Mother’s Day 2003. I was heavily pregnant with our eighth baby. When I entered the kitchen that morning I was greeted by a sink full of dishes and some homemade cards on the table, a table that needed some cleaning as well. Still in my pajamas, I put on a pot of coffee and started cleaning up the kitchen I’d been too tired to clean the night before.
I sighed; a long, heartfelt sigh that echoed off the walls of the empty kitchen. This was going to be my typical Mother’s Day; a day hardly distinguishable from any other.
I decided I would clean in the kitchen only as long as the coffee took to brew, a mind game I sometimes play with myself. Clean as long as the coffee brews. Fold laundry while I watch one television program. Set a timer and work on the junk drawer for ten minutes. When my three oldest were little it was clean while the Oak Ridge Boys’ song “Elvira” plays. Anything to make a mundane household chore a little more fun. By child number six, it was pick up as many items as your age before the television goes on.
When the coffee was done, I poured myself a cup and sank into a chair with a good book. I decided my Mother’s Day gift would be to allow myself a morning of reading. I do that too~ occasionally give myself the gift of time spent reading.
Before long David was up, followed shortly by Katie, who was three years old. Though David valiantly tried to entertain Katie and take over the parenting duties that morning, it wasn’t working. She wanted only Mommy to make her breakfast, Mommy to read to her. I finally disappeared into my office, determined to read my book, and mumbling to myself about a husband that forgets to give his wife a card on her special day, a mother who is pregnant with her EIGHTH child! Seemingly unaware of my mounting resentment, David went into the kitchen to finish cleaning up the kitchen. Unsupervised, Katie entertained herself, evidently by playing with the phone.
“This lady wants to talk to you,” she interrupted me a few minutes later, rudely shoving the phone into my face.
I hadn’t heard the phone ring. Confused, I took the phone from her.
“This is the 911 operator. Someone from your house has dialed the emergency number.”
Aghast, I glared holes into Katie’s head as I explained that our three-year-old daughter must have dialed it. Just my glare was enough to send Katie from the room screeching for her Dad. I covered up the mouthpiece to muffle the background noise of Katie’s high-pitched screech. No one could screech like Katie.
“Are you sure everything is alright?”
Yes, yes, I assured her, and then hung up, exasperated. Could anything else go wrong? And thus began the litany in my mind of everything that was wrong with my life. I was pregnant again. At age 43. I was tired. Katie was so active and demanding. She was the only child I’d ever had to fill out an incident report for in a store. Twice. She’d begun doing that awful screeching whenever things didn’t go her way. I was pregnant. And tired. And it was Mother’s Day, for gosh sakes. Where were the gifts, the breakfast in bed, the accolades for all I do as a mother?
And where the heck was David, I wondered when I wandered into the kitchen to tell him what his daughter had done. Was it too much to ask for him to play a game with Katie while I read a book on Mother’s Day? I was mollified a little when I saw the kitchen counters cleaned off and the dishes done. The side door was ajar. Had Katie gone outside? No, I saw her just then, huddled under the kitchen table. “It’s okay, Mommy isn’t mad, but you can’t be playing with the phone. You dialed the police!” She scuttled out from under the table and I hugged her, then uncomfortably crouched down to her eye level and admonished her again. “You can never dial 911. That is for emergencies only.” Just then I heard knocking at the front door. Now what? I wondered. It was barely 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I was still in my pajamas. I considered ignoring the knocking until I stood up and caught sight of a black and white car out of the front window. With lights flashing on the roof. I rushed to the front door, unlocked it and pulled it open. There stood my sheepish-looking husband holding a brown paper bag, a stern-looking policeman next to him.
“Is this your husband? We had a 911 call from this address and we were just checking to make sure everything was alright.” He warily eyed my pregnant stomach and the wide-eyed little girl cowering next to me.
