Skip the flowers

The Greatest Mother’s Day Gift Is A Day Off

It’s the best gift I’ve gotten on this cheesy Hallmark holiday.

“So, what are your plans for Mother’s Day?” The question, floated to a group of mom friends, elicits chuckles and a few groans. The holiday that was made to honor mothers for the work they do often means more work for us instead. Finding the brunch spot, getting the kids dressed up, shuffling everyone out the door — or, alternatively, buying the supplies for your own breakfast in bed. We all know the drill. This time, though, I threw a curveball.

“Well, my parents are taking my kids camping for Mother’s Day. I won’t… actually see them that day at all this year.”

I saw surprise register on a few faces, a bit of envy, but also judgment. As mothers, aren’t we supposed to want to be with our kids on Mother’s Day? We pose for the photos, accept the macaroni art cards, and joyfully eat the lukewarm buffet breakfast while stopping our kids from opening every jelly container on the table. That’s what Mother’s Day is. The fact that I am opting out this year feels strange to everyone — even to myself, if I am honest.

I didn’t set out to be apart from my kids this year. I didn’t plan it and I don’t think I would have felt comfortable requesting it. As the family calendar filled with spring obligations and the free weekends disappeared, though, the only open slot for an epic cousin camping adventure was the second weekend in May. When my mom floated the idea to me, I felt excited, and then immediately guilty.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with this manufactured holiday. As an adoptive mom of four children, my motherhood has come at the loss of someone else. The pain they experienced, which catapulted me into motherhood, is never far from my mind. It’s impossible to ignore the second Sunday in May. Still, I rally for my kids who want to celebrate with me. I’ve accepted the wilted carnations at church with a tight smile. I absolutely tear up when I am plied with homemade crafts and plant clippings rooted in Dixie cups. I love these kids with everything in me and eagerly accept their offerings.

At the same time, I’m worn down and just a little more frayed around the edges year by year. I didn’t know some kids don’t actually ever really “sleep through the night.” I’ve cobbled together incomplete childcare while working from my pocket at the playground, a skill I can list on my resume now. I am tired. Are we all tired? I think so. I am sure of it, actually.

So when my own mother — who has shown up to save me from drowning in either diapers or my own despair on more days than I can count — offered to take my kids for Mother’s Day weekend, I said yes. She saw the guilt begin to cloud my eyes and squashed it in an instant. “Stop it now, Meg. It’s fine. Take the gift. Take it.”

So I did.

As I drag out the spring camping bins to find the hiking boots and lawn games that make a camping trip fun, I mentally plan out my own weekend. Perhaps my husband and I will grab brunch at a spot the kids would hate. (Spicy, with lots of garnishes on the plate and no crayons available for the placemats.) We won’t feel bad about it, knowing our kids are snuggled in my parent’s travel trailer eating mini muffins by the bagful. Maybe rather than waiting for a gift card for a massage (or waiting to redeem that at-home “massage” certificate I was given…) I will just walk into a spa and buy one myself. I’ll come home afterwards and watch a sweary sexy show in broad daylight in my living room without a second thought to who might stumble in. I won’t cook, not even once.

Whatever I decide to do with those few precious days will be amazing, but it isn’t the point. The point is that after a decade of mothering I do not need to feel guilty about claiming some time for myself or taking the best gift I’ve been given for this complicated holiday. It does not mean that I love my kids less, that I am less grateful for them, or that I won’t miss them while they are gone.

I can’t wait for those sweaty, bug-spray scented hugs upon their return to me — ready for a shower and an early bedtime. Decades from now my kids will not remember the Mother’s Day without their mom; this I know to be true. They will remember the campfires with their cousins and the fish they caught. They will remember racing bikes around campground loops and licking fingers sticky from s’mores.

I hope they also remember the time their mom took a few moments to herself and, through that, learn how to care for their future selves, too.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed. is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with her work.