mother’s Day, they come back to complain that it was just as they thought it would be, and that next year they’re buying their own present.

Mother’s Day has been special to me since the day our lovely Fiona made her sharp-eyed, squalling debut. I usually get flowers from Ryan, sweet little handmade whatevers from the girls, and a bucket-of-fried-chicken picnic in the park (I loves me some KFC). This year was no different. Ryan gave me a beautiful bouquet of orange roses, and Bridget chipped in with her allowance because she couldn’t think of a present herself. Fiona gave me a pea plant she planted herself in her classroom, in a decorated pot. I received some nice cards, too. I also put in an order with our two little lovelies. Breakfast in bed just doesn’t work for me, because I am almost always the first one up – and I don’t want anything to do with food until mid-morning or later. So, I told Fiona I wanted her to make me an egg – she fries them just the way I like them. I asked Bridget for a slice of cinnamon toast, because that’s her specialty. I wanted it with a side of fresh fruit, and I wanted it served at ten – not the ass-crack of dawn. I got what I wanted, and ate every bite while two pairs of earnest, eager brown eyes watched my every eyebrow twitch. The KFC picnic has been postponed due to the chilly wind and threat of rain on Sunday. That’s ok; I’ll probably appreciate it more after work one day anyway. These things are nothing big, but I love them. Little gestures of appreciation for my role in this family make me smile, year after year. If they’re all I ever get on Mother’s Day, I’m blessed. I don’t need anything big, because – honestly – when it comes to Mother’s Day, motherhood is the gift.

Yes, being a mother is hard. It’s alot of work, and sometimes it’s utterly thankless. Cleaning a house that is about to get trashed any minute now. Preparing meals that someone always has to complain about. Eating yours cold because you spent mealtime feeding the baby or cleaning up a mess. Laundry – the amazing self-replenishing mountains of laundry! Cutting toenails. Wiping spills, noses and asses. Holding them still while a doctor jabs them with a needle filled with a substance that will keep them from contracting terrible illnesses. Administering foul-tasting medicine you know they need. Being woken up from your badly needed sleep to brush away tears and fears. Trying to keep siblings from destroying each other. Doling out punishments, and ignoring the knots in the pit of your stomach as you listen to them wail. Patiently assisting while they sweat over their homework. Reassuring them, again and again, that the playground bully is wrong – they are worthwhile and intelligent and beautiful. Insisting that they take responsibility for household chores and pets and their own bad habits. Staring down their nasty attitude when they get just a little too big for their britches. Seeing the accusation in their eyes when you choose not to rescue them, in the hope that they’ll learn to rescue themselves. Saying the same damn thing, day after day after day. Sometimes, it feels like you’re shovelling snow in a blizzard. In fact, when their children are very little, alot of mothers confess that all they want for Mother’s Day is to be left alone for more than five minutes! I was one of them, I don’t mind admitting!

But being a mother is also a profound privilege. You are their safe place, their first frame of reference. They have tracked your eyes and voice since birth to understand the world around them. You are all they want when they are sick or hurt. You witness not only their obvious firsts, like steps and words, but also the first time they share voluntarily or recognize that someone else is having a bad day and offer a hug. You are the test subject for everything from their first cartwheel to their first cuss. You get all the questions, from why-is-the-sky-blue to why-did-Grandpa-have-to-die to where-do-babies-come-from. You are the recipient of bouquets of dandelions, sparkly rocks, spontaneous (if, at times, sloppy) kisses. You teach them how to cook a balanced meal, how to clean a bathroom, why you should not leave wet clothes in a plastic bag for more than a day. You share your stories with them, and enjoy their reaction. You hear their take on the world, day after day, because with you they are simply themselves. You soak in their tears and cheer with them over their victories. Until they die, they will hear your words and feel your arms encircling them, whether you’re there or not. You don’t need all that stuff. What you’ve got is beyond price. Happy Mother’s Day, all day, every day.

Year-round gifts for Daddy that don’t cost a thing!

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It is not an exaggeration to say that I’ve read about a dozen Father’s Day gift suggestion lists since mid-May. Some of these lists were humourous (Dad just wants a nag-free day and an endless parade of cold beers), and some were serious. One that was written by a father with terminal cancer was a tough read. Then, there were the flyers, which seemed to be composed by people who have way more money than me. A thousand-dollar barbeque, a TV, a ride-on mower? I thought we were talking about a Hallmark holiday, not every birthday for the next eight years rolled into one …. Since I love to share my five cents (it used to be two, but now that the penny is gone, we round up), I thought I’d make a list of my own. I know Father’s Day is over – but that’s ok, because these gifts are welcome all year long. They don’t even cost money. If your Dad hammered the concept of frugality into you like mine did, you’ll appreciate that.