I could only imagine what he’d thought; approaching the house where the call had originated and seeing a pajama-clad husband rifling underneath the seat of his car for a brown paper bag that held what turned out to be a wrinkled card and a dented box of melted caramel. After he’d explained the reason for the visit to the confused man before him they approached the porch together, where they discovered the front door was locked. Locked tight…against a crazed husband? A disheveled stranger who’d held the woman at gunpoint while she assured the 911 operator that everything was alright as they heard a child screaming in the background? The policeman wasn’t going to leave until he’d talked to the woman on the phone.
That would be me. I hastily assured the policeman that it was indeed my husband and then I pointed out the culprit of the call, the little girl with the death grip on my nightgown. I don’t know who was more relieved; the husband or the policeman who left shaking his head.
I started laughing as soon as I closed the door and saw the law officer get in his car. My husband had looked so bewildered standing there in his pajamas! What had that policeman thought was in the brown bag David was pulling from underneath the seat? A gun? And then, to find the front door was locked because David had snuck out the side door! And Katie! I’d never seen her so quiet as she realized what she had done~ she had made a policeman come to the house! (I admit I worried the power of that feat might actually cause her to do it again, but it would be years before another child dialed 911, and this time no one came to check on us. I admit I was a little disappointed in that. What if I had been held at gunpoint as I reassured a 911 operator once again that everything was alright?)
This morning begins another Mother’s Day. It is seven years later and I am not pregnant. I am not 43, either, but I digress. Before I headed downstairs I spotted a homemade greeting card that my 13-year-old Emily had designed for me last night, propped on the banister where she hoped I would see it. I enter a kitchen where the table is smaller than that table seven years ago, but still messy. I smile as I put on the coffee, then clean off the table while the coffeemaker does its’ job. I will clean only as long as it takes to make the coffee, I tell myself. I prop up the two homemade cards I’ve gotten on the clean table and joke to my husband when he enters the room that this way everyone can see just who loves me, and he laughs and tells me that is something the mother in Everybody Loves Raymond would do. (one of our favorite shows we watch together) He is right, but I do it anyway. I have eight children. There should be eight cards on that table by the end of the day, but there won’t be. Two of my boys will likely tell me “Happy Mother’s Day,” in the same breath that they ask what is for lunch, but that’s okay. Sexist or not, I don’t expect as much fanfare from my boys as I do my girls. Except for Dan, who at age 30, will likely surprise me in some way. He already gave me a framed photo he’d taken of me and Abby as an early Mother’s Day gift.
David refills my cup of coffee while I sit and read the newspaper. I chuckle when I see him wearing shoes, but no socks, with his pajamas. “My feet were cold,” he says defensively when he sees me eyeing his feet. He is so predictable. We had agreed he would not get me a present for Mother’s Day and would instead just make sure I had time alone to write this week. I smile again when he steps outside ‘just for a minute to see how cold it is.’ For years, if he bought a gift for me, he stashed it away underneath the car seat. You’d think he would have learned his lesson after the dented and melted caramel incident, but no. Once I found a card underneath the seat that he couldn’t even remember purchasing. I assume it was for me since it said “Happy Anniversary To My Wife” on it.
A couple of minutes later he returns, something held behind his back. “Happy Mother’s Day,” he says as he waves a long white envelope in front of me. It is a gift certificate to my favorite restaurant, the perfect gift for me, the mom writer who just wants some time alone to write.
“Let’s put it here,” he says later as he lays it on the table where I am making his work lunch,”So everyone knows who really loves you.”
I am amused, once again remembering that Mother’s Day in 2003, a Mother’s Day three years before David’s cancer.
Oh, David loved me back then, in his own way. And I loved him, too. But we were so bogged down in bills and babies, we didn’t always know it or feel it. There was that constant barrage inside our heads, of what was wrong in our life. That litany of complaints that kept love at bay.
But something has changed since then. During our journey together through the fire of cancer our relationship was renewed and revitalized. Now we think of all that is right with our life. Now I don’t really need the envelope displayed on the table to know or feel that one simple thing that isn’t really all that simple;
David loves me.
And I love him.
This I really know. On this day, Mother’s Day, 2010, that is enough.