When I was growing up, my mom always asked me to write something for her for Mother’s Day. Knowing that writing was one of my strengths—because doing chores certainly wasn’t—she would often say, “I would love a poem from you. Or something that has meaning.”
But each year, I’d opt for a meaningless gift instead. Like the one year when I was 13 and I bought her a brass letter opener at the mall. Nobody has ever purchased a thoughtful gift from a kiosk in the mall, but my thought process at the time was: grab a quick gift, zip over to the Hallmark store to pick up a hilarious Shoebox greeting card, and the whole thing could be done in less than 20 minutes (and often for less than 20 bucks).
I highly doubt that my mom hung onto that letter opener—or the equally thoughtful Body Shop gift baskets I bought her. But it’s amazing how I’ve held on to so much that she’s given to me over the years.
My mom used to take my sister and me out of school for lunch from time to time. Those were exciting days. She’d drive us up the street to Arby’s for a quick lunch while the rest of our friends were stuck eating bologna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (Yes, this story is so nostalgic that it contains a reference to peanut butter on school property.) Now that I’m at home during the lunch-hour, I take my daughters out of school at least once a month to repeat this tradition. I even slip in some treats when I pack their lunches, just like my mom did for me. I can vividly recall the sheer ecstasy upon discovering a surprise pack of Cadbury Mini Eggs in my lunch at Easter time.
I should point out that my childhood wasn’t completely filled with curly fries and chocolate eggs. There were important lessons to be taught and my mom made sure I learned them.
When I was about nine, she instructed me on what to do if she wasn’t at home for some reason when I got back from school. She gave me explicit instructions to head to our neighbour’s house if that ever happened. Sure enough one day, I rang the doorbell to our house after school and nobody answered. I waited 45 seconds—which feels like an eternity to a kid in grade four—before I started sobbing uncontrollably on our front porch.
A few moments later my mom leapt out from the behind the bushes and said, “A-ha! I knew you would panic if this happened.” To this day, I’m wary of any odd situation that arises, always wondering if my mom is ready to pop out from behind a bush to teach me a valuable life lesson.
When I left home to attend journalism school in Ottawa, my mom joined me for the five-hour flight from Vancouver. It must be a devastating feeling to send your youngest child off to university, but there were some cracks behind the cocky façade of this teenage boy, as well.
I had a lump in my throat when I said goodbye to her because it’s also a terrifying feeling to say goodbye to the person who had the greatest influence over your formative years. The person who was there to open the front door to the house every day (well, most days) and who never missed a single one of my at-bats—even though she didn’t care too much for baseball. The person who cooked my favourite meal of seafood crepes when I came home from camp in grade 10, even though I was only gone for four days.
I hope the best Mother’s Day gift I can give my mom is letting her know that her traditions, values and sometimes unorthodox teaching methods are being passed on to our daughters. She may not have appreciated any of the token gifts I’ve given her over the years, but I certainly cherish the best one she has given me: her example for being the best parent possible.
I know this isn’t a poem, but I hope she appreciates that I finally got around to putting something down on paper—and that it comes from the heart.
A version of this article appeared in our May 2015 issue with the headline, "What a mom wants," p. 56.
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