From the creators of TV shows and commercials, a little credit. Dads are not all beer-swilling cretins who don’t know which end of a mop to use. Dads are not all hogging the best chair, carelessly scratching in their boxers, belching and demanding sandwiches, unsure of how old their kids are. Most dads I’ve met work hard for their leisure time, and even then they don’t get it all to themselves. They know what their kids are up to, they know their way around the kitchen – and, yes, alot of them mop. With the fluffy end.

From the retail industry, a little more love. Compare the selection of merchandaise on offer in celebration of Mother’s Day to that of Father’s Day. In May, stores are festooned with roses and hearts, and the message seems to be that mothers are angels in the flesh, sent down from heaven to heal the human race (and ensure that we all have sufficient kisses for our boo-boos and clean sheets on the bed). In June, there is a modest collection of cards tucked between the graduation and wedding cards, most of them flippant. Not that there’s anything wrong with funny cards – I’ve given and received my share of them – but surely we can have a wider selection and maybe a sign or two hanging from the ceiling. People spend significantly more on Mother’s Day than they do on Father’s Day. Yet the contributions of the average father to the average household are no less important or worthy of appreciation.

From their exes, respect and fair play. If you’re not with your children’s father anymore, there’s probably a good reason – and now you can’t stand him. But your kids adore him, because he’s their Dad and they know how much he loves them. Don’t spoil that for them. The more people who cherish a child, the better. Each person who loves your kids is a brick in a foundation that needs to be very solid, indeed, if you want them to be ok in this world. You may not like everything your ex does, and you may resent having to deal with him, but your children need him – and he’s half of them. Planting seeds of bitterness against him hurts them, too. If he’s not abusive or neglectful, if he’s doing his best to pitch in and be there for his children, save your nasty thoughts for your journal or an evening out with a bottle of wine and some good friends.

From their partners, some confidence – and space. Alot of fathers want to pull their weight in the daily grind of parenting but are repelled by the eye rolls and micromanagement of mothers. I’ve been like this at times, and I’ve seen how it undermines Ryan’s confidence. Alot of moms hang over their partner’s shoulder and coach and pester him – and they are quick to criticize if what he does is not what they’d do. Then, they complain about doing everything themselves. Maybe it’s become easier for him to stand back and watch Mom do it than it is to be shot down a minute or two into the task by an anxious hoverer. Sometimes, we are just a little overzealous in our pursuit of motherly perfection. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen …. Is it a big deal if the diaper’s on a little crooked? Does it matter if lunch doesn’t include a veggie every now and then? So what if your son’s hair is sticking up or your daughter’s wearing tights with holes in them! Don’t underestimate the value of the relaxation and variety dads bring to the kiddie table – and how nice it feels to not be the only one doing it all.

From waitstaff, caregivers, the general public and old ladies in particular, equal billing with moms. So many times, Ryan and I are both right there, and whoever’s talking to us will leave him out of the conversation altogether if it’s about Fiona and Bridget. The waiter or waitress will offer a dessert menu “if it’s ok with Mom”. Some caregivers and teachers will call our home number, my work number and my cell number before bothering with any of Ryan’s contact info. They’ll write messages just to me, even though we’ve both provided our email address. Acquaintances will ask me, not Ryan, about the girls’ food preferences, and whether they like this colour or that book. Elderly ladies will compliment me on how beautiful they are, and ask me how old they are, and say I’ve done a great job raising them because they are so polite and well-behaved. Guess what: Ryan is going halfs with me on raising Fiona and Bridget. He’s not a mildly interested observer, he’s their other parent. He wants to be included in the communication loop. He knows their favourite songs, and what shows they like to watch, and how they’re doing in French class. He knows what they like to eat, and desserts have to be ok with him, too. If they are good little girls, it’s just as likely to be something they learned from him as from me. Judging by the fathers I know, he’s not an exception, he’s the norm. How about a little acknowledgement for dads’ very big and important role in the lives and development of their children?

From their kids, a World’s Best Dad mug and a tie. Ok, these two things do cost money – I guess my title contains a smidgen of false advertising. But they don’t cost much, so maybe we’ll let it slide this time …. Anyway. I know, I know: we are often assured that Dads don’t want these things for Father’s Day. However, I suspect that this claim is sponsored by companies who make barbeques, electronics and yard gear. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink their morning jolt from a vessel proclaiming their greatness? Who wouldn’t want another classy piece of neckwear, one carefully chosen and paid for in twoonies and proudly presented by your own darling offspring? Nobody, right? I thought so.

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that there are many types of fathers and family structures out there. I may draw some flame for describing only one of them, the traditional set-up where Mom is usually the queen of the kitchen and the cleaning supplies and Dad is the bigger-money-maker and lawn-mower. This has been my experience, and I can only speak of what I know.