The Cruel Joke That Is Mother's Day

by Jill Smokler
Originally Published: 
mother's day

Once a year in May, there is that glorious day celebrating all things motherhood. The day we finally get to sit back and not lift a finger and bathe in the accolades our loved ones shower upon us. The day when we get a year’s worth of recognition for all the sacrifices we’ve made and appreciation for all the little things we do. When we get to relax and breathe in and not spend the day cleaning or overseeing or decision-making, or…not.

It turns out Mother’s Day is the episiotomy of motherhood. It’s supposed to be for your benefit, but you’re the one making all the sacrifices.

Of all the lies of motherhood, I think this one might be the cruelest. I feel so sorry for new mothers, who tend to look forward to their first Mother’s Day with their newborns with the same anticipation they had for the actual birth of their children. I’ve been there, and my own visions of photo ops, adorable clothing, and an outpouring of appreciation were quickly squashed with the harsh reality that there are no days off in motherhood—especially in year one.

Somehow, instead of a day spent lounging on the couch with our hands down our pants like our male counterparts on their day, Mother’s Day has turned into yet another day where we are expected to work our asses off.

In the best of Hallmark worlds, ours is a day filled with brunches, bouquets of flowers, and homemade gifts. Super, but who is going to make the actual reservation for brunch? And who is going to spend the morning struggling to get the kids dressed in clean clothes that fit? And who is going to be stuck changing the water in that flower vase for the next several days? We are, that’s who! Mother’s Day gives new meaning to the word motherf*cker. We’re the ones getting f*cked.

How about breakfast in bed? Such a sweet notion in theory, but in actuality, it’s the worst gift a child can give. Let’s let the kids loose in the kitchen while we’re still asleep, oblivious that the house is about to burn down! Perfect! One year, Lily presented me with a plate of toast and some sliced berries. The cinnamon-sugar toast was edible, I was delighted to discover, and I gratefully ate it. Could have been so much worse, I thought, as I debated turning over some cooking responsibilities to my little chef.

Until I went down to the kitchen and discovered what looked like World War III. There was jam plastered on the refrigerator and cinnamon sprinkled across the floor. There were cracked eggs on the counter, the yolks oozing down the granite. The dog was frantically eating the rest of the loaf of bread that Lily left out on the table, and God knows what else that pup ingested. (As a bonus, I found out later that night. And again at 3 a.m.!) Every single cabinet was open, and the sink was overflowing with every utensil in the house—all for a piece of toast and a few strawberries. There’s a reason brunch is really only meant to be eaten out, I quickly learned.

My husband and I have an argument every single year when he asks what I want to do for Mother’s Day. “I want to be left alone,” I say, every single year. “But it’s Mother’s Day,” he argues. “Don’t you want to spend it with your children?”

No, I don’t, thank you very much, I answer. I spend every day with my children, and I am lucky to do so. But shouldn’t a holiday be treated differently than just another ordinary day? Yes, it should. So, every Mother’s Day, all I ask is one simple thing: to be left the hell alone.

I tried this approach last year. I slept late and played dead when I heard the kids calling for me. I took a shower by myself and without an audience, and I might have even had an uninterrupted bowel movement. I didn’t do any laundry, and I cooked nothing. Jeff took the kids out for several hours, and I had the house all to myself. It was wonderful—for about an hour. That’s how long it took before I started feeling like something was off, like I had lost a limb or something. Before I knew it, I was missing my kids. I longed for their hugs and slobbery kisses, and I hated the thought that they were out experiencing the world without me. I ended up calling Jeff and asking him to come back home.

You see, this is one of the cruel ironies of motherhood. Your kids make you so crazy that sometimes you want to run away, but then as soon as you get a clean break all you want is their company. Of course, there is no day where this is more evident than on Mother’s Day—you know, that day that is all about you.

Excerpted with permission from Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies) by Jill Smokler (Gallery Books, April 2013).

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