In the past, it often seemed Mother's Day should be called "Grandmother's Day". I have four children, but it was a rare moment when the spotlight shone on me. The why of that is something I've gradually come to understand, but in 2007, I had no idea.
I have three siblings, and one lives quite close, but I always felt holidays were my responsibility. My children gave me cards and wished me a happy day, and I was and am grateful for all of them. Still, I spent Mother's Day and the days leading up to it cleaning, worrying, and waiting for it to be over. I made reservations for brunch, and invited my parents, mother-in-law and my brother's family to my house, afterwards. I had snacks and dessert. I had a nice, mushy card for my mom, as well as a small gift.
My parents like to play cards. It's not my favorite activity, but that's what we did because it's what my parents expect and it was Mom's day, after all. My father was cranky because he prefers to choose which game we play, and my parents rarely agree on one. But Mom picked and we went through the day on a decades-old script that none of us knew how to stray from.
Except, my kids don’t follow a script. Between card games, my fourteen-year-old son announced that he was thinking about getting a summer job. He was looking for input as to what kind of job he could get and how he would get back and forth.
My mother looked to me and asked, "Isn't he too young to get a job?"
I said, "I had a job when I was fourteen."
Dismissively, my mother said, "Oh, you had babysitting jobs."
I started babysitting when I was eleven, but at fourteen I found a "real" job, working at a low-budget department store.
"Oh you did not. I don't think it's even legal for children that young to work."
I said, "Well, I had one. I worked in the summer, and also after school and weekends all through high school."
We went on to play more cards. When they were heading out the door I hugged my mom and told her Happy Mother's Day again. After everyone left, I cleaned up the kitchen, got my youngest to bed, and finally began to relax a little myself.
The next morning, after I took the kids to school, I checked my email. I found one from my mom, and opened it, assuming it would be some kind of thank you. In all honesty, I probably rolled my eyes because I felt resentful that I "had no choice" in what I did for holiday.
But this email had not been sent to thank me. Instead, the short and angry note informed me that I had "ruined" her Mother's Day. It took several back-and-forth emails and phone calls to discover that she was angry because, by saying I had a job at fourteen, I had implied that they were bad parents. That rather insignificant conversation was the only thing Mom remembered from a day spent in her honor.
How strange that of all the things that have happened in my life, this is the event that pushed me to finally look around and see if anyone else had answers I didn't. I'd been running in circles to do everything my parents wanted me to do for more than forty years, and it was simply not working. I constantly felt pressured and unhappy, and I was much too focused on finding the correct answer, the one action or response that would make my parents love me, and consequently, make me feel whole.
It took a couple of days to get the nerve to tell my husband that I was going to seek professional help. I was afraid he'd be angry, or disappointed, or would reject me. This is unjustified because my husband has always been my biggest cheerleader, but I projected my own anxiety and my parents' attitudes onto him.
His response surprised me.
I am still not sure, why. At first I thought it was because I was failing. It felt like failure to me. After all, I was supposed to come up with the answers myself, right?
The next day, I started looking for a therapist. I had no idea what to look for. I researched online for hours, but ended up randomly picking one and emailing him to ask for an appointment. The following week, the world began to unfold in new and unexpected ways.