One of my worst mothering moments took place in about 1990, when my daughters were 10 and 6. They were very busy all day working on my Mother's Day present in my older daughter's bedroom, and when they finally came downstairs in the late afternoon they were giggly with excitement, eager to give it to me. Turns out they had created a puppet show, and they crouched behind the living room couch with their hand-made puppets acting it all out. I don't remember much about the plot or the principals, only that the show went on for a long long time, and I was, to my embarrassment, annoyed and disappointed. What had I hoped they were working on upstairs with such delight? Something I could wear? A poem about the wonderfulness of me? Whatever I had hoped for, I hadn't gotten it, and I remember trying to keep my disappointment to myself yet managing to make it clear to my beloved daughters that I was less than thrilled by their gift.
What I would give now to have that moment back, to return to that period in our family life when my girls were little, growing and generally thriving, when the stress was sometimes profound but the joys were even more so.
After that Mother's Day I took matters into my own hands a bit, declaring it a gifts-free day when all the girls had to do was whatever I wanted—which generally meant a trip to an art museum. Now they're both in their 30s, both living in the same city as we do, and Mother's Day has grown up. Last year we spent it in my 88-year-old mother's hospital room, sitting around in the patients' lounge staring at the sparkling East River and yearning to get outdoors. My two daughters were there, too, to be with their ailing grandmother. They rescued Mother's Day for me by staying with us even after we left the hospital. We all took a water taxi to Brooklyn and walked around Williamsburg together, and I felt lucky.
No hospital visits this year, and my mother is still alive and well enough to come to brunch, where she'll be meeting the parents of the young man who's about to marry our younger daughter. I expect it to be a good one, now that I've learned the lesson of that Mother's Day almost a quarter-century ago: With children, you can't come with expectations; you can only be there with them in the moment, and follow their lead.