As another Mother’s Day comes and goes, I find myself feeling frustrated. It’s something I have noticed more with each passing year since saying goodbye to college. It isn’t the day itself that frustrates me; it is the fact that no matter how much thought I put into it, I am unable to come up with anything better than flowers to get my mother.
For all my thinking, one thing has become painfully clear to me; with everything my mom has done, and all she has given me, I will never be able to truly say thank you.
I don’t make nearly enough money to buy her something really impressive, like a trip to Paris or a BMW. But even based solely on gestures, I struggle to find a single act or otherwise that would come close to the feeling of gratitude and love I have for my mother. Nothing I could ever find would do that justice.
Even in my wildest fantasies where I am a man of boundless means, my mind keeps wandering backwards to a gesture from my childhood.
I couldn’t have been more than 5 at the time, back when I still felt considerably smaller than the world. Dad was working, my sister had already started school full time, and my mother hadn’t yet gone back to work. So it was just the two of us at home those days.
I’d run errands with my mother, “helping” her do the things she needed to do, grocery shopping or waiting with her while she got her allergy shot. We traveled around New Hyde Park, buckling and unbuckling me from the back seat of that big powder blue Pontiac.
My memory has held tightly to a trip to the dry cleaners, though the specifics are hazy. It was a place around the corner from our house, not more than 2 blocks away. One day we went to pick up some clothes. I remember standing just short of the counter and feeling the mood change.
Something bad had happened. They had screwed something up, ruining a coat perhaps. My memory tells me that my mom had brought a sharp cream colored blazer there and when she got it back there was some awful ink stain on it. Whether or not that was the case is really of no significance.
But I remember my usually friendly and smiling mother losing her temper and getting very upset with the dry cleaners. I know whatever concessions they offered were not enough because my mother left there fuming and possibly in tears.
I’m sure I knew what had happened, but I also didn’t know what to do about it. I may have asked questions but I probably knew that it was better not to. Something about the situation told me to be quiet. It wasn’t like when my mom got mad at me. The rules and roles for that were obvious. There was an uncomfortable difference here. My mom was very upset, it wasn’t my fault, and I had no idea what to do.
We went home and my mother went into the office in the back of our house. Maybe to cry, maybe to call my father and vent about what had happened.
Uncomfortable and confused I felt so useless in this situation. I was only 5 but I knew I wanted to make her happy again. I felt that I needed a gesture. I needed to do something. So I did.
I made the grandest gesture I knew how; I drew her a picture.
I took a white sheet of paper and my crayons and I just started drawing. I probably didn’t lay out any kind of outline, I just drew the things I knew how to. There was green grass, a blue house, a small flock of crudely drawn birds, and a rainbow. And written in blue in the sky was what I hoped would be the cure for what ailed her;
“I love you mommy.”
When you’re 5, your ability to influence is dependent on hugs, tears, and crayons. It seemed like the third one was the best option at this point.
So I finished my drawing and walked into the office where she was sitting, and still visibly upset.
I approached her, hesitant, possibly a little scared, proffering my drawing before me like a document needing to be signed by the king. She took it from me, looked at it, and gave me a hug and a kiss, and I think it made her happy to see my work. She even pinned it up on the bulletin board.
And all was well with the world.
There it stayed for the rest of the day, for the rest of that year.
In fact in all our years in that house, she never took it down. It hung there until we finally had to pack up the house when we sold it last year.
Honestly it was just a piece of paper covered in colored wax, nothing artistically brilliant or creatively courageous. It was just a house and a rainbow and some birds.
But it always stayed up on that wall, through a renovation of that room. Even though that space could have been used for something more important, some necessary calendar or tax document. It hung there, scrawled in my 5 year old affection, “I love you mommy.”
Granted I wasn’t trying to say thank you at the time. I wasn’t indebted for anything. Hell, I was only 5 and my universe was barely bigger than my own neighborhood. But I wanted my mom to know how I felt, and while I didn’t have much to give, I gave her all I had.
It seems fitting that my little hands could only create a gesture as big as a piece of paper, but I think it was far larger than anything I could craft today, anything I could buy, anything I could do.
Perhaps it is impractical to place so much importance on a drawing I did when I was a boy. Perhaps what worked then couldn’t possibly work now. Perhaps I have found my very own Rosebud and developed a fondness for a thing and a time that exists only in my memory.
But as I chase nostalgia even at this young age, I find myself holding that drawing up not just as a memory, but a symbol. A symbol of who I was and who I’m trying to be. A symbol of a time when my thoughts didn’t impair my judgment, when my imagination didn’t outpace my ability, and when I could tell my mother everything she meant to be with a little blue crayon.
I love you mommy.