Mother’s Day started out so sweetly for me and my mom. I’ll never forget my excitement as a five-year-old in kindergarten, making my mom her surprise gift. I placed my hand on top of smooth, terracotta-colored dough while my teacher traced around my fingers with a pencil. Together, we shaped a replica of my hand so the fingers cupped up to hold an invisible something, forming a precious Mother’s Day memento.
Creating Mother’s Day gifts continued to bring me joy, but during my teen years, things changed. I seriously considered buying my mom a broomstick because of our fighting. She disliked the company I kept, but I craved independence and space from her. I began lying to my mom about where I was going to keep her off my back.
One evening, my friends and I left a restaurant before paying. It was exhilarating, at first, but the fun was short-lived. Our fellow classmates dining inside quickly identified us. Within days, we faced community service for our half-baked dine and ditch.
My mom grounded me right away. Being stuck at home provided the opportunity to apologize to her, since I knew she had been right all along. Instead, I gave her the silent treatment.
I made a few more mistakes in the years to follow before I realized I didn’t want to lie anymore. I wanted a dramatic change, so I began to follow Jesus. Despite my new beliefs, my mom struggled to trust me and old tensions returned. It was frustrating. I mean, God’s into reconciliation big time, right? Why were my mom and I still at odds?
By age 21, I was a newlywed living in a new land. My husband and I had relocated to Texas from California for graduate school. He took a pay cut at work to keep his class schedule, and we went overdraft three months in a row. I accepted the first job I could find to make ends meet. It was a customer service position in a building with no windows. For 40 hours a week, I was supposed to take phone calls from people angry about insurance claims not being paid.
During lunch break on my first day, I sat outside by myself in blistering summer heat, hiding tears on my cheeks from coworkers walking by. I was scared, and I wasn’t sure how my husband and I were going to make it so far from home.
Then my phone rang. It was my mom, and instead of pretending things were OK, I told her how I was really doing. My mom married as young as I did, so she knew a thing or two about my situation. She recounted the times my parents moved and risked job changes to make things work for their family.
“Look, I’m no Pollyanna,” she said, referencing the overly optimistic children’s book character. “Life is challenging sometimes and you have to work hard, but it gets better.”
Her no-nonsense words resonated, and I didn’t feel so alone. I started calling her weekly, craving her affirmation and survival stories.
Recently I gave birth to my first child, a sweet baby girl. Before my pregnancy, I used to complain about waking up before 6 a.m. These days I’m up at 4 a.m. to feed my daughter, and by the time she’s in bed at night, I’m so exhausted from chores and chasing her around all day I can hardly keep my eyes open. Becoming a mom is the best thing that has happened to me, but the lack of down time is numbing.
Knowing my mom underwent this same reorientation towards her child’s needs has bonded us on some deep level. We’ve had regular phone dates for ten years, but now I have a new reverence.
The two of us are still a ways off from reaching “Gilmore Girls” status — giggling and sharing deep secrets over two steaming cups of coffee. That’s just not who my mom and I are. But we do love each other, and when she calls to encourage me, I know she is proud of me and has my back.
Last year I traveled home for Christmas. All of the twinkle lights and sugar cookies must have sparked some nostalgia, because I suddenly remembered my Mother’s Day gift from kindergarten. Out of curiosity, I made my way upstairs to my mom’s room to see if she still had the old craft. I smiled when I spotted it on her dresser, between a bottle of perfume and a picture frame. My little clay fingers reaching up; my palm open.
Whitney Thompson is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas. She has written for several publications including Advocate magazine, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal, and Upper Room’s Teen Devozine.