The second Sunday in May has become progressively harder for our family in recent years. Since my mother’s death six years ago, it’s been a hard day for me personally, and as the kids have grown older, their questions, thoughts, and fantasies surrounding their birthmothers have started to get a bit more complicated. This is then all compounded by the many projects that the kids are expected to complete at school in honor of the upcoming holiday.
Sometimes, things go well. Last year, our daughter’s kindergarten teacher and our son’s preschool teacher pulled us aside to ask how we thought they should approach Mother’s Day. Our daughter has occasional contact with her mom, so she typically has made something mailable for her, and our son chose to honor his friend’s mom, mostly I think because was too young to truly care about the import of the celebration (although the mom he chose is pretty awesome).
This year, both our kids’ public school teachers contacted us to find out how they should approach the issue. Our daughter again chose her mom, and her first grade teacher said they’d be doing some writing and she could mail this along with a small gift the class is making. Last night, I sat our son down to remind him that we don’t know where his birthmom is and that if he made something for her, we wouldn’t be able to get it to her. I reinforced the idea that she still loves him, as I’m sure she does, and then we started listing off all the moms in our life that love him that he could celebrate. Finally, he said he’d like to choose his foster mom, a lovely woman who cared for him–along with her husband, their own three children, and a bevy of other foster children–for the first year of his life. He has only seen this woman two or three times in the five years since he moved in with us, and it’s been a few years since her most recent visit. For some reason though, she was on his mind, and he became settled on her. His teacher welcomed the alternative and will work it into her plans.
Then today, both kids came home from their once-a-week after school care with potted plants that they were supposed to give to their mothers. The two teachers who run this program are lovely, and they know full well that our kids don’t live with their moms. When I pushed the kids to talk about how it all went down, they said there really wasn’t any talk of alternative recipients. In fact, when I picked the kids up, the teacher said, “Oh, don’t forget the Mother’s Day plants the kids did!” I decided to just brush it off, but then it all came to a head when I pulled in the driveway with the kids later tonight.
My husband is stuck at school late for the next few nights, so I’m solo parenting, and of course that’s when the really hard conversations come up with the kids for some reason. When we got home tonight, the kids started talking about mailing their potted plants to their birthmoms. We hadn’t even left the car yet, so I turned the engine off and reminded our son that we didn’t have an address for his birthmom. He shrugged it off as though he had merely forgotten and moved on with whatever next thought was buzzing around his nearly six-year-old brain.
Then I told my daughter that we can’t really mail a potted plant. She started to get really upset, nearing tears. She said there was a second potted plant in her backpack with soil and seeds she’d planted for her mom that she put together in Girl Scouts today. She started yelling at me, asking why her teachers had her make these pots if she couldn’t give them to her mom. Her confusion broke my heart. “It’s your fault. You need to talk to my Girl Scout leader!” She’s right to a certain extent. I should have had the forethought to touch base with the mom who runs Girl Scouts and the after-school teaching team, but honestly, we’ve become such a fixture in this community that I really didn’t think anyone would do a Mother’s Day-specific activity without touching base with us first. Obviously I was wrong.
I calmed my daughter down, and told her we should go inside to talk some more. I threw my son in the shower, and sat down with my daughter on her bed. I took a deep breath, and improved a bit:
“You know my mom is gone right?”
“She’s dead. I know.”
“You know that my mom was really sick. She was addicted to alcohol, and she couldn’t stop drinking it even though it’s the reason she died.”
“Sometimes I used to wonder if she really loved me. I used to think if she really loved me she’d stop doing it because if she didn’t stop doing it she was going to die and that didn’t seem like something a mom who loved her son would do.”
“Did she love you?”
“She did. I know that now. It still hurts me to think about it though. And your mom is in a kind of the same spot. She is addicted to drugs.”
“What are drugs?”
“It’s like medicine that’s really bad for you, but some people take it and then they can’t stop. That’s part of the reason your mom couldn’t take care of you and gave you to us. And that’s also why we don’t really hear from her that often and why we don’t ever see her.”
“Why can’t we go walk the plant to her?”
“Because we don’t know her like that. We know that she loves you and that she’s trying to take care of herself, but we’re not in a place right now where we can visit with each other. I know that probably makes you feel sad; it makes me feel sad too.”
“I love my mom.”
“I know you do kiddo, and she loves you too. Just because she’s not healthy enough to see you or be a part of your life doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you.” I paused for a moment. “Come with for a second. I want to show you something.”
I led her by the hand to our guest room where my husband has been housing two massive agapanthus plants through the winter.
“Do you know why we have these?”
“Poppy waters them.”
“Right, but he planted them and grew them because they remind me of my mom. She always loved agapanthus and even though they don’t really grow around here, Poppy did this so that I’d have something to remember her. Whenever I look at them, I think of her and how much I love her and how much she loved me. I was thinking we could do something like that with your plants. How about if we plant them in the garden, and then you’ll have a place you go to think about your mom whenever you want to. You could even write her a letter and tell her about it and send her a picture of it or something.”
“Can we do that? This weekend?”
“We can. Poppy will help us. And your brother can even do one for his mom.”
“Can I go tell him about the plan?”
And she ran off to tell her brother about the gardening extravaganza this weekend.